Regional Analysis in Human Geography

The approach of region in human geographic studies (called Regional Analysis or Regional Synthesis) forms one of the oldest approaches of geographic enquiry.

But what is the concept of ‘Region’ in Geography?

Table of Contents
  • What is Region?
  • Informal Category
  • Formal Category

What is Region?

In spite of being as old as geography, the concept of regions is not well defined. There are at least two formally recognized definitions of ‘region’.

Let’s have a look at these definitions.

Informal Category

It was contributed by the pillar of classical geography - German scholar Varenius and Ritter.

Bernhardus Varenius induced the methodological dualism to the geography studies - systematic vs regional.

Systematic Approach

He identified systematic approach to be related to the study of one element in the global perspective. The following diagram will make this clearer:

regional analysis in geography

That is, we take up one phenomenon, say culture, or sex ratio and study it across the world. It helps us to compare the peculiar characteristics of various regions.

Regional Approach

Here, all the elements are studied in perspective of a given geographical location.

Herein, we divide our world into smaller and manageable parts and study each such part in more detail. The following diagram will make this clearer:

regional analysis in geography

Following the regional approach of enquiry, Carl Ritter studied entire continent of Europe, and published his conclusions in a text entitled Europa.

The regional approach has also evolved with time. Let’s study this in more detail.

Formal Category

Regional approach to the study of geographical phenomenon has evolved with time. It has been represented below:

  • Classical regional approach
  • Areal differentiation approach (1939)
  • City region approach (1947)

Let’s study these regional approaches in more detail.

Classical Regional Approach

It incorporates the formal beginning of regional approach, as the first references of the meaning of the term ‘region’ is related to this temporal block. Both determinists and possibilists contributed in this classical phase.

In deterministic school German scholar Richthofen forms the profounder of classical regional approach, defining region to be that geographical domain which reveals homogeneity in terms of physical characteristics.

Following his contribution, another German scholar Hettner elaborated regional approach on the lines of dualism outlined by Varenius. He specifies the dualism between Ideographic (i.e. regional) and Nomothetic (i.e. systematic) approaches. However, unlike Varenius, Hettner concluded that geography is essentially an ideographic discipline where the orientation of the enquiry relates to the study of physical homogeneity.

The parallel propounder to the classical regional approach was the French scholar Blache. He induced the approach of possibilism in regional enquiry, justifying that homogeneity in human character in a given geographical location forms the basis of regional analysis. Blache focused on common co-existence in the small historical, cultural regions called Pays as the geographic field on enquiry.

His disciple Jean Brunhes, elaborating the possibilistic approach of classical regionalism, added dynamic approach in reference to his principles called principles of activity and principles of interaction.

  • In principal of activity, dynamic components of interactive relations within a region have been interpreted, whereas
  • In the principal of interaction, dynamic inter-relation between the regions have been interpreted.

It is the orientation of Hettner that is justified to be relating to the addition of the clause of inter-regional links in classical regional geography.

Areal differentiation approach

In 1939, publication of text “Nature of Geography”, authored by American scholar Hartshorne, modified the classical regional approach to Areal Differentiation.

In this chronological block, definition of a region was moulded from the study of intra-regional homogeneity to inter-regional heterogeneity. Moreover, this approach incorporated both human and physical elements in the areal differentiation.

This approach of Hartshorne was strongly followed on by human geographers in every aspect of regional analysis. It evolved as a prominent method of regional enquiry.

Areal differentiation lost its central stage only during quantitative methodological revolution. With the beginning of behavior revolution and post-behavior revolution, this approach revived its prominence in human geography.

In reference of behavior revolution, disparity in the spacial identities, disparity in human perception in regards to the place & space, and disparity in societal organization of space, formed the added dimensions to areal differentiation.

In reference of post-behavior revolution, “Kasperson” disparity in geo-demographic load, disparities in fulfillment of needs, disparities in parito-optimality, disparities in environmental concerns added new dimensions to areal differentiation.

City Region approach

Following the work of Hartshorne, British scholar Dickinson outlined the new definition of region in his text entitled ‘City region and regionalism’.

He emphasized on interactive relation between Node and its Periphery as the field of study of region. Completely doing away with the established clauses of region, he emphasized on nature and magnitude of functional inter-dependencies as the determines of boundary of a region.

Elaborating it further, he incorporated transportation network as the regulator of functional inter-links, as it is its development that facilitates to and fro movements of ideas, and people, along with goods and services.

In accordance to the addition induced by Dickinson to the concept of region, human geographers outlined the regions into 3 prominent categories, as decided by Whittelsey’s Committee in 1956. These categories are:

  • Formal Regions (Morphological) — Qualitative Delimitation
  • Functional Regions (Cascading) — Qualitative and Quantitation Delimitation
  • Planned Regions (Controlled) — None (already delimited)

Formal Regions

This category represents the regions outlined on the basis of persisting natural or human homogeneity.

In the formal region, the categories like physiographic regions, climatic regions, vegetative regions, soil regions, along with cultural regions, linguistic regions, social regions, and agricultural regions are included as prominent examples.

Functional Regions

They represent the region outlined on the basis of interactive relation between the node and its periphery, co-relating to the work of Dickenson.

It includes city region, and industrial region as the important examples.

Planned regions

This category represents those geographical domains that reveal homogeneous characteristics, but are not spontaneous regions, but rather are induced with the growth momentum by area specific planning.

These regions include tribal area planning, hill area planning, flood prone area planning, drought prone area planning, and command area planning as the prominent examples.

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