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Regional identity and cultural heritage as factors of development

The theorist of social psychology Abraham A. Moles (Moles & Rhomer, 1998) propose a series of laws of local identity, according to which the identity of the "place" is all the stronger if:

GEOSPECS areas are particularly prone to generate processes of territorial identity: The discontinuity is distinct in the case of islands, as areas surrounded by water. For mountains, the discontinuity is less concentrated spatially and the concentration of activities and objects within the mountainous space is more difficult to identify; the main distinction will in these respects be between valleys and highlands. The relation between place and the concentration of activities is even more complex in the case of sparsely populated areas, where the lack of other neighbouring settlements and activities is a major component of the identity of individual places. Coastal areas and borders are characterised by the proximity to a discontinuity which influences patterns of mobility; activities may preferably be carried out within or beyond the border, on land or at sea. These two types of specificities therefore do not directly lead to the designation of places, but may do so indirectly as the proximity to a discontinuity generates specificities which in turn creates other discontinuities. The discontinuities pertaining to outermost regions are generated by their specific institutional setup.

There are important binary relations ("self" and "other") in the formation of territorial identities in most GEOSPECS areas: "mountain and lowland", "insular and continental", "sparse and central/dense", "outermost and metropolitan", "coast and inland". There are therefore reasons to believe that local and regional identity may play a particularly important role in economic and social development strategies of GEOSPECS areas. The strength of local and regional identities is mainly to be interpreted as strength of GEOSPECS areas compared to "mainstream regions".

The paradox of "territorial identities" as a form of collective identity has been widely commented in the literature, insofar as it may be interpreted as presupposing a deterministic relationship between the environment of individuals and their personal identity. As noted by Jacques Lévy, the association of "ways of life" and "regions" in the traditional French regional geography of Paul Vidal de la Blache and his followers presupposes that the finality of human groups would be to adapt to their environment in view of forming an "organic whole" in which man and nature are united. Territorial identities have furthermore been used as a basis of exclusionary practices and of xenophobia. To avoid these pitfalls when using "territorial identity" as a scientific concept, one has to consider it as a construction or instrument to explore complex systems of collective and individual identity formation within a place. In other words, the purpose of scientific enquiry dealing with "territorial identity" is not to reveal it, but to critically consider the role of the local and regional in processes of identification and identity formation, as well as discourses associating an "identity" to a piece of land.

It is important to emphasize that territorial identities are not limited to the population of the corresponding territory. Migratory movements and the development of secondary housing have created systems of regional identity that are not necessarily linked to the permanent place of abode.

As territorial identity is a complex issue and correspondingly difficult to measure, the GEOSPECS team proposes to single out an exemplary indicator in order to convey an (approximate) idea of whether GEOSPECS areas are associated with strong territorial identity. European designations for quality agricultural products (protected designation of origin, protected geographical indication and traditional speciality guaranteed) are a good choice in this regard: food and drink products are a major part of the identity of Europe's peoples and regions. Products carrying PDO or PGI designations have characteristics resulting from the terrain and abilities of producers in the region of production with which they are associated (DG AGRI, 2007). They are thus closely linked to the identity of a particular region. Even though this is only one out of dozens of possible indicators for regional identity, the number of quality agricultural products designations has the advantage of being quantifiable - a particularly high number of these designations within an area can be an indication for a strong link of the population with this area.

Key Questions

The GEOSPECS project needs to provide a transversal analysis of the uses of territorial identities in economic and social development strategies, and must in particular ask whether references to the categories of GEOSPECS areas referred to play a role in these processes.

  1. Can one identify specificities in the ways territorial identity and cultural heritage is used for development purposes within each type geographic specificity, e.g.
    • in the way "regions of cultural and social identification" are delimited?
    • in the type of actors using identity as a vector of development?
    • in the extent to which out-migrants from the regions are mobilised or contribute to the development process?
    • in the target groups of the instrumentalisation of identity (external (tourism), certain groups within the regional population (ethnic groups), only certain types of economic sectors (agricultural produce, tourismů)
  2. Is it possible to make a (rough) European typology of different types of regions with a given geographic specificity on the basis of the uses made of identity in economic and social development processes?
  3. Is geographic specificity a factor leading to higher-than-average numbers of PDO (protected designation of origin), PGI (protected geographical indication) and TSG (traditional speciality guaranteed) designations?


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