Conceptualisering van de Westas: De wisselwerking tussen ruimtelijke identiteiten en de rol van identiteit in het regiovormingsproces in het noordelijke deel van de Randstad.
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The concepts ‘region’ and ‘identity’ have always formed an integral part of the academic geography: from its initial conception as the science of regions, the rebuttal of the region during the heydays of the so called spatial analysis in the 1960’s all the way through to the conceptualisation of a new regionalism in the late 1980’s. This so called new regionalism constituted of a what could be referred to as a renaissance of the regional scale and the importance of regions as an ontological level of analysis. The understanding of regions and the conceptualisation of the keyword has changed dramatically over the years reflecting some key broader changes in social-scientific thinking, such as the rise of postmodernism and the growing importance of globalisation. Understanding and conceptualisation of the region changed from a positivist approach that viewed the region as a naturally formed and bounded space to a more constructivist approach that viewed the region as a social construct: the result of a conscious and directed process. The region changed from a bounded, natural space into a constructed and open concept with fuzzy borders or no borders at all. Reflective and exemplary of these changes is the change in interpretation and understanding of the role of the regional identity. In classic regional geography the identity was viewed as a common denominator of sorts: a set of shared values that constituted a bond between the residents of a bounded space. These identities are now more commonly known as traditional or thick identities. However the described changes in regional thinking have led to differentiating conceptualisations of the regional identity. Regions are no longer viewed as bounded spaces, but rather as open networks that serve specific, often economic, goals. These regions do not possess historically shaped and thick identities. Their identities are often multilayered and multidimensional: the result of a specific process of association with and differentiation from other spatial identities at multiple scales. This process has been identified as a process of downloading and uploading: regions download identity elements from the regional consensus in order to shape their identity in accordance with important regionals topics and themes. At the same time they upload new elements and themes to this consensus in order to differentiate themselves from other spatial actors. This process is important for the legitimacy of regions; because regions are less spatially bounded and more and more fluid and multidimensional they often do not succeed in garnering enough support or they struggle with (perceived) legitimacy. This struggle is in some ways a result of the economic focus of regions within the new regionalism: regions are no longer a goal, but a means to an economic end. This focus has led to an increase in the importance of regional branding and a changing role of the regional identity. The regional identity is no longer a comprehensive statement of regional coherence, but rather a part of the branding process: a tool to garner support, differentiate oneself and nudge forward the purported economic goals. Regional identities thus are becoming more and more dynamic, fluid, multifaceted and often interchangeable in coherence with their regions. Regions often spatially overlap or intertwine if they have a spatial boundary at all. A perceived “strong” regional identity is important for these regions for garnering support and funds and increasing their legitimacy. In order to maximize these effects the identity of the place, in this case the region, should reflect the identities of stakeholders in one way or another in order to increase stakeholder support. However the relation between the identities of the stakeholders and the regional identity is often unambiguous at best. Furthermore since identities are constantly changed and adapted to different needs it is difficult to pinpoint their role in the process of creating and managing regions. This research therefore analyses the relationships between the identity of a relatively new region, its stakeholders and other neighbouring regions in an attempt to create more insight into these complex processes.