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Regionalizations and Regions of Meaningful Geographical Realities

The programmatic research areas concerning meaningful geographical realities are derived from the three already mentioned types of action theories: instrumentally rational, normative, and meaning oriented. Depending on research interests, empirical investigations might focus on socioeconomic aspects (consumptive-productive types of world incorporation), sociopolitical aspects (political-normative types of world incorporation), or sociocultural aspects (informative-significative types of world incorporation). Everyday actions feature all three dimensions simultaneously. In addition, each of these dimensions is interpreted differently by different subjects; that is, it is idiosyncratically relevant to one’s actions (see Table 2.2). Therefore, geography turns into everyday geographies.

Research on the economic type of world incorporation revolves around three main questions: (a) How do producers bring under their control the raw material used in the production process and the labor force? In other words, how do they relate to the world (or bind the world to themselves)? (b) How do consumers decide what to buy? That is, under which conditions and with which medium or resources do they make which decisions? (c) What is the relationship between the productive and consumptive types of world incorporation?

Production-related types of world incorporation involve, first, deciding on a site or location at which to produce. Such decisions are typically made by drawing on the locational focus of production-related activities and commodity flows that are directly mediated by the body. Decisions on where to produce and on the corresponding arrangements generated as a result of such decisions are elements of economic world incorporation. They are always tied to allocative resources and the notion of metric space. The analytical lens of world incorporation (everyday actions yielding multiple everyday geographies) enables one to describe systematically the establishing of global relations pertaining to productive types of world incorporation, especially in times of digital or virtual capitalism, when capital accumulation no longer requires activities involving the body or other matter. In addition, the perspective of world incorporation makes it possible to analyze the varying capabilities of control over resources, material goods, means of production, and the resulting power and power relations.

Table 2.2 Types of world incorporation

Main types



Geographies of production Geographies of consumption


Geographies of normative appropriation Geographies of political control


Geographies of information Geographies of symbolic appropriation

From Werlen (1997, p. 274)

Consumption decisions largely depend on available financial means (i.e., allocative resources) and lifestyle (traditional or individual). The relevance of consumption decisions is expanding along with people’s increasing reflexivity with regard to consumption decisions and intensifying globalization. Consumption decisions reflect subjectively constituted cultural and life worlds because late-modern lifestyles are largely shaped by subjective decisions. (In traditional ways of life, by contrast, collective constraints are the dominant factor determining the course of actions). Accordingly, consumption is embedded in the processes through which people develop their subjectivity. This embeddedness also leads to the continuing dissipation of the territorial logic in both the economic and the cultural realm. Against this backdrop it becomes clear why geoscience-based environmental policy-making is doomed to fail. What is needed instead in this context is a practice- centered ecocritique and ecopolicies. Because the local and the global are interwoven, lifestyle-specific consumption for the purpose of moving toward moral and ethical consumption and global sustainability is becoming negotiable in public discourse (Werlen, 2012, 2015).

Research on social and political types of world incorporation currently focuses on geographies of normative appropriation and political control. Prescriptive- normative appropriations prevent or facilitate access to spatial contexts of action. At the same time, they serve to socially regulate types of action within these spatial contexts. In addition to formal political regionalizations such as the nation-state, federal states and counties, important informal normative regionalizations with respect to age, social status, role, and gender are regulating access to and exclusion from certain spatial contexts of everyday life. Goffman’s (1959) distinction between front and back region also belongs to this category. His approach usefully highlights the relevance of both the reference point of interaction and the setting for the way interactions are performed.

Thus far, I have informally described negotiated regionalizations. They have to be distinguished from formal, legally recognized, institutionally established, and bureaucratically organized regionalizations. Such formal regionalizations make command and power over others possible in absentia, meaning that physical copresence of the rulers and the ruled is not required for power to be exercised. At the same time, formal regionalizations play a key role in identifying and categorizing classes of rights (e.g., constitutional, administrative, and criminal law; contract, tort, and property law). Research on formal regionalizations also encompasses the relation between public and private space, including surveillance and its legitimacy in public areas.

From the action- and practice-centered perspective proposed here, regionalist, nationalist, or ethnic movements can be seen as forces of everyday geographymaking that oppose existing forms of authoritative control. A practice-centered perspective suggests that command and power over territories is actually command and power over subjects. This interpretation highlights the difference between a practice- centered and a traditional geopolitical perspective: The former focuses on subjects and their different way of making geography (and power); the latter, on the way that power over space supposedly translates into power of space. The fact that regional- ist and nationalist movements usually follow the traditional geographical and geopolitical logic exposes their Janus-faced character in the light of modernity: claiming the right to self-determination within a spatial-material logic when there is actually no self.

Informative-significative types of world incorporation or regionalizations are also closely tied to the corporeality of subjects. In the absence of the physical body, communication media serve as extensions of the body. Significative regionalizations (in the form of symbolic appropriations) are the most comprehensive and arguably the most powerful processes in the construction of meaningful geographical realities.

Research on the geographies of information focuses on the preconditions and processes of acquiring information and knowledge. With respect to the sender, research has to clarify the preconditions for generating and linguistically steering the potential appropriation of information via different information media. In historical order the starting points include the dissemination of information through writing (e.g., books and other print media), the electronic (radio, TV), and digital media (internet-based communication). Of particular interest are the globalizing consequences of the production and use of these media and the resulting tensions between the unfamiliar and familiar, between mediated information and unmediated experience. The implications of those consequences are observable in the context of cultural integration, for example.

Symbolic appropriations (and the symbolic geography-making that they stand for), the production of symbolic structures of spatially locatable phenomena and objects, are key dimensions of cultural representation. Hypothetically, one can assume that such symbolic appropriations are relevant in communication and as media for social integration and regulation (of economic actions). Attributing meaning to material contexts of action through the use of particular terms reflecting the relevant notion of space is always done via practices and usually in the form of routines used to manage standard situations.

Action and practice-centered geographical research should also inquire into the stock of knowledge-based interpretive schemes, rules of interpretation, skills, moral rules, and emotional dispositions that substantiate the different types of appropriations conducted as classificatory significations. Clarification of the following questions is required, too: Which subject-related geographies of symbolic appropriation are being produced in which communicative contexts? What do the symbolizations represent and with what consequences? How are the symbolizations enforced? A further important area of research is the empirical identification of the transformative potential that symbolic appropriations of places and material contexts of action can have for economic and political practices. The reconstruction of the processes constituting everyday “mythologies” (Barthes, 1957) and of their underlying reification techniques (“chosification” p. 112) are particularly important in this context, not least because they have been in the focus of traditional geographical research.

The six main types of world incorporation—the ways of defining, shaping, or establishing one’s own ties to the world—are connected in manifold ways. Consumptive actions, for example, belong primarily to the economic field and are linked to allocative resources. However, they are also embedded in normative standards and might have a strong cultural-symbolic and/or lifestyle-related connotation. Particularly with globalization processes, the traditional combinations of a given type of action in only one field or type of resource—which have long been deeply ingrained, not least because of the unchallenged hegemony of nation-state institutions—are not only questioned but put into a new “order.”

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