The role of identity for regional actors and citizens in a splintered region: The case of Päijät-Häme, Finland
Keywords:Päijät-Häme, Regional identity, focus groups, region-building, regional actors, social movements
Regions are often understood as social and discursive constructs that are perpetually at the heart of the politics of spatial distinctions. Although regions transform over time, they are used in collective discourses as ways of structuring space and they can become important elements for individual identity narratives and practices. The proponents of the competitiveness rhetoric increasingly utilize the ideas of social capital and trust positing that regions are knowingly responsible for their affluence and economic growth. In Finland, various institutional agents have operationalized provincial spaces as imperative policy instruments. At the same time, their meaning has remained rather ambiguous to their citizens, whose spatial identifications can be eclectic and reflexive. This article focuses on one particular region, Päijät-Häme in southern Finland to uncover why the supposed internal cohesion does not seem to manifest at the provincial level. The paper approaches regional identity from two angles. First, it scrutinizes how regional actors conceptualize the region and how they facilitate regional identity discourses, and second, it analyses how individuals construct their spatial identities and belonging and studies the meaning of the institutionalized region in this process. The empirical material consists of eleven interviews with institutional actors representing regional policy, trade, education and media and four focus group interviews with locally- or universally-inclined social movements representing the general public. In this article, I argue that historical fractures and differently aligned spatial strategies can hinder attempts to reconfigure regional identities, and by implication, development discourses. I also indicate that while the province does not necessarily provide compelling identity materials, the need to belong has not disappeared in the currents of globalization.