Geografie 1966, 71, 97-114

The Theory of Geographical Region

Martin Hampl

Přírodovědecká fakulta Karlovy university, Praha 2, Albertov 6, Czechia

When evaluating the state of the theoretical understanding of the geographical region we come to conclusions similar to those arrived at when evaluating the whole geographical theory. Vagueness and uncertainty in basic problems, diversity of opinions, an unsystematic character of research - these are characteristic features of the geographical theory. Most of the theoretical studies dealing with region suffer either from too broad generalisations and, consequently, indefiniteness (see literature 3, 18), or, on the other hand, from a one-sided concretisation uncritically preferring a certain aspect (6, 21, 25). Besides, in existing regional monographies or regionalisations we have been almost always given only descriptions and partial analyses; there are no real attempts at a geographical synthesis. We are aware of the fact that elucidating the questions of region and solving terminologic problems etc. is a very difficult and long-termed task; in our contribution we concentrate to what we consider the most important problem under the present state of geographical knowledge, i. m., to making clear the basic questions of regional studies and to building up the foundations of a systematic theory of the geographical region. As a starting point we take the works by J. Korčák (23, 24) and our previous papers (15, 16) in which, as it were, the philosophical problems of geography have been elucidated, the most important for us being the problem of the differentiation of the world and the place of region in the system of the wholes of the world. Until now, the conception of the classification of sciences and, at the same time, the units with which these sciences work, started from an abstract principle of development (see, e. g., the differenciation into anorganic, organic and social units). Besides this principle, however, there exist another cardinal principle of differentiating the world and knowledge, that of complexity (e. g., the differentiation of wholes - biological organism - biocoenosis - natural-geographical complex - geographical complex). Combining these two principles we then get the basic classificatory system of the wholes of the world. The place of the geographical region in this system can be characterised as "terminal"; both from the evolutionary and from the complex points of view, the geographical region is, in fact, the highest kind in the whole of the world, a certain "microcosmos". From this fact there follow the basic general characteristic features of region: the maximal quantitative and qualitative diversity, the highest singularity and low integration. Understanding the integration of the geographical region is vitally important for the elucidation of the nature of its existence. Special literature offers a number of works discussing the problem of the objective existence of region. Most authors, however, replace - to a certain extent, at least - the geographical aspects by philosophical ones: instead of dealing with the problem of the geographical region being a whole or not, they are engaged with the problem of its objective existence in the philosophical sense. The complexity and vagueness of these questions is the result of the nature of the integration of region which is not strict, but "loose". In the integration of region three basic facts must be taken into account: a) the integration of region, as compared with other wholes, is low; b) the integration of individual regions varies; c) the region is a whole and its integration is relatively the strongest in the sense of the region representing the most constant and independent complex of phenomena and processes as compared with the relations among the phenomena in a certain environment. The question of the relations between economic geographical, physical-geographical and geographical (complex geographical) regions is another important problem of the theory of region. While the difference between the economic geographical and physical geographical regions has been explained - at least its basic features - it is still debatable how to define the geographical region. We consider the geographical region to be a complex of natural and social components, the latter being the most important; they reflect, in a synthetic and active way, the influence of natural components and consummate the complexity of the geographical region. From this point of view, the latter (as far as its definition is concerned) merges with the economic-geographical region; the difference between the two kinds of regions lies only in a different complexity of the content of one and the same region. The two kinds of regions mentioned can be characterised as being heterogeneously diversified (internal differentiation into the nucleus, environment, etc.), in contradiction with the homogeneously diversified character of the physical geographical region and other naturel complexes. From the above-mentioned characterisation of region there follows its definition and the character of the geographical differentiation of environment in general. The region is the highest whole in the world from the viewpoint of the principles of complexity and development mentioned above; a whole maximally diversified and singular with a minimal integration. The low integration of region makes possible the existence of relations and processes which function against this integration (the irregionalising relations); the basic sign of the development is the "growing" of diversity and complexity, the rise of new qualities etc., the internal organisation of the geographical region developing towards a heterogeneous diversification; the region is a whole in the sense of being the most independent complex of relations and processes of a certain kind and rank as compared with the character of relations among the phenomena in the environment in question. The differentiation of environment into a system of geographical regions can be characterised as resultant and most complete, at the same time, however, as loosest and most variable. In every region we find three basic characteristics which can be understood as general categories of region. These are: the geographical situation - the content of this category is the relation of region to the remaining environment; component structure - the content being the differentiation of the region into various qualitative components; complex structure - the content is the resulting differentiation of region into regions of a lower rank, the integration of region etc. We are of the opinion that the establishment of the two categories of structure in region is necessary and corresponds to the character of the region, the latter being, on one hand, a complex-differentiated totality and, on the other hand, a complex containing a great number of relatively independent and qualitatively diversified components etc. The last of the problems examined in our contribution is the ranking and hierarchy of regions. Here we would like to stress the qualitative character of this stratification, which is represented by the differentiation of internal processes, complexity and specialisations of regions according to ranks. Generally speaking it is possible to say that the higher is the rank, the lower is the intensity and qualitative importance of internal processes. Thus, e. g., in small regions in Czechoslovakia the decisive unifying process is the daily transport of a large proportion of the population to work (the process of overcoming the time-space difference in the concentration of work and labour power), while in large regions it is, e. g., the productive co-operation of industrial plants (the process of overcoming the time-space difference between various technological phases of the industrial production etc.).