Critical Regionalism

Image courtesy of Michael Morcal

It was Kenneth Frampton’s influential essay “Towards a Critical Regionalism” that gave a focus to some of these debates, at the heart of which is a tension (often a productive one) between “universalization” (closely allied to what we might now term globalization) and the “local / regional” (often viewed as limited and provincial). Since regionalism is often seen as naïve localism as opposed to a more fluid and postmodern cosmopolitanism, Critical Regionalism attempts a negotiation between these two poles to avoid the excesses or limitations of each. It permits connections in time and space between individual, local moments of cultural struggle and the wider patterns of history, culture and politics that it relates to. (Powell, 2007) This idea, like the term Critical Regionalism itself, is borrowed from Lefaivre and Tzonis who coined the term in 1981 and traced it first in the works of Lewis Mumford and John Brinckerhoff Jackson.

Despite certain doubts, Frederic Jameson states that Critical Regionalism has the “capacity … to reopen and transfigure the burden of the modern”, and, therefore, potentially “to fashion a progressive strategy out of what are necessarily the materials of tradition and nostalgia”. (Jameson, 204) This echoes Frampton’s radical vision of critical regional space as a complex, layered, multiple and “routed” concept comprising the past, present and future opposing efforts to reduce or limit its capacity through narrow definitions or “rootedness”. In critically questioning the relations of the local to the global and understanding the mutual connections between the two, one is able to comprehend better the flows of transnational cultural formations.

Extended into cultural and area studies, and in relation to how place and space functions under globalization, Critical Regionalism is a useful tool, particularly to assess and constantly critique the relationship of the local and the regional to the national, transnational, and global.


3 thoughts on “Critical Regionalism

  1. An interesting concept, especially if you consider, as i do, that globalization or so-called global culture, is becoming increasingly described through heterogenity – practices, life-choices and lifestyles, and individual life-philosophies – rather than through ‘notions of cultural unity’ (Huyssen ‘High and Low’ 2002).

    I am considering Critical Regionalism as a means to examine transnational narratives of identity.


  2. Kal

    Thanks for the comment. CR intersects with ‘everyday cultures’ work in many ways. Some of this relates to what we do with waht we have – De Certeau’s ‘making do’ / practice. Through this we might think differently about how global culture overlays the local – as a dialogue NOT as a saturation.


  3. Hi Neil,
    i like your description of ‘global culture’ as a ‘dialogue’ – and i am interested in the ways you think global culture ‘overlays’ the local because i see the production of transnationalism in terms of a palimpsest. We are not disposing of something, merely overwriting it with new ideas, practices and processes.

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