How to 'connect' micro-regions with macro-regions? A Note (9 pages)

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1. Introduction

Regions come in different shapes and sizes. Compared to the population of cases

(i.e. states) which is usually considered in comparative politics, the regional category is

much more heterogeneous and open-ended (Genna and De Lombaerde, 2010). The fact

that regions are often overlapping further complicates their analysis. This overlap is both

horizontal (i.e. partial or complete overlap between regions on the same level) and vertical

(i.e. overlap between hierarchically structured regions). But as regions –from a governance

point of view- tend to specialize in particular functions, overlapping membership should be

distinguished from overlapping competences.

Many typologies can and have been proposed to describe regions. Two distinct

broad sub-categories are generally considered: supra-national regions, on the one hand, and

sub-national or sub-state regions, on the other. These will be called ‘macro-regions’ and

‘micro-regions’, respectively.


This is a conceptual distinction, not necessarily referring to

their actual relative size. Micro-regions such as Chinese provinces or Indian states, for

example, are obviously often geographically, economically and/or demographically larger

than macro-regions such as the East African Commmunity, CARICOM or BENELUX. It

should further be recognized that hybrid regions also exist. ‘Cross-border micro-regions’

(such as the Euregions, the Southeast Asian growth triangles, or the Southern African

Development Corridors) involve sub-national entities on either sides of national borders,

and are therefore international at the same time.


In spite of their common etymology, micro-regions and macro-regions are by-and-

large disconnected concepts in the literature. Söderbaum (2005) is a notable exception.

Micro- and macro-regions are treated by distinct academic and epistemic communities,

thereby using different theoretical frameworks and disciplinary angles. Micro-regions are

typically dealt with by academics working on, either regional development or social and

economic geography (the region seen as a system and a clustering of activities around a

centre or pole of development), or on (fiscal) federalism (focusing on the role played by

regions vis-à-vis local and national authorities from an administrative, fiscal or political

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