Unlike other animals, humans have the capacity to reflect on the meaning of territory and to change it in accordance with the changing circumstances in which they find themselves. The sources of the modern understanding of territory are rooted in ancient mythological and religious understandings of the earth and of human beings' place in it. This, in turn, affected the ways in which they understood the governance of territory. This developed from primitive tribal ideas to great empires such as the Roman Empire. In the West, the Roman Empire was succeeded by feudalism, complex church–state relations, and eventually the arrival of the modern nation-state and the post-war welfare state. Regions became subordinate to national governments, but this changed with the European Union and then with neoliberal globalisation. Regions became, to some extent free from national control, although this is now changing following the 2007/8 financial crisis and the crisis of the European project itself.
Mark Callanan and John Loughlin
The study of regional and local governments has varied according to the particular historical phase in which it is carried out. With the expansion of the welfare state in western countries in the post-war era, subnational governments were subordinated to the overall imperative of national reconstruction and acted as their ‘agents’. This was succeeded by the arrival of a phase of neoliberal globalization which changed the role of central governments and allowed regions, cities and local governments to experience greater levels of political and fiscal autonomy. European integration from the mid-1980s also stimulated regional mobilization and the notion of a ‘Europe of the Regions’. These led to many experiments in management, leadership, participation, devolution, structural reform, and initiatives at different territorial levels. The question posed by this book is whether the global financial crisis of 2008-10 has impacted on these reforms such as to reverse the trend towards greater decentralization, and whether there are potential lessons from the post-2008 period for the future of subnational government in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Developments and trends are linked to the subsequent chapters in the book where different themes are addressed in greater detail. The chapter surmises that there have been some changes but that, overall, the reform impetus continues, and it concludes by pointing to some areas deserving of further research.