Open Access Peer-reviewed Review

Regional studies and conceptual fuzziness: A critical review

Main Article Content

Muhammad Adil Rauf corresponding author
Olaf Weber


Regional and spatial studies, such as urban planning, energy planning, and sustainable development, address the complexity of the inter-disciplinary relationship between subsystems and their components. Such studies require multidisciplinary concepts, varied lenses, and differentiating approaches and models to address the conflict between contextual sensitivity and universal applicability. This paper reviews the debate on the research approaches adopted in regional studies and initiated by researcher Ann Markusen, followed by a review of contemporary literature on the concept of fuzziness in the qualitative research. Markusen evaluated the conceptual fuzziness, empirical evidence, and policy dimensions of regional studies. The argument was based on three fundamental aspects of regional and urban development studies; strong contestation of phenomena, empirical evidence to support the concept, and collective action to deal with the problems under investigation. A conceptual fuzziness and the methodological weaknesses in the qualitative research, highlighted by Markusen almost two decades ago, persist in interdisciplinary qualitative research. In this study, we have dissected the concept of fuzziness to distinguish between Inherited fuzziness derived from the configurational complexity of a case and bequeathed fuzziness that could be transferred ahead due to a researcher’s methodological and perceptual weaknesses. Despite efforts made to address the relevance, reliability, validity, and replicability of the qualitative research, the field is still facing challenges from conceptual bias, methodological and operational constraints, empirical weakness, and prejudiced interpretation.

regional studies, spatial planning, fuzzy concepts, sustainability, research methods

Article Details

How to Cite
Rauf, M., & Weber, O. (2021). Regional studies and conceptual fuzziness: A critical review. Resources and Environmental Economics, 3(1), 251-262.


  1. Silva E, Healey P, Harris N, et al. Introduction: The Craft of ‘Doing Research’ . In E. Silva, P. Healey, N. Harris, & P. Broeck, The Routledge Handbook of Planning Research Methods, Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2015.
  2. Verweij S and Trell E. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) in spatial planning research and related disciplines: A systematic literature review of applications. Journal of Planning Literature, 34(3): 300-317.
  3. De Roo G and Silva E. A planner’s encounter with complexity. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010.
  4. Roig-Tierno N, Gonzalez-Cruz T and Llopis-Martinez J . An overview of qualitative comparative analysis: A bibliometric analysis. Journal of Innovation & Knowledge, 2017, 2: 15-23.
  5. Dang V, Wang J and Dang WVT. An integrated fuzzy AHP and fuzzy TOPSIS approach to assess sustainable urban development in an emerging economy. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2019, 16: 2902.
  6. Pascali PD and Bagaini A. Energy transition and urban planning for local development. A critical review of the evolution of integrated spatial and energy planning. MDPI, Open Access Journal, 2018, 12(1): 1-21.
  7. Xu D. Sustainability prioritization of energy systems by developing an integrated decision support framework with hybrid-data consideration. Sustainable Energy Technologies and Assessments, 2020, 39: 100719
  8. Kaya I, Colak M and Terzi F. A comprehensive review of fuzzy multi-criteria decision making methodologies for energy policy making. Energy Strategy Reviews, 2019, 24: 207-228.
  9. Arrizabalaga E, Munoz I and Hermoso N, et al. Methodology for the advanced integrated urban energy planning. Proceedings, 2019, 20: 17.
  10. Pike A, Rodr´ıguez-Pose A and Tomaney J. Introduction: A handbook of local and regional development. In A. Pike, A. Rodriguez-Pose, & J. Tomaney, Handbook of local and regional development, London: Routledge, 2011.
  11. Markusen A. Fuzzy Concepts, Scanty Evidence, Policy Distance: The Case for Rigour and Policy Relevance in Critical Regional Studies. Regional Studies, 2003, 37(6-7): 701-717.
  12. Markusen A. On conceptualization, evidence and impact: A response to Hudson, Lagendijk, and Peck. Regional Studies, 2003, 37(6): 747-751.
  13. Hudson R. Fuzzy concepts and sloppy thinking: Reflections on recent developments in critical regional studies. Regional Studies, 2003, 37(6): 741-746.
  14. Lagendijk A. Towards conceptual quality in regional studies: The need for subtle critique-A response to Markusen. Regional Studies, 2003, 37(6): 719-727.
  15. Peck J. Fuzzy old world: A response to Markusen. Regional Studies, 2003, 37(6): 729-740.
  16. De-Paula S and Dymski G. Introduction. In S. a. Paula, Reimagining Growth: Towards a Renewal of Development Theory (pp. 3-26). London: Zed, 2005.
  17. Rowe JE. The importance of theory: Linking theory to practice. In J. E. Rowe, Theories of Local Economic Development: Linking Theory to Practice (pp. 3-27). Farnham: Ashgate, 2008.
  18. Georgescu-Roegen N. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1971.
  19. Grabher G. Trading routes, bypasses, and risky intersections: Mapping the travels of ’networks’ between Economic Sociology and Economic Geography. Progress in Human Geography, 2006, 30(2): 1-27.
  20. Whitehead AN. Modes of Thought. New York: Free Press, 1938.
  21. Sheppard E and Plummer P. Toward engaged pluralism in geographical debate. Environment and Planning A, 2007, 39(11): 2545-2548.
  22. Beer A. The theory and practice of developing locally. In J. R. (Ed.), Theories of Local Economic Development: Linking theory to practice (pp. 63-89). Farnham: Ashgate, 2008.
  23. Edwards M. 2007, A world made new through love and reason: what future for ‘development’?
  24. Geddes M and Newman I. Evolution and conflict in local economic development. Local Economy, 1999, 13(5): 12-25.
  25. Stimson R and Stough RR. Regional economic development methods and analysis: Linking theory to practice. In J. R. (Ed.), Theories of local economic development: Linking theory to practice (pp. 169-192). Farnham: Ashgate, 2008.
  26. Jonas AE, While AH and Gibbs DC. Carbon control regimes, eco-state restructuring and the politics of local and regional development. In A. Pike, A. Rodr´ıguez-Pose, & J. Tomaney , Handbook of Local and Regional Development (pp. 283-294). London: Routledge, 2011.
  27. Christopherson S. Green dreams in a cold light. In A. Pike, A. Rodr´ıguez-Pose, & J. Tomaney , Handbook of Local and Regional Development (pp. 371-380). London: Routledge, 2011.
  28. Morgan K. The Green State: Sustainability and the power of purchase. In A. Rodr´ıguez-Pose, J. Tomaney, & A. Pike, In the Handbook of Local and Regional Development (pp. 87-96). London: Routledge, 2011.
  29. Stojcic M, Zavadskas E and Pamucar D et al. Application of MCDM Methods in Sustainability Engineering: A Literature Review 2008–2018. Symmetry, 2019, 11(3): 1-24.
  30. Zadeh L. Fuzzy sets. Information and Control, 1965, 8(3): 338-353.
  31. Pawlak Z. Rough Sets. International Journal of Computer & Information Sciences, 1982, 11(5): 341-356.
  32. Atanassov K. Intuitionistic fuzzy sets. Fuzzy Sets and Systems, 1986, 20(1): 87-96.
  33. Smarandache F. Neutrosophy: neutrosophic probability, set, and logic: analytic synthesis & synthetic analysis. Santa Fe, NM, USA: American Research Press, 1998.
  34. Schneider C and Wagemann C. Standards of good practice in qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) and fuzzy-sets. Comparative Sociology, 2010, 9: 397-418.
  35. Ragin C. The comparative method: Moving beyond qualitative and quantitative strategies. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
  36. Hamidov A, Thiel A and Zikos D. Institutional design in transformation: A comparative study of local irrigation governance in Uzbekistan. Environmental Science & Policy, 2015, 53(B): 175-191.
  37. Jordan E, Gross E, Javernick-Will A, et al. Use and misuse of qualitative comparative analysis. Construction Management and Economics, 2011, 29(11): 1159-1173.
  38. Gerrits L and Verweij S. The evaluation of complex infrastructure projects: A guide to qualitative comparative analysis. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2018.
  39. Ratti C, Baker N and Steemers K. Energy Consumption and Urban Texture. Energy and Buildings, 2005, 37(7): 762-776.
  40. Jessel S, Sawyer S and Hernandez D. Energy, poverty, and health in climate change: A comprehensive review of an emerging literature. Frontiers of Public Health, 2019, 7: 357. https:///
  41. Mashhoodi B, Stead D and Timmeren AV. Spatial homogeneity and heterogeneity of energy poverty: a neglected dimension. Annals of GIS, 2019, 25(1): 19-31.
  42. Zanon B and Verones S. Climate Change, Urban Energy and Planning Practices: Italian Experiences of Innovation in Land Management Tools. Land Use Policy, 2013, 32: 343-355.
  43. Zavadskas E, Govindan K, Antucheviciene J, et al. Hybrid multiple criteria decision-making methods: a review of applications for sustainability issues. Economic Research-Ekonomska Istraˇzivanja, 2016, 29(1): 857-887.
  44. Wu Y , Xu C and Zhang T. Evaluation of renewable power sources using a fuzzy MCDM based on cumulative prospect theory: A case in China. Energy, 2018, 147: 1227-1239.
  45. Gore J, Ward P, Conway G, et al. Naturalistic decision making: navigating uncertainty in complex sociotechnical work. Cognition, Technology & Work, 2018, 20: 521-527.
  46. Mosier K, Fisher U, Hoffman R, et al. Expert professional judgments and “naturalistic decision making”. In K. Ericsson, R. Hoffman, A. Kozbelt, & M. Williams, The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance, 2nd ed. (pp. 453-475). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
  47. Booth P. What Can We Learn from France? Some reflections on the methodologies of cross-national research. In E. Silva, P. Healey, N. Harris, & P. Broeck, The Routledge Handbook of Planning Research Methods (pp. 84-96). New York: Routledge, 2014.
  48. Clark C and Winegard B. Tribalsim in war and peace: The nature and evolution of ideological epistemology and its significance for modern social science. Psychological Inquiry, 2020, 31(1): 1-22.
  49. Cornwell J, Jago C and Higgins E. When group influence is more or less likely: The case of moral judgments. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 2019, 41(6): 386-395.
  50. Honeycutt N and Jussim L. A Model of Political Bias in Social Science Research. Psychological Inquiry, 2020, 31(1): 73-85.
  51. Jussim L, Crawford J, Anglin S, et al. Interpretations and methods: Towards a more effective selfcorrecting social psychology. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2016, 66: 116-133.
  52. Reyna C. Scale creation, use, and misuse: How politics undermines measurement . In J. Crawford, & L. Jussim, Politics of social psychology (pp. 81-98). New York: Psychology Press, 2018.
  53. Ewing R and Rong F. The impact of urban form on US residential energy use. Housing policy debate, 2008, 19(1): 1-30.
  54. Staley S. Missing the forest through the trees? Comment on Reid Ewing and Fang Rong’s “The impact of urban form on US residential energy use”. Housing Policy Debate, 2008, 19(1): 31.
  55. Randolph J. Comment on Reid Ewing and Fang Rong’s ‘The impact of urban form on US residential energy use’. Housing Policy Debate, 2008, 19(1):45.
  56. Schlogl M and Stutz R. Methodological considerations with data uncertainty in road safety analysis. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2019, 130: 136-150.
  57. Seuret-Jimenez D, Robles-Bonilla T and Cedano K. Measurement of energy access using fuzzy logic. Energies, 2020, 13(12): 3266. https://doi:10.3390/en13123266
  58. Fu X and Wang X. Developing an integrative urban resilience capacity index for plan making. Environment Systems and Decisions, 2018, 38: 367-378.
  59. Ko Y. Urban form and residential energy use: A research of design principles and research findings. Journal of Planning literature, 2013, 28(4): 327-351.
  60. Wickham H. Tidy data. Journal of Statistical Software, 2014, 59(10): 1-23.
  61. Markusen A. Fuzzy concepts, proxy data: why indicators would not track creative placemaking success. Internal Journal of Urban Sciences, 2013, 17(3): 291-303.
  62. Bansal P and Song HC. Similar but not the same: Differentiating corporate responsibility from sustainability. Academy of Management Annals, 2017, 11(1): 105-149.
  63. Verma P and Raghubanshi A. Urban sustainability indicators: Challenges and opportunities. Ecological Indicators, 2018, 93: 282-291.
  64. Nichols T. The death of expertise: The campaign against established knowledge and why it matters. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.