In human geography, perceptual regions are regions that exist in the public imagination but do not exist as clearly defined specific locations.
You might think of a region, such as ‘the US south’, and have a different idea about where it begins and ends, and what its culture is, to someone else. Your perception of the region is unique, and because it’s not a formally recognized place, it’s hard to define it objectively.
Perceptual regions differ from formal regions because a formal region is set in stone. You can walk up to its boundary, see it on a map, and agree on its definition.
We can also call perceptual regions “vernacular regions“.
Perceptual Region Examples
Related: Functional Region Examples
1. The Bible Belt
The term “bible belt” is used to describe a region of the United States where evangelical Christianity is strong.
The exact boundaries of the bible belt are contested, but it is generally agreed to include parts of the southern and midwestern states.
The term was first coined in the 1920s by American writer and sociologist H.L. Mencken. Mencken used the term to describe a region where religious fundamentalism was common and secularism was not tolerated.
2. Silicon Valley
The term “Silicon Valley” was first coined in 1971 by Don C. Hoefler, a journalist for the trade publication Electronic News. He was referring to the booming semiconductor industry in the Santa Clara Valley.
It’s not clear exactly where the silicon valley begins or ends because it’s not an exact place but a metaphor explaining the concentration of computer and electronics industries around Santa Clara.
Today, the Silicon Valley region is home to some of the world’s most innovative and successful tech companies, making it one of the most important centers of the global tech industry.
3. The Red Center
The “Red Center” (in Australian English: red centre) is a commonly used term to describe the inland of Australia, which is largely defined by its red desert cultural landscape.
The term was first popularized by explorer Ernest Giles, who wrote about his travels through the region in the late 19th century.
Today, the Red Center is home to some of Australia’s most iconic landmarks, including Uluru and Kings Canyon. It is also home to a number of Aboriginal communities, who have lived in the region for tens of thousands of years. It is a popular destination for both local and international tourists, who come to experience its unique natural beauty and rich cultural heritage.
Many rural and remote tourist spots claim they are in the Red Centre, and they can get away with it because no one really knows where it begins or ends.
4. Hillbilly Region
The term “hillbilly” is often used to describe people who live in rural, mountainous areas. The term is thought to have originated in the 1800s, when settlers in the Appalachian Mountains began to refer to themselves as “hill-folk.”
Over time, the term came to be associated with poverty and lack of education.
Today, however, the term is often used as a point of pride by people who identify with their rural heritage.
In recent years, there has even been a resurgence of interest in “hillbilly culture,” with many people celebrating the traditional music and crafts of the Appalachian region.
5. Little Italy
Many cities in North America saw an influx of Italian immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. A lot of these immigrants settled in the same neighborhoods so they could be close to family, friends, and support networks.
These neighborhoods became known colloquially as ‘Little Italy’. They became well-known for good coffee and pizza and contributed to the cultural life of the towns.
However, the is a vernacular phrase, and usually the towns and suburbs retain ‘official’ names. So, where Little Italy begins or ends is subjective. As more Italians came into the neighborhoods and set up Italian-themed shops and cafes, the idea of Little Italies continued to grow.
6. Southerners or Northerners
Whether you live in ‘the south’ or ‘the north’ is a subjective term. For example, Canadians may refer to New York State as ‘down south’ because Canada is perceived by its citizens as ‘the true north’.
By contrast, New Yorkers would likely see themselves as northerners to contrast themselves to the ‘American South’, which usually encompasses places like Tennessee and Arkansas.
Similarly, when I lived in England, I lived in a town called Newcastle which was in the far north of England. We considered people from Leeds not to be true northerners, but people from London definitely saw them as northerners.
7. The Midwest
The Midwest region of the United States is located in the central part of the country and is usually considered to include the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Sometimes the definitions of the Midwest include additional states such as Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming.
The Midwest is a perceptual region because it’s not a formal location, a specific state, and doesn’t have a government. Rather, it exists as an idea about a certain subculture and way of life in the USA/
The Midwest is often referred to as America’s “heartland” because it is considered to be the center of American culture and values. The region is known for its strong work ethic, its focus on family and community, and its traditional values.
8. Highway of Tears
The highway of tears is a very sad example of a perceptual region.
It is a stretch of road in Canada that has been the site of many unsolved murders and disappearances. The majority of the victims are Indigenous women, and many believe that the police have not done enough to investigate the cases.
While the exact number of victims is unknown, it is believed that there have been at least 18 murders and 19 disappearances since 1970.
The highway of tears can be seen as a perceptual region because it’s a vernacular term that refers to a rough region and collection of roads that people perceive to be dangerous and ungoverned, even to this day.
9. Flyover Country
Flyover country is a term used to describe the inland states of the United States that are less densely populated and don’t contain elite cities like New York and Los Angeles.
These states are often overlooked by residents of the East and West Coasts, who tend to view them as “flyover country” – a place to be quickly flown over when traveling from one coast to the other.
The term is generally used by people who live in those inland regions as a way to explain how they feel ignored and left out by politicians. During electoral campaigns, politicians spend so much time trying to appeal to the city elites that they ignore the ‘forgotten people’ in inland states.
10. Cottage Country
‘Cottage country’ is a term used by people from Ontario and New Brunswick to describe rural areas of their provinces where people go for holidays.
Located in rural areas, cottage country typically offers a wide range of outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing and swimming. In addition, cottage country is often known for its picturesque scenery, including forests, lakes and rivers.
Cottage country can refer to just about anywhere that is idyllic and, generally, has a lot of holiday cottages. It doesn’t refer to a specific region or place, but rather an idea of a certain type of place and a ‘feeling’ you get when you’re there.
Perceptual regions are some of the hardest types of regions to understand in human geography. Even once you get the general idea that these regions exist in the imagination rather than as formal regions, it’s hard to find examples of perceptual regions. Personally, my favorite example is the bible belt: it explains a culture and a way of life, and everyone generally understand what it means, but no one can really say where it begins and ends.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]