What Is a Formal Culture Region?

"Formal culture region" is a phrase used in the field of human geography to describe a physical space where humans share a core set of cultural behaviors, such as dress, food, customs, language and religious beliefs. The term is useful in geography because it allows researchers to define a region by its common culture rather than by national or state/providence boundaries.

In the United States, for example, the eastern middle Atlantic region, which includes New York City and Philadelphia can be understood as a distinct formal cultural region in comparison to the American midwest, which includes cities such as Chicago and St. Louis. These regions are considered formal cultural regions because they are defined by cultural behavior rather than state boundaries within the United States. Geographers and anthropologists determine a formal cultural region by identifying a central location where a set of particular cultural traits are exhibited and then trace away from that center circularly toward areas where some of those cultural traits are less common. Formal cultural regions can be small in scope, such as areas of a city where different languages and foods are more prominent, but they can also be global. For example, a human geographer could look at cultural views toward democracy, justice and use of the English language to connect the United States and Europe as a distinct cultural region from Russia and China or South America.