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  A setting or context for social interaction. The term was proposed by Anthony Giddens in his development of structuration theory. Giddens\'s notion of structuration suggests how the flow of human agency \'binds\' time and space. The social interactions involved in this are integrative. Social integration involves individual actors who are \'co-present\' in time and space, while system integration involves relations between actors, groups and collectivities outside conditions of \'co-presence\'. In both cases interactions are situated in time and space, and this setting furnishes the resources on which the actors draw in their interaction. It is this context which Giddens labels \'locale\'. In an early (1979) formulation he defines it thus:

|||\'Locale\' is in some respects a preferable term to that of \'place\', more commonly employed in social geography: for it carries something of the connotation of space used as a setting for interaction. A setting is not just a spatial parameter, and physical environment, in which interaction \'occurs\': it is these elements mobilised as part of the interaction. Features of the setting of interaction, including its spatial and physical aspects … are routinely drawn upon by social actors in the sustaining of communication.On a number of occasions Giddens refers to locales as the characteristic physical settings associated with different types of collectivities: \'virtually all collectivities have a locale of operation, spatially distinct from that associated with others\' (1979, pp. 206-7) and \'all collectivities have defined locales of operation: physical settings associated with the “typical interactions” composing those collectivities as social systems\' (1981, p. 39; cf. community). Thus the typical locale of the school is the classroom; that of the prison, the cell block; that of the bureaucracy, the office; that of the army, the barracks (1987, pp. 153-62).

Moreover, Giddens distinguishes between organizations and social movements and claims that \'unlike organizations, social movements do not characteristically operate within fixed locales\' (1984, p. 204). Elsewhere, however, he makes it clear that he means the concept of locale to have \'very general applicability\' and that it applies in principle to all social interaction (1981, p. 40). The reason for stressing the typical locales of certain types of institutions (barracks, schools etc.) is that in some cases locales can take on a fixed physical form, but this form does not completely specify the nature of a locale, and indeed some locales may not have a physical form in that sense at all:

Locales provide for a good deal of the \'fixity\' underlying institutions, although there is no clear sense in which they \'determine\' such \'fixity\'. It is usually possible to designate locales in terms of their physical properties, either as features of the material world or, more commonly, as combinations of those features and human artefacts. But it is an error to suppose that locales can be described in those terms alone … A house is grasped as such only if the observer recognises that it is a \'dwelling\' with a range of other properties specified by the modes of its utilisation in human activity. (1984, p. 118, emphases added)However, the idea that \'locale\' is applicable to all social interaction introduces a further ambiguity. On the one hand, Giddens (1984, p. 71) implies that interactions situated in locales necessarily involve the \'co-presence\' of the actors: on the other, he stresses that \'locales may range from a room in a house, a street corner, the shop floor of a factory, towns and cities, to the territorially demarcated areas occupied by nation states\' (1984, p. 118), or to put it, as Nigel Thrift (1983) does, more concisely, \'a locale does not have to be local\'. The apparent contradiction here is partially resolved by Giddens\' (1984, p. 68) comments on media of communication:

Although the \'full conditions of co-presence\' exist only in unmediated contact between those who are physically present, mediated contacts that permit some of the intimacies of co-presence are made possible in the modern era by electronic communications, most notably the telephone.However, elsewhere Giddens (1987, p. 137) insists that \'co-presence\' must involve literal \'face-to-face\' interaction:

Interaction in contexts of co-presence obviously has characteristics not found in \'mediated\' interaction — via the telephone, recordings, the mail and so on.Although there is a confusion here, it seems fairly clear that Giddens regards a \'locale\' as something which can have (potentially considerable) spatial and temporal extension. The interactions for which locales form the setting can therefore in principle be subject to time-space distanciation. This allows for the existence within locales of regions which provide for the \'zoning\' of social practices in time and space.

According to Giddens (1981) some locales dominate in particular types of society and form their principal \'power containers\' (see the figure).

A number of writers have discussed the relationship between locale and the apparently related concept of locality. Cooke (1989) sees them as competing alternatives such that acceptance of one would imply the rejection of the other. Favouring the concept of locality, Cooke claims that the idea of locale should be rejected because \'it reproduces the passive connotations of community in the way it refers to setting and context for action rather than as a constituting element in action\' (Cooke, 1989, p. 10). Giddens\'s insistence on the constitutive nature of context shows that this is a misreading, but, as Duncan (1989) points out, locale and locality in any case refer to different things. This is recognized by Massey (1991), who briefly hints that localities could be conceptualized as \'the intersection of sets of locales\', while her insistence that localities should be seen as socially constructed applies equally to locales. (See also contextual approach; habitus; place; spatiality; time-geography.) (JP)

References Cooke, P. 1989: Localities: the changing face of urban Britain. London: Unwin Hyman; Duncan, S. 1989: What is locality? In R. Peet and N. Thrift, eds, New models in geography, vol. 2. London: Unwin Hyman, 221-52. Giddens, A. 1979: Central problems in social theory. London: Macmillan. Giddens, A. 1981: A contemporary critique of historical materialism, vol. 1, Power, property and the state. London: Macmillan. Giddens, A. 1984: The constitution of society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Giddens, A. 1987: Social theory and modern sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press. Massey, D. 1991: The political place of locality studies. Environment and Planning A 23: 267-81. Thrift, N. 1983: On the determination of social action in space and time. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 1: 23-57.

Suggested Reading Giddens (1984), esp. ch. 3. Giddens (1987), ch. 6. Thrift (1983).
Type of society|Dominant locale organization|Power-container|
Tribal societies|band groups or villages|villages(?)|
Class-divided societies|symbiosis of city and countryside|cities|
Class societies|\'the created environment\'|nation-states|
locale Dominant locales and time-space distanciation (Giddens, 1981)



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