||Scale refers to one or more levels of representation, experience and organization of geographical events and processes. There are three discernible meanings of scale in geographical research: the cartographic, methodological and what can be called geographical scale.
Cartographic scale refers to the level of abstraction at which a map is constructed. A map drawn to scale 1:50,000 means that 1 cm on the map represents 50,000 cm (0.5 km) in real space. The scale at which a map is drawn therefore colours the level and kind of detail that can be shown: a small-scale map shows a large area but at the expense of considerable detail; a large-scale map generally shows greater detail but over a more restricted terrain. Cartographic scale is therefore crucial in determining what is included and excluded in a map and the overall image a map conveys.
Methodological scale is closely related. This refers to the choice of scale made by a researcher in the attempt to gather information aimed at answering a research problem. Thus a geographer wishing to know where the wealthiest 5 per cent of a city\'s population lived might resort to data gathered at the level of the census tract. The choice of scale is largely determined by some compromise between the research problem (what kind of answer is anticipated), the availability of data, and the cost of data-acquisition and processing. Data gathered at the level of wards or community districts may be too coarse, while a block-by-block mapping of wealth in the city may be too expensive in terms of data purchase and analysis.
If these first two definitions refer to conceptualizations of scale â€” cartographic and methodological â€” geographical scale is of a different order. \'Geographical scale\' refers to the dimensions of specific landscapes: geographers might talk of the regional scale, the scale of a watershed, or the global scale, for example. These scales are also of course conceptualized, but the conceptualization of geographical scale here follows specific processes in the physical and human landscape rather than conceptual abstractions lain over it. The urban scale, for example, differs from that of census tracts insofar as the former purports to capture something about the extent of city living under given historical and geographical conditions, while the latter is imposed as an administrative convenience.
In human geography until the 1980s, the methodological and geographical meanings of scale were not systematically distinguished. Geographical scale was largely taken as either the product of the researcher\'s methodology or else as unproblematically given. Thus although there may be periodic conflicts over boundaries and the extent of included territory may vary widely, the scale of the nationstate as such was not questioned. This was a pattern of response established after debates on regional geography between the 1920s and 1950s. Some of the best works of spatial science began to insist that scale was more than a methodological choice and might inhere in spatial processes themselves (Cliff and Ord, 1981). With the rise of Marxist geography and social theory in the 1980s and 1990s, however, the question of scale has become a major research concern and the object of energetic theorization.
Proposing that all politics is at root spatial, Henri Lefebvre (1990) exhorted that a research focus on space per se fuelled a bureaucratic agenda aimed at spatial control and spatial policy. The appropriate focus, he argued, lay in an understanding of the production of space. This argument found a receptive audience during the 1980s and 1990s when so many established spatial configurations of power and social interchange â€” from the local to the global â€” were dramatically reorganized. With such an emphasis on the fluidity and pliability of geographical space â€” \'the space of flows\' as Castells (1996) has called it â€” it is also important to theorize the ways in which space is redifferentiated into recognizable places, social units and groupings of places (Smith and Dennis, 1987).
A crucial insight emerging from scale research, therefore, is that geographical scale is in no sense natural or given. There is nothing inevitable about global, national or urban scales, for instance. These are specific to certain historical and geographical locations, they change over time, sometimes rapidly sometimes slowly, and in some cases a scale that operates in one society may fail to appear in another. Accordingly, nation-states are a very powerful scale of social organization today, even if their power is threatened, but nation-states were rare before the seventeenth century in Europe.
Geographical scale, then, is a central organizing principle according to which geographical differentiation takes place. It is a metric of spatial differentiation; it arbitrates and organizes the kinds of spatial differentiation that frame the landscape. As such it is the production of geographical scale rather than scale per se that is the appropriate research focus (Smith, 1992a). Thus Taylor (1981) has proposed that there is a \'political economy of scale\' specific to capitalist society. The specific forms taken by different scales may be constantly transforming but there is a central necessity, inherent to the logic of capitalist expansion, for the differentiation of some system of absolute spaces as particular scales of social activity (Smith, 1984). In the broadest terms, specific geographical scales can be conceived as platforms for specific kinds of social activity. They are platforms of absolute space in a wider sea of relational space.
It is therefore possible to recognize a loose hierarchy of geographical scales, from that of the body, the home and the community through the local, regional, national and global. The importance of recognizing this somewhat nested hierarchy of scales is to begin to provide a stable, theoretically derived language for analysing scale where none previously existed. It expresses the fact that the production of scale in capitalist society is not arbitrary or voluntaristic but is to a considerable degree ordered.
Viewed from a parallel perspective, geographical scale can be seen as a means of both containment and empowerment. A political movement which conquers urban politics in the attempt to challenge national government is empowered by its hold on politics at the urban scale, while an embattled national government may attempt to contain the political challenge at the urban scale. This was precisely the predicament in Britain in the early 1980s when Labour Party control of several metropolitan governments provided a political base from which to challenge Margaret Thatcher\'s national Conservative government.
According to this perspective, the construction of geographical scale is a process of profound political importance. \'Scaling places\' â€” the establishment of geographical differences according to a metric of scales â€” etches a certain order of empowerment and containment into the geographical landscape. Thus the response by the Thatcher government was to abolish metropolitan governments, erasing the geographical scale of metropolitan governance as a means of defeating political opposition. Conversely, this suggests that a central means of political power comes from a process of \'jumping scales\' whereby political claims and power established at one geographical scale can be expanded to another (Smith, 1992b). Inherently contested, the establishment of geographical scale is equally a spatial means of arbitrating the social and economic contradiction between cooperation and competition: to the extent that certain scales are accepted as natural, responsibility for social inclusion and exclusion can be displaced to geography.
The nested hierarchy of scales proposed above, from the global to the body, is of course an analytical schema. In reality there is rarely if ever such a precise differentiation or nesting of scales, nor such a unilinear path through the hierarchy. The overthrow of Indonesian President Suharto in 1998 was simultaneously a community event insofar as the major uprisings were concentrated in specific parts of Jakarta (and other cities) and yet at the same time the political uprising resulted directly from regional (East Asian) economic collapse and contributed to wider global events (the global economic crisis of 1998). The interflow between bodily, global and intervening scales is neither smooth nor regular, and specific events may embody destructions and reconstructions of various scales at the same time. This simultaneity of scales, especially in times of economic crisis or major political conflict, demonstrates precisely the socially constructed nature of geographical scale and the vulnerability of power hardened as geographical scale. The collapse of scale is often the collapse of certain forms of political power in favour of others.
Burgeoning empirical research on geographical scale is beginning to document the powerful but highly variegated connections between geographical scale and politics. Marston (2000) has shown that early twentieth-century American women explicitly constructed various scales of resistance to class and gender oppression â€” from the body to the state â€” and refused the imposed boundaries of scale differences. The current unification of Europe has prompted considerable attention to the restructuring of scale by Helga Leitner, John Agnew (Italy) and Neil Brenner (Germany) (all in Delaney and Leitner, 1997a), as have globalization (Brenner, 1997; Smith, 1997) and deindustrialization (Smith and Dennis, 1987; Miller, 1997).
In order to distinguish geographical scale from the conceptual schemas implied by cartographic and methodological notions of scale, the emphasis has been placed here on the produced materiality of geographical scale. Geographical scales may not be tangible or visible but they are real. As Delaney and Leitner (1997b) insist, \'scale exists not simply in the eye or political consciousness of the beholder\'. Yet scale is simultaneously a conceptual product. In social science research scale is indeed a methodological device and the choice of scale at which to pursue specific research questions, and the choice of concepts of scale, is simultaneously a choice of conceptual and political abstraction (Cox and Mair, 1989). As Delaney and Leitner put it, \'scale emerges â€¦ in the fusion of ideology and practice\' (p. 97).
Thus another strand of empirical work concerning scale develops the political intent inherent in the notion of \'jumping scales\', and the connections to activism. In his examination of telecommunications in various political struggles, Adams (1996) suggests that \'protest\' is \'a scale politics\'. As part of a concerted attempt to develop a labour geography, Herod has argued that the conquest of geographical scale represents a crucial strategy for organized labour. The political geography of union organizing involves a barrage of choices about whether specific labour contracts, establishing wage levels and work conditions, should be forged at the local, national or international scales (Herod, 1991, 1998). The scales at which class struggles are waged are crucial in forging the spatial compromises that emerge as recognizable scales of socio-economic activity in the geographical landscape.
As questions of space and geography become an increasingly keen focus of research in the social sciences and humanities, very much as an expression of the remaking of world geography from the local to the global level and everywhere in between, it will be of increasing importance to understand how this extraordinary fluidity of social relations also finds stability in a dramatic fixity of certain relations in the landscape, and how certain fixations of social assumption can be fought for over others (Swyngedouw, 1997). The question of scale will become one of mounting theoretical and practical relevance.Â (NS)
References Adams, P.A. 1996: Protest and the scale of telecommunications. Political Geography 15: 419-41.Â Brenner, N. 1997: Global, fragmented, hierarchal: Henri Lefebvre\'s geographies of globalization. Public Culture 10.1: 135-67.Â Castells, M. 1996: The information age, vol. 1: The rise of the network society. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Â Cliff, A.D. and Ord, J.K. 1981: Spatial processes. London: Pion.Â Cox, K. and Mair, A. 1989: Levels of abstraction in locality studies. Antipode 21: 121-32.Â Delaney, D. and Leitner, H. 1997a: Issue on Scale. Political Geography 16.2.Â Delaney, D. and Leitner, H. 1997b: The political construction of scale. Political Geography 16: 93-7.Â Herod, A. 1991: The production of scale in United States labour relations. Area 23: 82-8.Â Herod, A., ed., 1998: Organizing the landscape: geographical perspectives on labour unionism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Â Lefebvre, H. 1990: The production of space. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Â Marston, S. 2000: The social construction of scale. Progress in Human Geography, forthcoming.Â Miller, B. 1997: Political action and the geography of defense investment: geographical scale and the representation of the Massachusetts Miracle. Political Geography 16: 171-82.Â Smith, N. 1984: Uneven development: nature, capital and the production of space. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Â Smith, N. 1992a: Geography, difference and the politics of scale. In J. Doherty, E. Graham and M. Malek, eds, Postmodernism and the social sciences. London: Macmillan, 57-79.Â Smith, N. 1992b: Contours of a spatialized politics: homeless vehicles and the production of geographical scale. Social Text 33: 54-81.Â Smith, N. 1997: Satanic geographies of globalization: uneven development in the 1990s. Public Culture 10.2: 169-89.Â Smith, N. and Dennis, W. 1987: The restructuring of geographical scale: coalescence and fragmentation of the northern core region. Economic Geography 63: 160-82.Â Swyngedouw, E. Neither global nor local: globalization and the politics of scale, 1997: In K. Cox, ed., The Global and the Local. New York Guilford.Â Taylor, P.J. 1981: Geographical scales in the world systems approach. Review 5: 3-11.
Suggested Reading Delaney and Leitner (1997a).Â Smith (1992a, 1992b).