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Scale Notes

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Geographical Research: Scale Notes to discuss the debates surrounding the concept of scale, its use in geography and summarising the alternatives to scale. Contents:

1. Geographers and Scale - History, Defining scale, How we use scale

2. Debates over Geography and Scale - What are the debates, Scale's flaws, For and Against scale

3. Alternatives to Scale

4. Key Texts

Key debates








How is scale socially constructed?
Why is the concept of scale so debated?
How do Geographers use scale?
How is the role of scale mis/understood?
Is scale still relevant/necessary for Geography?
Criticisms of scale What alternatives to scale are there?

Key words Ontology- a set of beliefs and arguments about what exists or is real (Castree et al, 2005) Epistemology- concerned with how we know the world and whether this way of knowing is useful/reflects an ontological reality


1. Geographers and Scale History of Scale in Geography

Traditionally only considered a cartographic practical tool for defining areas upon earth (Gregory 2009) Its consideration in geographical research has transitioned from its past as a cartographic practice to an understanding based upon economic and political geographers' conceptions of scale drawn from the spatial sciences (Marston et al, 2005)

The first geographers taking up questions of scale emerged from Marxist influences (1970s)....but over past 20 years, scale has steadily taken on greater theoretical importance for Geographers, to the point it is now claimed one of geography's foundational concepts (Howitt, 1998)

Defi ning Scale

Despite disagreement over the concept, all geographers now consider scale as a socially constructed and fluid concept (Moore, 2006) rather than the fixed category it was originally considered Two main forms of scale may be defined as (Moore, 2006): o 'Scale as a category of practice' --> scale as an embodiment of social relations and the arena where they operate (Swyngedouw, 1997) o 'Scale as a category of analysis' --> scale as a representational tool to frame processes A term laden with multiple contradictory and problematic meanings (Moore, 2008) Always consider the ontological/epistomological definitions (but cannot be separated- Harvey 1973- the subject both structures, and is structured by, the object) o Ontological Definition
 Ontology of scale: category, constructed, material
 If scale exists ontologically, it is something material and the product of social relations
 'Materialistic'- dealing with physical, material things as opposed to ideas
 In order to be of local/global scale, it must possess some material features to be categorised
 The way scale is perceived epistemologically translates into the material construction of things so scale exists ontologically o Epistomological Definition
 Scale as a categorising device, as a way of conceptualising the world
 Arguments over whether scale will exist
 Scale will always exist epistemologically though conceptions of local to the global, it is only the ontology/physical features (embodiment of social relations) that may not exist - we will always need scale to categorise Two conflicting trains of thought on scale in geography: o 1) Political economic geographers
 Scale is both material and in space (Smith, 1993)
 Scale as material sociospatial entities, platforms of specific kinds of social activity, of absolute space within a wider sea of relational space

Swyngedouw 1997- scale as the embodiment of social relations of empowerment/disempowerment and the arena through which they operate o 2) Representational Trope/Discursive frame (Jones, 1998, Kurtz, 2003)
 Scale as an epistemological construct (i.e. representing ideas not a material thing)
 Scale presents specific sociospatial orderings, no necessary correspondence between scale representations and material conditions
 Delaney and Leitner (1997)- scale is not simply an external fact awaiting discovery but a way of framing conceptions of reality.. through fusion of ideologies/practices political constructions of scale emerge Howitt (2003): 'Three facts of scale' o Level- or vertical scale, metaphors form of a ladder with local scale at the bottom, then national, regional and global at the top.. suggests must go through different scales before reaching global..local considered natural state where things begin-weaker position in relation to global o Size- spatial extent, global larger than local with local contained within it, scale is relational-different scales nested within another, hieracrchy still remains o Relation- network with some nodes connected more than others, interwocen and connected linkages

How Geographers Use Scale 'how geographers use and treat scale is almost as multiple/fluid/contingent as the concept itself is portrayed to be' Moore, 2008 Physical geographers

Physical geographers study the world across a range of scales, from the molecular to the global- study of all in the Earth provides great scope for a geographer Resolution of studies- study of particle size of soil samples, using different remote sensing imagery Apply results from one scale of analysis to another of application o Upscaling of results from small scale catchment studies to the whole river, biogeography estimates/extrapolations etc... o Downscaling results- applying global climate to the local scale Schumm and Lichty 1965- Scale and causality o Processes operate within a fixed environment but over long timescales they move from static equilibrium to steady state equilibrium o Over long timescales, driving forces can change

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