PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2017, Vol. 36 ›› Issue (12): 1500-1509.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2017.12.005

• Special Issue|Scale • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Towards a theoretical framework of 'politics of scale'

Fenglong WANG1,2(), Yungang LIU3()   

  1. 1. The Center for Modern Chinese City Studies, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
    2. Institute of Urban Development, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
    3. School of Geography and Planning, Guangdong Key Laboratory for Urbanization and Geo-simulation, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
  • Online:2017-12-20 Published:2017-12-20
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41271165, No.41571130, No.41601144


Since Neil Smith initiated the arguments of "politics of scale" based on his studies of the homeless, scale has become a hot topic in political geography. However, it is a pity that a comprehensive theoretical model of "politics of scale" has still not been developed despite of a large number of debates on the concept of scale itself and various empirical studies conducted in different cultures. In this article, we propose a three-step theoretical model of "politics of scale" based on the existing literature, especially the structural and post-structural perspectives to power, the second-abstraction view of scale, and the large volume of empirical studies on scalar politics. We argue that "politics of scale" is pillared on the processes of scalization, rescaling, and articulation of scale with power relations. Specifically, in "politics of scale" power relations are embedded in various forms of scale that can be mainly decomposed into size in material space, level in organizational space, and scope in discursive space. The existing scale frames or scalar relations are reshaped or rearticulated by different political actors. A three by three matrix is developed to incorporate the dazzling strategies of rescaling in terms of scaling-up, scaling-down, and rescaling. Different political actors will adopt different rescaling strategies to transform the power relations and legitimate/problematize governmental rationality according to their own interests. Several basic laws and paradoxes of "politics of scale" are summarized. The specific characteristics of "politics of scale" in China compared with its Western counterparts are also summarized, including the dominance of administrative level, underdevelopment of scaled discourses, and decisive roles of the Internet and international intervention. We also point out some issues worth further exploration, such as the problem of political justice in "politics of scale" and extension of the "geographical meaning" of scale in political geography. This article may contribute to the growing literature on scale and Chinese political geographical studies.

Key words: scalization, rescaling, politics of scale, political process, power relations