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Geographical Scales within the World-Economy Approach

Author(s): Peter J. Taylor
Source: Review (Fernand Braudel Center), Vol. 5, No. 1 (Summer, 1981), pp. 3-11
Published by: Research Foundation of SUNY for and on behalf of the Fernand Braudel Center
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Review,V, 1, Summer1981,3-11

GeographicalScales within
the World-EconomyApproach

PeterJ. Taylor

The world-economyapproach has been proposed as an

alternativeto the "developmental"approach which posits
societies- usuallycountries - individually movingalongspeci-
fiedeconomic,social,and politicalpatternsofchange.We are
askedto alterthescale ofourperspective and look at countries
as theyinterrelate in a world-economy ratherthan studying
countriesindividually.Hence theonlydevelopmental process
identified is occurring at theglobalscale. Althoughthisdebate
is about muchmorethana merechangein geographicalscale,
it is thisaspectthatis discussedin thispaper.
If we concentrate on thedebateas itrelatesto geographical
scales, we notice immediatelythat one importantscale is
missing.A largeproportionoftwentieth-century socialscience
researchhas been conductedon urban affairs.These urban
studiesconstitutea major partof modernsocial scienceand
represent a scale ofanalysisuninvolvedintheworld-economy/
developmentalism debate.In thispaperwe explicitlyconsider
a trilogyofscales- global,national,and urban- witha viewto
relatingall threewithina world-economy perspective.

1981 ResearchFoundationof SUNY

4 PeterJ. Taylor

The Scales of Social Science Research

One of the interesting featuresof thesocial sciencesis that
each of themhas organizedits materialin termsof thethree
scales identifiedabove. This is most explicitwithinhuman
geography,as we mightexpect,but each of the othersocial
sciences has its scale organization.Furthermore, the emer-
gence of the urban scale seems to have taken place under
similarcircumstances foreach discipline.
Let us brieflylistthesedisciplinaryscale organizations.In
themostcommonscale of concern,thereare distinctive fields
of international relationsand urbanpolitics.In economicsthe
internationalscale is representedby trade theory,the state
scale by the rest of macroeconomics,and urban/regional
economicshas recentlygrownin importance.In sociologythe
social systemsare typicallyviewedas occurringat the state
scale eitherside of which lies comparative(international)
sociologyand the massivefieldof urbansociology.
The scale whichhas receivedthemostattentionrecently has
beentheurban.In fact,urbanstudiesare mainlytheresultof
twentieth-century social scienceand werelargelyneglectedby
the nineteenth-century pioneers.It does not seem unreason-
able to linktheriseofconcernfortheurbanwiththedevelop-
mentofa positivistperspective withitsemphasisupon empiri-
cal testing.This linkis explicitin urbansociologyinthework
of Robert Park.1 In buildinghis "human ecology," Park
proposed the use of the city (Chicago) as a laboratoryto
measureand testfor"ecological"processes.FromPark'stime
onward,citieshaveattractedresearchers as laboratories,since
they afford innumerable opportunities(e.g., data) fortesting
ideas. The resulthas been an urban sociologythatcontains
more research on cities than any other field. Elsewhere,
however,a similarprocesscan be identified.Urban political
studiesgrewout of interestin powerand influence, and cities

1. See Park (1915).

GeographicalScales S

again providedeasy access to the studyof government and

governmental processes in action.2 it
Finally, may be noted
thatthisthesisis supportedin thecase ofeconomics,themost
theoreticalof the social scienceswiththe smallestempirical
tradition,which also has the least interestin urban areas.
Urban and regional economics continueto be the "poor
relations"of theirdiscipline.
Since we are concernedwithgeographicalscales, human
geography warrants specialattention forourargument. Human
geography went through its positivistphase in the 1950's and
1960's, and thisagain coincided with the rise of interest in the
urbanscale. Geography'squantitative revolution was to a large
degreeabout the developmentof urban geographywithits
spatialmodelseagerlywaitingto be testedon theground,as it
were.3In contrast, thepartofhumangeographynotcaughtup
in the quantitativerevolutionwas politicalgeography, which
remainedless empiricalthanotherparts geographyand, as
we would now expect, neglectedthe urban scale. Political
geographywas probablythe last part of social science to
develop an urban specialization - it only appeared in the
1970V but as a resultof its own supposeddeficiency, it has
been more concernedwiththe scale at whichits studiesare
carriedout. Hence thissubjectarea is now busilyreorganizing
itselfaround our three scales, and the most recenttexts5
explicitlyuse these scales to introducetheirmaterial.Cox6
even goes so faras to statethatone of his tasksis to provide
modelsthatare "scale-free", thatis, setsof ideas thatmaybe
applied equally any of the threescales.
Although mayargue that somestudiesare carriedouton
scales other than the three discussed above (such as the
regionalscale betweenurbanand stateand the"other"regional
2. See, forexample,Dahl (1961).
3. See, forexample,Berry& Horton(1970).
4. See Cox (1973).
5. See Coates, Johnston& Knox (1977), Cox (1979), and Smith(1979).
6. See Cox (1979).
6 PeterJ. Taylor

scale betweenstatelevel and global level),I thinkit will be

generallyconceded that there are just three scales which
dominatemostof our thinking in thesocial sciences.If thisis
accepted,thenthe interestingquestionarises:Whyjust three
scales? Why not two or four or five?If three,why these
particularthreescales?I am unawareof thesequestionsbeing
asked or answered elsewhere.Since the three scales are
in variousdifferent
similarlyidentified disciplinarytraditions,
it followsthattheanswersto thesequestionscannotbe found
in chance occurrences.If the threescales are not, therefore,
arbitrarychoices, answersto our questionsshould tell us
somethingabout the social sciencesthemselves.

An Interpretation
of the ThreeScales
It is suggestedherethatthethreescaleshavedifferentprime
rolesin the world-economy and thatthisis reflectedby their
commonidentification withsocialsciences.We shalltreateach
scale in turn,concentratingon onlythese"prime"roles.

(i) The Scale of Reality

This is theglobal scale,theworld-economy. It is definedin
materialistictermsas the scale on whichour lives and our
environment are organizedand exploited.It is definedby the
mode production,capitalism,and delineatedbythespatial
divisionof labor. It is termed"reality"because it definesthe
oftheothertwoscales,itis all-embracing,
characteristics and it
cannot be avoided. It is the scale of imperialism.This is the
argumentdevelopedin Wallerstein'swritings.7

(ii) The Scale of Experience

This is the urban scale. It is definedin the industrialized
economiesbydailyurbansystemscombining job centerswith
7. See Wallerstein(1979).
Geographical 7
vasttractsofresidential areas.Theyaremuchmorethanlocal
labor markets,however.They are the scale on whichwe
experienceour lives-we shop withinthem,use hospitals
withinthem,ourchildren go to schoolswithin them,etc.In
short,theydefine thequalityoflifeweexperience. Hencewhen
a multinational corporation closesa factory, closureis
experienced in a locallabor market, whentheI.M.F. tellsa
government to cut expenditure, theeffects are experienced
locallyin theformofhospitalclosures, etc.
The empirical popularity oftheurbanscaleis basedupon
morethansimplyitsaccessibility to researchers.It is super-
ficiallythe scale of relevance. The of
problems capitalism
manifest themselves at the urbanscale so that"relevant"
researchis attracted. Geographers havefoundthisthebest
scaleforstudying locationalconflicts,8
ingresponses (urban socialmovements9), politicalecono-
mistsforstudying allocationand distributionprocesses. 10

(Hi) The Scale of Ideology

Thisis thestateornationalscaletowhichthevastmajority
ofmankind givetheirdividedloyalties. One oftheimportant
factsabout the urban scaleis thatalthough it is thefocusof
people'sexperience,fewofthemwoulddeclaretheir allegiance
at thisscale: Bostoniansare Americans, Liverpudlians are
Englishmen. Loyalty and commitment are demanded bythe
stateand,inverymanycases,arefreely given. This istheresult
of theprocessesof nationalization of societies described by
Deutch,Rokkan,andmanyothers.11 Itiscurrently in
the organization of politicsin industrializedcountries into
nationalpartiesso thatveryoften(in Britain, forinstance)

8. See, forexample,Wolpert(1970).
9. See Castells(1978).
10. See Gordon (1971).
11. See Deutch (1966) and Rokkan (1970).
8 PeterJ. Taylor

local electionresultsdepend solely on the performance of a

party in the national parliament.
It is the scale of ideologybecause we are all socializedinto
thescale frombirththroughschoolto death.It triumphed over
internationalsocialismin 1914and permeates,sometimesas
patriotismand nationalism,but oftenmuchmoresubtly,the
thoughtsand ideas of most people. These includethe social
scientistswho generatenaive developmentalist models and
seem to assume that Britain and the United States can
become"models"in morethanone sense.Furthermore, since
statemachinery, itmeansthatprogressive politicalmovements
became distortedin their aims as they find it necessary,
inevitably,to takeaccountofthe"nationalinterest" whenthey
became the government.12 Hence the vast majorityof all
politicalaction is channeledto the statelevel and verylittle
reachesthe scale of reality.

Beforethe World CapitalistEconomy

The worldcapitalisteconomyhas existedonlysinceabout
1500 and has embracedthe whole globe onlysincethe latter
half of the nineteenth century.Wallerstein13 arguesthatthe
world-economy replaced two other typesof "entities",
whathe termsminisystems and world-empires. Let us consider
each in turn with respectto the reality,experience,and
ideologyscales discussedabove.
The world-empires are definedby the redistributive-tribu-
tarymode production, large-scaleexploitationof
peasants.In termsofreality, thescaleistheempire,theportion
oftheearth'ssurfacecontrolledbytherulinggroup.In termsof
ideology,thescale is thesame- theempire- as represented by
a "state"religionand a stateor "official"language.Unlikethe
world-economy,where state and church are separated,in

12. For the BritishLabour Party,see Miliband(1962).

13. See Wallerstein(1976).
GeographicalScales 9

world-empires theyare intrinsically

integratedso thatideology
is empire-wide and religionexplicitlyreflectsthe rulingclass
hierarchy.The only scale that stands apart is the scale of
experience,whichwillnormallybe thevillageor estateforthe
vastmajorityofthepopulationintheempire.It is at thisscale
that"ordinary"lifegoes on at thewhimoftheforcesoperating
at the empire-scale.
In thecase oftheminisystems withtheirveryrestricted time
and space dimensions,thereis only one scale. The mode of
productionis reciprocal-lineage, and the material base is
definedbythegroup'sterritory. This also represents thescale
of experienceofa group.Ideologyis farlessimportant in such
entities,since the lack of formal exploitationmakes its
developmentunnecessary.Ideologyis weaklyrepresented by
animism,whichdeifiesthelocal resourcesoftheterritory and,
we mayspeculate,could forma basis foruse in thedevelop-
mentof exploitation.
In summary,we can note that the progressionfrom
minisystems to world-economy incorporates, first,separation
of realityand ideologyfromexperienceinworld-empires and,
secondly,separationof realityand ideology in the world-
economy.This identifies separationofthescale ofrealityfrom
the scale of ideologyas a keyidentifying characteristicof the
world-economy, and hence suggests that the nation-building
processes which coincided with the growthof the world-
economyare ofvitalinterest inunderstanding how itisthatwe
got where we are today.

Studiesusingtheworld-economy approachbutoperatingat
less than a global scale have generallyincorporatedtwo
elementsinto theirexplanation.First,theygive priorityto
"external"factorsin accountingfor a givensituationseeing
thisas a linkagewiththeworld-economy. Secondly,theylook
for interrelationships betweenthelocal classstructures
theworld-economy i.e., whatopportunities does incorpora-
10 PeterJ. Taylor

tionintotheworld-economy giveto different

definesthepoliticalsituationof classesin theThirdWorldin
termsof theirrelationswiththeworld-economy, forinstance.
Our observations above do not transcendthese uses of the
world-economy approach,buttheyenable us to place studies
on a subglobalscale in an overallcontext.We mayprovision-
ally suggestthatsociologyand humangeography,withtheir
urban strengths, have grownup as social sciencedisciplines
withexperientialbiases, whereasthe macro-and state-scale
emphasesof economicsand politicalscienceidentify themas
having more ideological roles in the world-economy.
Finally,since the world-economy approach is notjust an
academicframework, itmustalso be seenas a basisforaction.
The discussion of geographicalscales highlightsthe main
obstacle to true revolutionary change of our reality.Quite
literally, state and its ideologystand betweenthe exper-
ience of people we wish to radicalizeand the realityof the
world-economy whichexploitsand destroysthem.The first
targetis clear.

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Cliffs,NJ: PrenticeHall, 1970).
M. Castells,City,Class and Power (London: Macmillan,1978).
B.E. Coates, R.J.Johnson& P.L. Knox, Geographyand Inequality(Oxford:Oxford
Univ. Press, 1977).
K.R. Cox, Conflict,Powerand Politicsin the City:A GeographicView(New York:
K.R. Cox, Locationand Public Problems:A PoliticalGeographyof theContempor-
ary World(Chicago: Maaroufa, 1979).
R.A. Dahl, Who Governs?Democracyand Powerin an AmericanCity(New Haven:
Yale Univ. Press, 1961).
K.W. Deutch, Nationalismand Social Communication(Cambridge:M.I.T. Press,

14. See Frank(1978).

GeographicalScales 11
A.G. Frank,DependentAccumulationand Under-Development(London: Macmil-
lan, 1978).
D.M. Gordon,d., Problemsin PoliticalEconomy(Lexington,MA.: D.C. Heath,
Socialism(London: MerlinPress, 1961).
R. Miliband,Parliamentary
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UrbanEnvironment," AmericanJournalofSociology,XX, 5, Mar. 1915,577-612.
S. Rokkan, Citizens,Elections,Parties(New York: David McKay, 1970).
D.M. Smith,WheretheGrassis Greener:Livingin an Unequal World(London: Pen-
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of Sociology,XXVII, 3, Sept. 1976,345-54.
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