Avoiding Traps, Rescaling States, Governing Europe

This on-line version is the pre-copyedited, preprint version. The published version can be found here:

‘Avoiding traps, rescaling the state, governing Europe‘, in R. Keil and R. Mahon, eds, Leviathan Undone? Towards a Political Economy of Scale, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 87-104, 2009.


Lively debates over the future of the state resurfaced in the 1980s as scholars, critics, and politicians began to suggest that the scale of national states had become too small to solve the world’s big problems and too big to solve its little ones. The most frequently cited problems included: (1) the rise of an uncontrolled, possibly uncontrollable, process of capital accumulation that is increasingly and allegedly irreversibly integrated on a world scale; (2) the emergence of a global risk society, (3) the challenge to national politics from identity politics and new social movements based on local and/or transnational issues; (4) the difficulties facing national states in dealing with the particularities of local, metropolitan, or regional economic crises and challenges and overcoming uneven social development and new forms of social exclusion through customized solutions, local participation, and capacity-building; and, more recently, (5) the threat, real or imagined, of new forms of protest, terrorism, and decentralized network warfare. Disputes continue about the impact of such ‘problems’ on the future of the state giving rise to a range of prognoses, all of which refer to various spatial dimensions of the state – political territoriality, place-making and spatial planning, parallel power networks cross-cutting administrative boundaries and territorial borders, and rescaling and changes in their overall articulation. This should provide a warning about reducing changes in the state to their scalar features and about the limits of scalar analysis. This does not, however, justify calls to ignore or deny the role of scalar changes as opposed to putting scale ‘in its place’ within a broader spatio-temporal perspective on the state and its embedding within the political order and its wider social context.

Accordingly this chapter undertakes three successive tasks that reflect important concerns in the political economy of scale raised in the introduction to this volume. It first addresses the nature and limits of the scalar turn, identifies different forms of scalar trap, and proposes some ways to reinvigorate scalar analysis within a broader concern with spatiality. It then presents a set of concepts for dealing with the scalar nature of the state in this broader context. In particular, it highlights the importance of focusing on the changing articulation of different dimensions of spatiality as one way to grasp, albeit incompletely, the historical specificity of different state forms.

I illustrate these arguments through a model of multi-scalar meta-governance as an alternative interpretation of the changing forms of European statehood within the broader context of the world market, the global inter-state system, and world society. Here I respond to the call in the introduction to explore the interconnection between scale and network rather than to treat them in isolation. In this context, I propose that scale and network have replaced place and territory as the primary axes around which state spatial strategies are developing (Mahon and Keil, this volume). Whereas the meta-theoretical arguments about scale and spatiality have wide-ranging implications, the substantive focus of my analysis is more limited. Specifically, I focus on the implications for the national state of the rescaling of economic and political relations associated with (but not exclusively caused by) the increasing integration of the world market. Different conclusions might follow from focusing on other ‘problems’ – although, on my reading, neo-liberal globalization is currently the most powerful influence on global dynamics (Jessop 2001, 2002b).

Scalar Turns and Scalar Traps

The scalar turn takes three forms: thematic, methodological, and ontological. A thematic turn occurs when scale is recognized as an important but hitherto neglected analytical topic. In recent years this has been particularly associated with the alleged crisis of nationally-scaled territorial states (see below). This is reflected empirically in the relativization of scale, the recalibration and interweaving of scalar hierarchies, struggles over the scalar division of labour, and scale jumping. More generally, a thematic turn rejects ‘scalar indifference’ and argues that, for some purposes, scale is a key category in spatio-temporal analysis. A methodological turn occurs when scale is deemed a fruitful entry point for social analysis. The recent scalar turn is partly a methodological response to the territorial trap, especially its ‘methodological nationalist’ variant,[1] and partly a thematic as well as methodological response to the increasing importance of scalar issues.[2] Finally, a simple (non-essentialist) ontological turn occurs when scale is recognized as an important, unavoidable dimension of the natural and social worlds and hence as one that must be integrated sooner or later into any analysis of these worlds.

A major problem in recent debates on scale has been a failure to distinguish these turns and to consider whether and how far each might benefit social analysis. This is reflected in three fallacies.

Scalar conflationism occurs when analysts fail to distinguish among (a) scale as a relational property of social relations, (b) phenomena conditioned by scale in this sense, by its causal processes, and by its emergent effects on non-scalar aspects of the real world; and (c) non-scalar factors relevant or implicated in the production of scale. As Miller (this volume) suggests, scale becomes a chaotic conception and can be found anywhere and everywhere insofar as all phenomena are directly scalar, scale-conditioned, or scale-relevant.

Scalar reductionism occurs when only scale is included as a relevant causal factor in explaining the non-scalar features of a given explanandum. This involves a one-sided emphasis on scale to the detriment of concern with place, territory, network, or other spatial phenomena. It then concentrates on the relative importance of specific scales (cf. Leitner 2004; Wood 2005). At worst, it treats scales as ordered in a single, fixed, multi-layered pyramid or cone with a rigid descending hierarchy of power and the processes on each scale operating separately and discretely from others (cf. Allen 2004; Wood 2005; see also Mahon and Keil, this volume). Even relatively benign forms of scale-centrism overextend the scalar perspective with the result that almost everything appears to be scalar in one sense or another and/or that other key spatial features and dynamics get ignored.

Scalar essentialism occurs when an ontological turn is taken to extremes. This can happen in three ways: (i) ideationally, when scale is taken as an a priori mental category or metric rather than an emergent effect of social imaginaries and processes; (ii) materially, when scale is treated as the primary aspect of all social relations without regard to circumstances; and (iii) fetishistically, when scale is considered as an ontologically distinct phenomenon that exists independently of its instantiation as a moment of natural and/or social relations. In the third case, scale is abstracted from its associated substantive content with the result that the aggregate, cumulative causal powers of a given object are attributed to its scalar properties alone (cf. Sayer 2000 on spatial fetishism). In each case scholars tend to take given scalar categories and hierarchies for granted and to populate the relevant conceptual boxes with objects regardless of fit. This is deeply problematic, of course, and has recently led to an anti-scalar backlash in favour of a horizontal network topology (e.g., Amin 1998, 2002) or even a ‘flat ontology’ (Marston et al, 2005) that denies the very existence of geographical scale (for responses see Collinge 2006; Hoefle 2006, and the editors’ introduction to this volume).

Thus, while the scalar turn has a useful role to play in the logic of social scientific discovery and highlights real causal mechanisms and actual phenomena, it also has definite empirical limits and poses serious theoretical risks. Thematically, scale is only one dimension of spatiality; methodologically, it is not always the best entry point into spatial analysis and, even where it is, it should not be the exclusive exit point; and, ontologically, there are real risks of scalar essentialism. There are clear ‘limits to scale’ and a scalar perspective can only explain certain aspects of certain trends (Brenner 2001; cf. Taylor 2004). Thus it is important to note the ambivalences and difficulties produced by overextension of scalar language, while avoiding a fourth fallacy, ‘scalar rejectionism’, which is  based on the total rejection of scale. Elaborating a scalar and scaled political economy is only one possible approach to contemporary capitalism. Thus, if a scalar approach is adopted on thematic, methodological, or simple ontological grounds, it should be complemented by other types of spatial analysis in a consistent conceptual framework and more comprehensive investigation. One way forward is to explore the structural and strategic articulation of scale with other dimensions of spatiality, such as place, territory, and network. This is the path recommended in the editors’ introduction and the one taken below.

To avoid these scalar traps, three steps are needed. The first is to recognize all four types of fallacy as a necessary but by no means sufficient precondition of avoiding them. This will enable observers and participants alike to explore the relevance and limits of scale theoretically and practically. The second and third steps will then highlight the potential of scale analysis.

The second step is to examine scale as a socially produced dimension of spatiality that is one among several dimensions. More precisely, scale is an emergent, divergent spatio-temporal process that is a relatum of existing or emerging ensembles of social phenomena. As such it involves many kinds of scalar phenomena that may be convergent-divergent, compossible or mutually exclusive, complementary-contradictory, etc. This is an important consideration because one factor leading to scalar rejectionism is the mistaken assumption that scalar theorists recognize only one nested hierarchy of scales that are identified in casually conventional terms (such as local, regional, national, and global). Yet the existence of multiple scaling processes and scalar orders opens an important field of investigation into scaling, rescaling, and descaling processes, the factors that condition, enable, or generate these processes, and the effects of these processes in different conjunctures. A strategic-relational approach could be useful here on at least three grounds. It avoids the view that scale is an external material constraint and/or an a priori mental category; it interprets scale as an emergent constraint that results from social action and recognizes the variability of spatial horizons of action; and it allows for scalar selectivity and scalar-selective activities (cf. Jessop 2001).

It is important to develop a sufficiently rich set of concepts for each of the dimensions of spatiality and for their articulation to permit an adequate weighting and articulation of these dimensions. For whenever the conceptual and theoretical apparatus for exploring one aspect of a complex phenomenon is more differentiated and comprehensive than the apparatus(es) for other aspects, its relative descriptive and explanatory power could overwhelm mechanisms linked to other dimensions. Or paradoxically, given the inadequacy of other sets of concepts, it could lead to simplistic analyses that nullify explanations in terms of the well-specified dimension(s), reducing them to mere details or mediations.[3] While simplistic scalar analysis supposedly justifies scalar rejectionism, scalar essentialism is the reciprocal temptation for those who ignore other spatial dimensions. Both are theoretically acceptable. One solution is to develop appropriately rich[4] – and commensurable – vocabularies with a similar capacity to move from abstract to concrete analysis for each dimension of spatiality; and then to combine them to produce concrete-complex analyses as appropriate and necessary for particular explananda.

This is a counsel of perfection, of course, that typically involves a broadly spiral movement as first one and then another moment of spatiality (or, better, spatio-temporality) is stressed thematically, methodologically, or ontologically. A spiral approach would enable investigators to explore the social world from different entry points whilst still ending with an equally complex-concrete analysis of the current conjuncture in which each aspect of spatiality finds its appropriate descriptive-cum-explanatory weight. Researchers could thereby overcome not only the three main scalar fallacies but their equivalents for other moments of spatiality. Thus a focus on territory (as the instantiation of territorialized political power) is associated with the territorial trap, especially, during the post-war period, with methodological nationalism (cf. the critique in Agnew 1994); a concern with place can lead to a place-centrism that looks at places as distinct, discrete, institutionally thick, more or less self-contained, more or less self-identical ensembles of social-ecological relations (cf. the critique in Massey 1992, 1995) or to a network centrism that assumes ‘flat ontologies’ that emphasize frictionless ‘spaces of flows’, ‘topological spatiality’, ‘new mobilities’, or rhizomatic topographies of power (see respectively Castells 1996; Amin 2002[5]; Law and Urry 2004; Deleuze and Guattari 1988; Hardt and Negri 2000).

The relevance of the second step can be seen in the number and range of compound or hybrid concepts that are used to describe spatial phenomena – concepts that involve relata that refer to two or more dimensions of spatiality. Examples include: glocalization, glurbanization,[6] federalism, neo-medievalism, territorial networks, virtual regions, polynucleated cities, graduated sovereignty, network state, multi-level governance, global city hierarchies, ‘highly networked glocal enclaves’,[7] ‘a network-archipelago of grand poles’.[8] Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how one might define any given moment of spatiality without regard to at least one other moment. As one moves towards increasingly ‘thick description’ and/or tries to provide spatially-sensitive explanations of more concrete-complex phenomena, one’s analyses should involve the dynamic articulation of two or more moments. This is illustrated in the recent emphasis on the dialectic of scales and networks (Castree 2000; Leitner 2004; Wood 2005) or McDowell’s argument that the social relations associated with the space of flows can sediment into connections across and between scales in the form of a space of places (2001, 231). Consider too the suggestion that cities comprise ‘places of juxtaposed spaces and superimposed relational webs’ (Amin and Graham 1999, 36). Work on the Europolity has examined not only the re-territorialization of political power but also the rise of functional networks and governance regimes that pay limited attention to political frontiers (e.g., Schmitter 1992). Paasi argues that: ‘[t]he institutionalization/deinstitutionalization of region, place and scale are in fact inseparable elements in the perpetual process of regional transformation’ (2004, 529) while Jones calls for a reorientation of regional research around the notion of ‘phase space’, which highlights the spatiotemporal becoming of regions from a topological stance but insists on the compatibilities between networked and scalar/territorial perspectives on space (2005, 3).

The third step in breaking with our four problematic approaches to scale is to relate scale to structure, process, imaginaries, and agency in a comprehensive critical realist, strategic-relational approach. This step should recognize not only the multi-dimensional nature of spatiality but also the necessary and inherently complex articulation of spatiality with temporality (Jessop 2001, 2002b). Against the temptation to see space as static and time as dynamic (Massey 1992) or, worse, to see both space and time as external parameters of social practices and processes, we must stress the dynamics of spatio-temporality as well as potential dislocations between emergent spatial and temporal properties. Key themes here are the dialectic of scaled structures and scalar imaginaries, scalar selectivities and scalar strategies, the making, unmaking, and remaking of scalar selectivities and strategic reflexions on such selectivities, and the recursive selection and consolidation of structurally-inscribed scalar selectivities and specific scalar horizons of action so that specific scalar fixes come to be stabilized for a time as part of more general spatio-temporal fixes (see Jessop 2001, 2002a). Here too appropriately balanced sets of concepts are required.

Key Categories of Space and Spatiality

Approached from a strategic-relational perspective, actually existing spatial configurations offer a whole series of different strategically selective possibilities to stretch, compress, and otherwise develop social relations over time as well as space. This section aims to put scale ‘in its place’ within a broader set of spatial concepts and, for this purpose, treats ‘space’ as the umbrella concept for analyzing spatial relations. A contested concept, space comprises socially produced grids and horizons of social action that divide the material, social, and imaginary world(s) and also orient actions in terms of such divisions. Place, territory, scale, and network are important subordinate concepts that identify additional emergent properties of spatial organization. All four are temporal as well as spatial phenomena – they are linked to specific temporal metrics and inter-temporal linkages, have their own discursive, strategic, and material temporalities, as well as their own horizons and expectations, and can become objects of governance and reflexive redesign in their own right in relation to the state and other organizational and institutional orders.

As a product of social practices that appropriate and transform physical and social phenomena and invest them with social significance, space can function as a site, object, and means of governance. Inherited spatial configurations and their opportunity structures are sites where governance may be established, contested, and modified. Space is an object of governance insofar as it results from the fixing, manipulation, and lifting of material, social and symbolic borders, boundaries, and frontiers. Space can be a means of governance when it defines horizons of action in terms of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ and configures possible connections among actors, actions, and events accordingly. For boundaries contain and connect. They frame interactions selectively, privileging some identities and interests over others; and they structure possible connections to other places and spaces across different scales. While such spatial divisions may generate fundamental antagonisms, they may also facilitate coordination across spaces, places, and scales through solidarity, hierarchy, networks, markets, or other governance mechanisms. Which mechanisms, if any, dominate and their relative success or failure vary with the primary forms of sociospatial organization, ranging from simple nomadic bands and segmentary societies through centre-periphery relations to ‘world society’ with its multiscalar functional differentiation and multiple bases of social fragmentation. The same arguments apply, a fortiori, to the various moments of spatiality. Thus place, scale, territory, and network can also be viewed as sites, objects, and means of governance.

Space is constructed and governed at many scales, ranging from the corporeal to ‘outer space’. Individuals create their own ‘personal space’ materially and socially, with intimacy and distance varying by locale, type of social relation, and capacities for surveillance-intrusion. External efforts also occur to govern ‘bodies’ (including ‘hearts and minds’) and their interrelations in many ways. Thus, building on his classic study of punishment, Foucault analyzed the ‘anatomo-political’ (individual) and ‘bio-political’ (population-focused) practices of modern states and other ‘disciplinary’ apparatuses (2004). Other sites of spatial governance, involving great heterogeneity in objects, stakes, mechanisms, actors, and potential lines of conflict, include residential areas, markets, workplaces, schools, prisons, places of worship, (de-)militarized zones, public spaces, private and common land, the built environment, airspace and outer space, areas of outstanding natural beauty, and so on. This suggests that there is no ‘one best way’ to govern time and space and that no actors are inherently privileged or powerful in this regard.

Place or locale is a more or less bounded site of face-to-face relationships among individuals and/or of other forms of direct interaction among social forces. As such, a locale will be more or less extensive depending on whether direct interactions require the co-presence of specific individuals or can be mediated through representative individuals. Place is generally closely tied to everyday life, has temporal depth, and is linked to collective memory and social identity. Places (or locales) provide strategically selective social and institutional settings for direct interactions and also structure connexity beyond that place to other places and spaces on a range of scales. Place-making is an important process that enframes social relations within spaces of everyday, more or less proximate interaction; place-differentiation refers in turn to the horizontal differentiation of various types of place in a variegated areal landscape. The naming, delimitation, and meaning of places in place-making and differentiation are always contested and changeable and the coordinates of any given physical space can be connected to multiple places with different identities, spatio-temporal boundaries, and social significance (cf. Massey 1992). Thus we find significant shifts in the naming, delimitation, and meaning of the places in regard to which place-centred activities are undertaken and in the nature of their material connections.

Territory denotes segments of terrestrial space that have been demarcated and organized in terms of political power. Thus territorialization refers to the segmentation and enclosure of social relations into relatively bounded, demarcated political units and/or the attempted reorganization of such units. It is a special case of the ordering of relations among places through their coordination and enclosure within territorial borders – from which comes the misleading idea of the state as a power container. The typical features of political territory are a Staatsgebiet (territory), Staatsvolk (population), and Staatsapparat (administrative apparatus). The national territorial sovereign state is only one form of demarcating and organizing political territory and is subject to counter-projects based on extra-territoriality rather than the re-drawing of territorial boundaries, borders, or frontiers.

A third moment of spatiality is networking or reticulation. Like the other basic dimensions considered here, networking is a polyvalent term. It can refer to flat, de-centred sets of social relations characterized by symmetrical connectivity to centred ensembles of asymmetrical power relations organized on functional rather than territorial lines and operating in the shadow of hierarchy. There is a large literature on network typologies and the modus operandi of different network organizations and this poses a major risk of neglect of the hierarchical relations that exist among networks. For, even if power relations within all networks were egalitarian and symmetrical, inequality and asymmetry could still occur in network-network relations as expressed in differential capacities of networked agents to pursue their own distinctive strategies and realize their own interests. Such asymmetries and inequalities arise from where networks are grounded (global cities or marginal places), the different scales at and across which they operate (dominant, nodal, or marginal), the territorial interests with which they are linked (e.g., centre vs. periphery, strong vs. weak states, imperialism or empire). Thus an adequate topography of networks depends on locating them within a broader spatio-temporal, strategic-relational analysis.

Finally, scale has been defined as the nested hierarchy of bounded spaces of differing size, e.g., local, regional, national, global (Delaney and Leitner 1997; for a critique, see Howitt 2003). Whilst this definition is a useful starting point, it does not indicate the polyvalence of scalar analysis. For scale sometimes refers to differences in areal scope (terrestrial or territorial), spans of organizational or administrative control in a vertical or horizontal division of labour, relative dominance in control over more or less significant resources, capacities, and competences, distinct levels of analysis that will typically vary by substantive focus, or, relatedly, the articulation of bounded spaces of differing size, e.g., local, regional, national, continental, and global and so on.[9] This reinforces my call for a differentiated set of categories to support concrete-complex analyses. Even if we restrict scale to vertical hierarchies and ignore areal differentiation, far from there being some single, overarching peak at which multiple scalar hierarchies culminate (e.g. a sovereign world state), multiple scalar orders exist that are often individually tangled and mutually disconnected. The number of scales and temporalities of action that can be distinguished is immense but relatively few (although still many) get explicitly institutionalized. How far this happens depends on the prevailing technologies of power that enable the identification and institutionalization of specific scales of action and temporalities.

Thus it is crucial how scales come to be defined and institutionalized. Given that natural and social worlds are too complex to be directly accessible to representation, a key concept for spatial horizons of action and spatial strategies is the spatial imaginary, i.e., different ways of representing space that, inter alia, give more or less weight to place, scale, territory, or network in that representation. Spatial imaginaries are discursive phenomena (semiotic ensembles and associated semiotic practices) that distinguish specific places, scales, territories, networks, or spaces in general from the inherently unstructured complexity of a spatialized world. While many spatial imaginaries involve little more than alternative construals of that world, some have a performative impact through the discursive-material construction of spatiality. Yet even spatial imaginaries that are not ‘arbitrary, rationalistic and willed’ and have been consolidated in specific spatial orders are prone to instability because no imaginary can be fully adequate to the complexities of the real world (cf. Jessop 2002a, 2004). This is particularly the case because of the basic contradictions and strategic dilemmas of the underlying social formation and because of the inability of any imaginary and its associated behavioural repertoire to comprehend the full range of factors that bear on their successful realization.

Three further interrelated scalar concepts are especially useful: (a) the scalar division of labour; (b) scale jumping; and (c) the relativization of scale. For Collinge (1999), the scalar division of labour refers to the distribution of different tasks or functions to different scales within a vertical hierarchy of scales – as opposed to the spatial division of labour in which the same tasks or functions are divided among different places on the same spatial scale. An important aspect of recent rounds of economic and political restructuring is its concern with the most appropriate scales for different tasks. It does not follow that the most powerful institutions and actors are located at the peak of a hierarchy. This is why Collinge distinguishes dominant, nodal, and marginal scales.

Dominance concerns ’the power which organizations at certain spatial scales are able to exercise over organizations at other, higher or lower scales’ (1999, 568). It can derive from the general relationship among different scales as strategically selective terrains and/or from the characteristics, capacities, and activities of organizations located at different scales. Together, these features often mean that one level of a scalar system gain special socio-political significance by becoming ’dominant’, i.e., by playing the dominant role in the scalar division of labour and offering maximum power over rival apparatuses across several institutional orders (Collinge 1999). For example, in Western Europe, the national scale became dominant during the postwar economic boom thanks to a socially-constructed coincidence of national economies, national states, and national citizenship regimes. As scale dominance depends on specific conditions and the possibilities opened by the politics of scale, it is always incomplete, provisional, and unstable. Nodal scales lack such dominance but have key roles in delivering certain activities in a spatiotemporal order. Thus, while the national scale was dominant in economic and social policy making in the Fordist period, the urban scale was nodal for collective consumption and social policy. More marginal or peripheral scales may become important as sites of problems or resistance and so get redefined as nodal sites in delivering solutions for old and/or new problems.

Scale jumping occurs when actors seek to make policy, resolve conflicts, exercise power, and so forth, at the scale that is most favourable to their values, identities, and interests. The motivation for scale jumping is to take advantage of the structurally-inscribed scalar privileging of some forces, some spatial horizons of action, strategies, policies, etc., over others. The scalar division of labour and scale jumping are linked to attempts to redefine and recalibrate that division, engage in interscalar articulation, institute new scales and/or abolish old ones, and redefine scalar selectivities in order to gain advantage in the jumping game. Scalar strategies are nonetheless just one set of possible spatial strategies. Others can target other spatial dimensions of social relations. For example, state spatial projects, and strategies can seek to reorder the territorial matrix of political power through de-and re-territorialization based on new spatial imaginaries (on these terms, see Brenner 2004).

State spatial projects, strategies, and imaginaries can also focus on place-making or new forms of reticulation or some combination of these approaches. European Spatial Development Planning is an impressive example of this compound approach, focusing as it does on territorial integration, creating infrastructural networks, promoting uneven development for the sake of increased competitiveness and providing compensation for adversely affected places for the sake of social cohesion. It involves the creation of a new scalar division of labour in which European level institutions become dominant in spatial planning and national and regional institutions become nodal, and consolidating centre-periphery relations at the heart of EU policy-making (cf. Faludi and Waterhout 2002; Jensen and Richardson 2004).

The relativization of scale involves a major discontinuity in the scalar division of labour compared to the dominance of the national scale associated with the post-war period of Atlantic Fordism, import substitution industrialization, export-led growth, and state socialism. The current period of globalization involves a proliferation of spatial scales, their relative dissociation in complex tangled hierarchies (rather than a simple nesting of scales), and an increasingly convoluted mix of scale strategies as economic and political forces seek the most favourable conditions for insertion into a changing international order (Jessop 2002a). While the national scale has lost its post-war taken-for-granted dominance, no other scale of economic and political organization (whether ‘global’ or ‘local’, ‘urban’ or ‘triadic’) has acquired a similar dominance. Instead different economic and political spaces and forces located at different scales are competing to become the primary or nodal point of accumulation and/or state power. The relativization of scale also offers important new opportunities for scale jumping and struggles over inter-scalar articulation. This raises the interesting question whether a long-term solution requires a new dominant scale with a complementary set of nodal and marginal scales or whether the relativization of scale is the new norm and the importance now attached to network forms of coordination is a viable strategic-relational response to this situation.

Multi-Scalar Metagovernance in the European Union and Beyond

How can a methodological scalar turn contribute to the analysis of the changing forms of European statehood, bearing in mind that this does not require that scale is the only spatial dimension to be considered nor that spatiality is the only major feature of the changing configuration of statehood? I want to argue that a scalar entry point is useful insofar as the main axes of state reorganization today concern scale and networks rather than place and territory and that, in this sense, the scalar turn is justified not merely on thematic and methodological grounds but also on non-essentialist ontological grounds. More precisely, while place, territory, scale, and network are equally important analytical dimensions of state spatiality, their substantive articulation and relative weight in specific state formations (or ensembles involved in the territorialization of political power) can nonetheless vary significantly. In this context, I suggest that the relative primacy in state spatial projects and strategies of territory and place in the period of Atlantic Fordism has been replaced by a relative primacy of scale and networks. This argument develops a general issue alluded to by the editors in their introduction to this volume and relates it changes in statehood in the European Union.

The spatio-temporal fix of the leading Atlantic Fordist economies rested on the primacy of national money over international currency and of the individual and social wage as a source of domestic demand rather than as a cost of international production and this was reflected in the primacy of national economies, national welfare states, and national societies managed by national states concerned to unify national territories and reduce uneven development. In this context there was a relatively stable scalar division of labour in which the national was dominant, albeit embedded in a liberal international order and supported by the nodal role of local states in delivering certain complementary forms of economic and social policy; and networks were primarily corporatist and/or clientelist, operating within the national Atlantic Fordist economic and political matrix. The crisis of Atlantic Fordism and its Keynesian Welfare National States has enhanced the power of international currency and capital flows over national monetary and fiscal policies and prioritized the individual and social wage as a cost of production and, concomitantly, undermined the complementarity of national economies, national welfare states, national societies, and national territorial state and intensified uneven development. This is reflected in the increased importance of competitiveness as the axis around which new modes of regulation in a globalizing knowledge-based economy are being organized and in a search for new forms and functions of statehood that can address the crisis of the national territorial state.

It is in this context that the relativization of scale has put scalar issues firmly on the agenda both theoretically and politically and that there is significant experimentation with network forms of organization that might contribute to the development of a stable, post-national state better able to steer the integration of changing economic and political spaces into a globalizing knowledge-based economy marked by increased uneven development. Let me stress that this is a working hypothesis concerning the changing spatialities of the state rather than an established fact and that further research is required to explore the ‘limits of scale and networks’ as a methodological entry point into the analysis of the European Union as a state in the process of formation. But it is one based on prior research on the changing modes of growth and regulation associated with the crisis of Atlantic Fordism and its spatio-temporal fix and is consistent with these changes. The emergence of new theoretical paradigms concerned with multi-level governance and the network polity and, even more recently, the formal development of the Lisbon agenda with its commitment to a new policy paradigm based on the ‘open method of coordination’ as a form of multi-scalar metagovernance also lend prima facie credibility to this hypothesis.

This hypothesis reinforces the importance of going beyond what is conventionally termed multi-level governance to examine multi-scalar metagovernance as an important feature of the emerging European political order. For the development of the open method of coordination can be seen as part of continuing efforts (often at cross-purposes) by key economic and political actors to produce an appropriate balance between different modes of economic and political coordination across functional and territorial divides and to ensure, under the primacy of the political, a measure of apparatus unity and political legitimacy for the European Union. These efforts have taken different forms at different periods in the pursuit of the European project, especially as this has been shaped at different times by shifts in the relative weight of Atlanticist and European economic and political strategies, by shifts in the relative weight of liberal and neo-liberal échangiste (money capital) perspectives and neo-corporatist and neo-mercantilist productivist projects, and by the tendential shift from a Keynesian Welfare National State approach concerned to create a single market to realize economies of scale to a Schumpeterian workfare post-national regime approach concerned to transform the European Union into the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy and to ‘modernize’ the European social model.

Of course, this European-wide multi-scalar metagovernance project is being conducted in conditions of successive rounds of expansion (which have increased the heterogeneity of the growth dynamics and modes of regulation of different regional and national economies as well as the forms and extent of uneven development and inequalities) and in conditions where national economies and national states have been subject to their own individual structural problems and crises as well as the shared crisis-tendencies derived from their integration into the circuits of Atlantic Fordism and into the emerging globalizing knowledge-based economy. Finally, this multi-scalar metagovernance project is part of a broader post-Westphalian ‘meta-constitutional conversation’ that is occurring between non-state and state actors (including meta-states such as the EU) as they struggle to develop and institutionalize a new political order (Walker 2000).

New methods of multi-scalar metagovernance are being developed and combined in a complex system of metagovernance (cf. Scott and Trubek 2002) that is ‘being made more precise and applied (with adaptations as for its intensity) to other fundamental policy fields, traditionally under the competence of national and sub-national authorities: education, structural reform and internal market, technological innovation and knowledge-based society, research and social protection’ (Telò 2002, 253).[10] From a strategic-relational perspective, this clearly implies a shift in the strategic selectivities of the modes of governance and metagovernance in the EU. For, while it builds on past patterns of liberal intergovernmentalism and neo-functionalist spillover, it has its own distinctive momentum and will weaken more hierarchical forms of coordination (whether intergovernmental or supranational). It also entails complementary changes in the strategic selectivities of national states and subordinate levels of government and governance, calling for new forms of strategic coordination and new forms (meta-)governance in and across a wide range of policy fields.

The pattern of multilevel metagovernance in the European Union is still evolving and, given the inherent tendencies towards failure typical of all major forms of governance (market, hierarchy, network, etc.) as well as metagovernance itself (Jessop 2002a), continuing experimentation, improvisation, and adaptation is only to be expected. Nonetheless: “the perspective would be that of a new system of democratic legitimacy and governance: multilevel (international, national, supranational, transnational), multifaceted (territorial, functional, modern and post-modern) and with a multitude of actors (social, economic, political and cultural; institutional and extra-institutional), rather than that of a classical democratic normative model – federal/constitutional or democrat/republican” (Telò 2002, 266; cf. Schmitter 1992).

This approach is also useful in interpreting the continuities and discontinuities in the development of the European Union as a moment in the structural transformation and strategic reorientation of statehood in a world of states that is not limited to Europe but extends to the global polity (cf. Hettne 1997; Shaw 2000; Sørensen 2001). For the EU can be seen as a major and, indeed, increasingly important, supranational instance of multi-scalar metagovernance in relation to a wide range of complex and interrelated problems. While the sources and reach of these problems go well beyond the territorial space occupied by its member states, the EU is an important, if complex, point of intersection (or node) in the emerging, hypercomplex, and chaotic system of global governance (or, better, meta-governance) and is seeking to develop its own long-term ‘Grand Strategy’ for Europe (Telò 2002, 266). It is still one node among several within this emerging system of global meta-governance and cannot be fully understood without taking account of its complex relations with other nodes located above, below, and transversal to the European Union. Indeed, while one might well hypothesize that the European scale is becoming increasing dominant within the multi-scalar metagovernance regime of the European Union, it is merely nodal in the emerging multi-scalar metagovernance regimes that are developing on a global scale under the (increasingly crisis-prone) dominance of the United States.


This chapter has highlighted some key theoretical issues associated with the scalar turn: the always-contested social construction of scale orders, the relative stability of spatial categories such as place, space, and scale and their associated spatio-temporal properties, the politics of interscalar articulation and rescaling, and the politics of scale jumping rooted in differential capacities to switch scales. It has also argued that scale is only one aspect of a broader spatio-temporal research agenda and that scale must be put in its place within this agenda. This said, it is quite possible that the scalar and network turns are not merely part of the normal intellectual fashion cycle but also reflect important changes in the organization of statehood. The final part of this chapter addressed this issue by reviewing alternative approaches to the European Union as a state in the process of formation and noting the heuristic value of a multi-scalar methodological turn in addressing its novelty within a more general reorganization of statehood on a world scale. The key issue for a research agenda into this new form of statehood is the manner and extent to which the multiplying levels, arenas, and regimes of politics, policy-making, and policy-implementation can be endowed with a certain apparatus and operational unity horizontally and vertically; and how this affects the overall operation of politics and the legitimacy of the new political arrangements. Many of these broader issues require us to look well beyond the scalar turn to include the analysis of the changing geography and political-economic dynamic of contemporary capitalism and the other challenges that confront the modern state in a changing and increasingly crisis-prone global order.


[1] The territorial trap assumes ‘that states and their powers can for practical purposes be thought of as contained within the bounded territories over which they have formal sovereignty’ (Glassman 1999: 670).

[2] Dicken et al. (2001) advocate a methodological network turn on similar grounds.

[3] Another illustration is Harvey’s attempts to combine the territorial logic of statehood with the spatial logic of capital accumulation (2003). Because his analysis of the former is insufficiently rich conceptually, the explanatory logic of capitalism is far stronger. This is countered by crude geo-political explanations that essentialize imperialism in terms of the primacy of political motives or the expansionist drive of states or state managers qua subjects (for a critique, see Jessop 2006).

[4] This does not imply an equal number of concepts for each dimension – which would entail a numeric conceptual fetishism. It is simply a recommendation to develop a broad array of concepts of different degrees of abstraction-concreteness and simplicity-complexity to do some justice to the complexities of the real world (see Jessop 1982: 210-28).

[5] ‘a topological sense of space and place, a sense of geographies constituted through the folds, undulations, and overlaps that natural and social practices normally assume, without any a priori assumption of geographies of relations nested in territorial or geometric space’ (Amin 2002: 389).

[6] Whereas glocalization refers to the spatial strategies of potentially mobile actors, glurbanization refers to place-making and place-marketing strategies that seek to fix potentially mobile actors in a given location.

[7] Bunnell and Coe (2005: 834), paraphrasing Graham and Marvin, who actually refer to increasingly self-contained glocal enclaves (2001: 376).

[8] The last phrase comes from Veltz (1996: 6).

[9] To ensure adequate theoretical and empirical analyses, different scales must be properly specified rather than identified in casual, conventional terms.

[10] Telò is commenting on the open method of coordination but his comment can be generalized to other forms of meta-governance, including partnership, comitology, social dialogue, and so forth.

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