Integral Manifesto Pt IV(3) Open Sources, Sources of Openings/ Global Openings and the Space of Appearance

Books Discussed in this Section

Saskia Sassen (2007) Deciphering the Global, Routledge, NY

~ Anthony D’Andrea : Deciphering the Space and Scale of Global Nomadism – Subjectivity and Counterculture in the Global Age

~ Anne Bartlett : The City and the Self – The Emergence of New Political Subjects in London

The key to “deciphering the global” and its paradoxical character, one might argue, is in understanding how globalization dynamics differentially affect the three domains of human action. With respect to economies, globalization dynamics are conservative (increasingly resistent to change over time),  accumulative (enacting power laws that predominantly scale upwards both linearly and hierarchically). The perfect diagram of this kind of dynamics is the pyramid. With respect to technologies, globalization dynamics tend to be conservative, but distributive, enacting power laws that predominantly extend the breadth of their reach over time. The perfect diagram of this kind of dynamics is a river branching across wider and wider regions on its way to the sea. With respect to geo-social spaces, however, the dynamics are progressive (increasingly resistant to stasis over time) and discontinuous, enacting power laws that are nonlinear and dynamically critical. A diagram of this kind of dynamics would be a much more complex illustration, and might look like diagrams of autocatalytic sets.

At the critical edges of these nonlinear processes of geo-social space are novel openings and appearances– of “segments of self-marginalized subjects”: highly mobilized postmetropolitan individuals, individuals disaffected with mainstream society, global nomads, tourists of the new leisure class, new age pilgrom, migrant workers, countercultural expatriates, techno shamans, and numerous types of bohemians, and other variations of deterritorialized countercultures. D’Andrea points out that

… new forms of subjectivity and identity are being developed in a dialectic interplay with major global processes … In this sense, globalization refers to the sheer intensification of processes of  mobility, digitalization, multiculturalism, and reflexivity.

For D’Andrea, this process of cultural globalization and transformation also entails

… the dissolution and retooling of traditional and modern ways of life, along with the emergence of new forms of identity that are defined by their fluidic, deessentialized and reflexive nature.

Although extreme, these examples of completely de-localized gdo-social identities, contribute to the catalyzing of new spaces of appearances emerging on the global stage– appearances that are antithetical to stasis and conservation, as they thrive on permanent displacement and constant movement– actualized by and through the complex dynamics of globalizing cultures, wherein identities are formed primarily through geographical triangulation, across exotic locations and temporary or semi-permanent homeland bases– a pattern that, according to D’Andrea

… confirms the claim about the dialectic of mobility and moorings as key components of globalization… Overall, it is the moorings that enable movements. And it is the dialectic of mobility/ moorings that produces social complexity.

Although these self-marginalized subjects are enacting a crucial component of the processes of globalization, it is by no means clear that they are interested actors within the realm of human action. For the most part, these identities emerging at the far edges of geo-social space, are catalysts for the creation of alternatie social actor-identities on the global stage. Prominent among these emerging actors are politicized refugees, immigrants, and expatriates, who have incorporated the global stage as strategic terrain to practice their formal and informal political goals. On London streets, for example, journalist Anne Bartlett describes how

… refugees and immigrants build their own fowms of political meaning and act to redefine themselves as political subjects capable of making change…

Bartlee goes on the describe how the global comes to be enfolded into the urban landscape, as these deterritorialized global actors redefine the parameters of what it means to be political in urban centers today.

Changes, borne of disjunctures and contradictions between old and new migration flows, between competing ideologies of nation, region and tribe, and parity between formal and informal ways of doing politics, open up the political landscape and allow new modes of being political to emerge. Deciphering the global means getting into these spaces of contestation– into the cracks that are appearing in the political landscape and wathcing as new forms, new actors, and practices start to make themselves known.

Bartlett describes in detail the ways in which dynamics on the micro-level give rise to emerging identities as new global actors. She sees the city as the appropriate scale where multiple scales and actors can operate through local practices that are articulated with  what she terms global flows. Thesenew identities, she argues, do not emerge in a vacuum, but through the points of encounter between individuals whose very identities have become, in a sense, the locus of conflict– the kinds of boundaries that are driving such change.

The key to understanding boundaries in this repsect is not to think of them as territorial encasements but as lines of difference that emerge or fade. … by focussing on entities in the making, it is possible to see how particular conjunctions or disjunctions act to produce, stabilize, and enact certain kinds of spaces and possibilities of being.

In these spaces new kinds of political selves can be generated by direct face-to-face contact with the other. But here I argue that extended sets of relations generated through the use of the Internet and other technologies constitute a different yet equally important moment of production. With the exponential increase in email Internet and satellite phone traffic, there is a multiplier effect of possibilities and means through which political actors can constitute themselves vis-a-vis others. And these new possibilities for identification, counter-identification, hostility, and alliance create new tensions that do not just reside in the virtual sphere; they collide on the street to produce new ways to do politics and new ways of political actors to think of themselves. Microspaces of gateways for action open up, created by flows and dynamics no longer contained within territorial bounds.


Integral Manifesto Pt IV(2) Open Sources, Sources of Openings/Local Actors, Global Actions

Books Discussed in this Section

Bruno Latour (1993) We Have Never Been Modern, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Ma.

Saskia Sassen (2007) Deciphering the Global, Routledge, NY

~ Evalyn Tennant: Locating the Transnational Activists

While global institutions have superseded the local and the national at macro scales, both the national and the global at the same time, paradoxically, have become more porous to local actors in ways never before imagined, and for the most part made possible by the same technologies and processes that drive globalization at the macro level. Likewise, just as we have accounted for institutional globalization by importing an architecture of global scale based on inclusive nested hierarchies (of the local, the regional, the national, the international, the transnational) we have furthermore conceptualized the individual local actor– the very subject-actor who emerges in the early Greek polis — as embedded deep beneath the many layers of this global anachronism like a single pea smothered under the princess’ mountain of mattresses. Curiously though, just like the fabled pea, it seems that individual local actors do succeed in disturbing the princess’ sleep, through emergent multiscalar dynamics that are sufficiently porous to allow, accommodate, and even facilitate the opening of the space of appearance in a global context.

Saskia Sassen identifies three major assumptions, of space, scale and organization, that need to be revised in order to understand “Today’s social movements through [a] more complex analytic grid:” 1) the assumption that conflates the local and the national and considers local actors and movement dynamics as mere micro-instantiations of the national; 2) the assumption that represents people as embedded within local territorial contexts, and assumes that people’s access to the national or the global is mediated through nested scalar hierarhcies running through nation-states; 3) the assumption in which people are presented not only as embedded in particular, located social contexts, but also stuck there — immobilized– as well.

Local actors can entre the global arena collectively through NGO’s and other locally based organizations, but also, local actors can focus at the local level to address global conditions affecting their local conditions. Individual actors, as well, can act at the global level to press for change in their local affairs. In any case, the way we map local and global social movements either in the context of “the local in a global setting,” or “the global in a local setting.” requires new set of analytic distinctions about the roles of local collectives as well as individual subject-actors.

Likewise Evalyn Tennant contests what is today the prevalent analytic distinction in the study of social movement and activism… in questioning “whether national or transnational– is it analytically more productive to distinguish social movements in terms of face-to-face translocal mediated forms of interaction?” Her thesis is that contemporary movements of local actors can be more productively understood as the “translocal collection of distributed forms of locally organized collective action.”

Latour takes this contestation down to its very roots to what we have hypothesizing as the quantum unit of human action, namely the subject-to-subject engagement, by accusing the “modern interpretation of hierarchy and scale” of mistaking length of connection (within actor-networks) for difference in level:

… if we wander around IBM, if we follow the chains of command of the Red Army, if we inquire in the corridors of the Ministry of Education, if we study the process of seeling and buying a bar of soap, we never leave the local level. We are always in interaction with four or five people; the building superintendent always has his territory well staked out; the directors’ conversations sound just like those of the employees; as for the salespeople, they go on and on giving change and filing out their invoices. Could the macro-actors be made up of micro-actors? Could IBM be made up of a series of local interactions? The Red Army of an aggregate of conversations in the mess hall? The Ministry of Education of a mountain of pieces of paper? The world market of a host of local exchanges and arrangements?

Integral Manifesto Pt IV(1) Open Sources, Sources of Openings/ The Globotomized Nation

Books Discussed in this Section

Saskia Sassen (2004) Local Actors in Global Politics retrieved from

Saskia Sassen (2007) Deciphering the Global.Routledge, NY

Technology has played an enormous role in the modern digital age. The digital revolution and the invention of the Internet, continue to have tremendous effect on the scales of human action. The digitization of information and distribution of information technologies has expanded and accelerated collaborative action; the digitization of financial data has expanded and accelerated the capitalization of a single global economy. With respect to these two domains (technology and economy) the impact of the digital revolution seems to be the same, namely toward greater interconnectivity, greater interdependence of local actors at the same time toward their greater dependency on global processesas local actors themselves become defined by and dissolved into the omni-present, omni-potent global system of enormous scale.

As long as actors are envisioned as local units embedded within global phenomena such as the global economy and global industrial complex, then we will continue to see them as being operated on by these global dynamics.We might then further conceptualize local actors and their localities as embedded within the predominantly exclusive hierarchical relations that have been institutionalized through mobilization of resources on a global scale, by those centers of power who operate strategically on the global at the global level. As Sassen explains

The organizational side of the global economy materializes in a worldwide grid of strategic places, uppermost among which are major international business and financial centers. We can think of this global grid as constituting a new economic geography of centrality, one that cuts across national boundaries and increasingly across the old North-South divide. It has emerged as a transnational space for the formation of new claims by global capital but also by other types of actors. The most powerful of these new geographies of centrality at the inter-urban level bind the major institutional and financial business centers. The intensity of transactions among these cities, particularly through financial markets, transactions in services and investment, has increased sharply, and so have the orders of magnitude involved.

In order to account for this geometry of scale, we have imported the framework of the local, the regional, the national, the international and the transnational, into an architecture of global scale based on inclusive nested hierarchies. This simplistic architecture is challenged in several critical ways by the emergence of the global actors such as global corporations and multi-national organizations like the IMF. First, the notion of identity has become deterritorialized with the advent of the global manager whose allegiances fall along functional relations within a corporation or organization rather than with respect to either physical boundaries (such as the local or regional) or under the various political frameworks of the nation-state. Secondly, as power relations shift, the way we conceptualize power has undergone a dramatic shift from the notion that power accumulates up the hierarchy of scale through inclusively nested sets, from local representatives, to state, to nation, to international– to a new global reality wherein power relations are enacted if not more frequently, then surely with more import and causal effect, from global decision-making processes that are distributed down those same hierarchical scales. Decisions made at the global level, such as world financial agreements, world oil production, global technological innovation — have a greater and greater impact on the structure of everyday life than ever before. Although this has been true for most of the recent decades for what used to be the “minor state actors” on the global stage, the dynamics of globalization has also altered the power share relations among individual nation-states, such that the hegemony of “major actors” no longer insulates their citizens from the effects and counter-effects of global level operations. Sassen comments

This does not mean that the old hierarchies disappear but rather that novel scaling emerge alongside the old ones and that the former can trump the latter. Older hierarchies of scale constituted as part of the development of the nation-state continue to operate, but they do so in a far less exclusive field than they did in the recent past. This holds even when factoring in the hegemonic power of a few states, which meant and continues to mean that most national states were in practice not fully sovereign.

The most common reactions to thses processes of globalization, are the many current but not so modern and certainly not innovative, attempts to reinforce and re-concretize the old formulas of scalar hierarchies into a future Brave New Global World with a cretaintwist, in which the bodies of governance no longer rise from local common collectives– afterall, the assumption here is that they have already been supersededand displaced by globalization– but rather are institutionalized through power laws that scale along the same nested hierarchies, giving rise to supra-national global entities that are responsible for both ordering and ruling down the proverbial chain of command.

Fortunately, this is not the only trajectory of the current globalizing dynamics. With respect to the opening of geo-social spaces, something quite extraordinary and at first glance, paradoxical, is happening which “signals the need for new concepts and framings.” And while it remains the case that the role of the nation state is undergoing epochal transformation, this is also the case for the sub-national actor-collectives as well as the inter-national and supra-national — all of which for whom the global is not exclusively a power law, but more significantly, the global is the newly emerging shared space of appearance of multiple actors at multiple scales.

The time is indeed ripe for a major shift in how we conceptualize the emergent phenomena, in particular with respect to scalar relations and human action, since as Sassen notes “Existing theory is not enough to map today’s multiplication of practices and actors contributing to these rescalings.” On this point, it is worth quoting Sassen at length:

[The multiscalar character of various globalization processes] cannot easily be accommodated into older nested hierarchies of scale, which position everything that is supranational above the state in the scalar hierarchy and what is subnational beneath the state. In such hierarchies, the subnational needs to run through the national if it is to function globally. [Yet the] variety of multiscalar dynamics point to conditions that cannot be organized as a hierarchy, lst alone a nested hierarchy. This is a multiscalar system, operating across scales and not, as is so oftesaid, merely scaling upward because of communications capabilities. Alternative approaches that go beyond older scalar hierarchies, micro/macro analyses, and container categories such as nation-state are gaining traction. Here I would like to single out analyses that emphasize topological patterns rather than nested scalar hierarchies, actor networks rather than actors per se, and the disassembling of familiar, often nationalized arrangements and their reassembling into novel global and denationalized formations.

Studying the global, then, entails not only a focus on what is explicitly global in scale. It also calls for a focus on locally scaled practices and conditions articulated with global dynamics. 

Integral Manifesto Pt III(3): Integral Politics? / Subjects as Actors

Books Discussed in this Section

Steve McIntosh (2007) Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution,  Continuum Books

Saskia Sassen (2004) Local Actors in Global Politics retrieved from

Saskia Sassen (2007) Deciphering the Global.Routledge, NY

McIntosh proposes a World Federation based on nation-states relinquishing their sovereignty and reinvesting in a higher, supernational organization empowered by a master lawmaking authority of a democratically enacted global constitution. The Federal level would have the power and the authority to mandate the subordinate governments with respect to their internal operations, especially with respect to human rights issues. Presumably, the master lawmaking authority would be composed of integral-consciousness level executive officers responsible for managing and coordinating operations in a tricameral structure, based on the US Constitution, which maintains a “balance of power” between branches — which McIntosh envisions as legislative, judicial, and executive. His legislative includes an economic house, a world senate, and a people’s house. His judicial branch includes a world federal court, a world citizenship court, and a global eco-environmental court. His executive branch includes a people’s, an economics, and a nations council. McIntosh claims that his proposed structure is firmly based in what Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry have identified “as the essential dynamics of evolution that are embodied in what they call the Cosmogenetic Principle. Because it appeals to McIntosh as the very basis of his work, the excerpt is woth quoting at length:

The Cosmogenetic Principle states that the evolution of the universe will be characterized by differentiation, autopoiesis, and communion throughout time and space and at every level of reality. These three terms — differentiation, autopoiesis, and communion– refer to the governing themes and the basal intentionality of all existence, and thus are beyond any simple one-line univocal definition. … Some synonyms for differentiation are diversity, complexity, variation, disparity, multi-form, nature, heterogeneity, articulation. Different words that point to the second feature are autopoiesis, subjectivity, self-manifestation, sentience, self-organization, dynamic centers of experience, presence, identity, inner principle of being, voice, interiority. And for the third feature, communion, interrelatedness, interdependence, kinship, mutuality, internal relatedness, reciprocity, complementarity, interconnectivity, and affiliation all point to the same dynamic of cosmic evolution.

These three features are not “logical” or “axiomatic” in that they are not deductions within some larger theoretical framework. They come from a post hoc evaluation of cosmic evolution; these three will undoubtedly be deepend and altered in the next era as future experience expands our present understanding.

The sequence of events in the universe becomes a story precisely because these events are themselves shaped by these central ordering tendencies– complexity, autopoiesis, and communion. These are the cosmological orderings fo the creative display of energy everywhere and at any time throughout the history of the universe.

I think this is a beautiful passage articulating deep insight into the dynamic display of the manifest universe, and I commend McIntosh for having highlighted this as a central sensibility in his work. Unfortunately, McIntosh’s analytic and autocratic tendencies– his intolerant and dominant temperament– doesn’t seem capable of truly honoring the vision of Swimme and Berry, who emphasize that these essential features are not logical or axiomatic … they are no deductions within some larger theoretical framework. Rather they are shaped by complexity, autopoiesis, and communion, which is on-going. McIntosh, on the other hand, wants to prescribe or prestate the very structures of interrelatedness, control what voices appear and what voices don’t appear, supress individual subjectivity of the larger populations, constrain the kinds of identities that self-commune, repressreciprocity throughtop-down authority, and remove the self-transformative potential of the dynamics through programmable and manageable structures that have no internal or external feedback loops to account for the kinds of  perpetual deepening and alteration that Berry and Swimme affirm.

Here is an alterative view that takes Swimme and Berry to heart:

Create a dynamic way for global governance architecture to evolve by designing phases of natural emergent properties of fully democratic and fully autopoietic actions of all participants.

Here is a brief scenario of the kinds of actions/ architecture one might employ:

  1. Phase one designed as an introductory, exploratory and exploitative phase. Everyone on the planet would get a chance to participate in this global governance movement. People and organizations would basically self-organize to create caucus-like activity of various forms to organize subordinate level participatory bodies. Participants could choose to identify “merely” as individual global citizens, or as member-participants in any of conventional or newly emerging local-to-global coalitions that would emerge to exploit the new openings in the spaces of global appearance, new ways to articulate and voice individual as well as collective identity.
    • Nationhood
    • Ethnicity
    • Religion
    • Gender
    • Particular NGO or coalition of NGO’s
    • Economic Class
    • Trade Union
    • Any other type of representative coalition imaginable.
  2. Phase two consists of a second-order coalition of major alignments around significatn concerns or causes, out of which would emerge the 100 or so subordinate government bodies. This is the phase of increasing connectedness and increasing (augmenting) the political capital of phase one. Rules for participation in such bodies would be articulated and constituted by these “originary” bodies of the emerging global federation, similar to the rold of the thirteen original states of the USA. For example, participants might be able to re-align every 4-6 years or only in 8 year cycles. It would be important to understand that larger insitutions need longer lead times to change, so the temporal scale on which such actions occur, may very well be longer in scale than on more local or subordinate levels. However, there must be feedback loops which “structcurally couple” the two scales, such that these feedback loops be of very short duration and of appropriate scale to “reach” individuals within the insitutional domain who themselves should retain the capacity to engage rapidly changing concerns of their constituents. Phase two would be a prolonged period, in which the subordinate bodies would create and experiment with virtual reality and scenarios of the kinds of global decisions that would be made, with respect to real-life situations, if in fact these bodies had power and authority to do so, as opposed to alternative arrangements of authority. These virtual decisions would not only “prime” the system and develop scenario training, but also the global community would get a chance to imagine the effects that various alliances and levels of participation have on both global, regional and local levels, with the definition her of “loca” as one’s local identity in whatever one consider’s one’slocal affiliation, which might, paradoxically, be a globalized collective.
  3. Phase three might consist of re-examining the role(s) of the existing power structure and the extent to which these authorities would agree to relinquish certain domains over to an actual governance authority. This is the phase of conservation. The branches of the global authority would arise with respect to those domains that are relinquished one by one, or in groups that themselves collate into Spheres of Authority, as it became increasingly clear what emergent coalitions would supercede them. There might be provisoinal rules as t how these domains or branches would regulate themselves, i.e. they would have to prove that participation was open to all through democratic processes, and be able to prove self-evidently porous to individual participation to an acceptable degree. Or, a fully or quasi-independent “judiciary” body might be designed to perform audits and functionary inspection, as well as other bodies or architectures employed at even higher levels.
  4. Phase four would initiate after a significant majority of participation or dissolution of other power structures gave way to the global governance process and its newly emerged Spheres of Authority. This is the coming-to-agestage in which the process tendws twoard creating static structures that are no longer functionally emergent from dynamic and open participation. This is the phase that requires rejuvination from lower order dynamics, to off-set the prolonger previous periods of building increasingly conservation higher order structures. It may require the subversion, replacement, or overthrow of higher order structures that are no longer vulnerable to the internal or external feedback loops of participation of all subjects; or structures that have grown “closed” to such participation, or have grown impervious to their appearance. Guarantees for innovation, continual opening of spaces for newly emerging identities to commune in dynamic displays of new kinds of interconnectedness, would be requisite to create phases five, six, seven… These are the periods of release of previous interconnections, emergence of new identities through new patterns of collectivities, and re-configuration toward novel stages of exploration and exploitation.

The promise and possibilty of this kind of approach– an approach which facilitates the co-creative processes of actual people as both subjectw within and actors of socio-political spaces, and who are equally as well regarded and engaged as collective authors of our socio-spatial geographies– may seem idealistic or unrealistic to some readers. In reality, there is no need to overdetermine this process, since I have merely reframed as a future scenario the very processes that are re-shaping socio-political spaces today and which are precisely those that are resulting from people taking up their rightful roles — as they always do– a reult of the opening of the spaces of appearance– and co-authoring the epochal transformations that are cocurring around the globe today. For those aligned with the current structures and whose wolrdview is predicated on the scalar assumptions that the new must come up and through the pre-dominance of existing structures (such as the nation state) in a nested and hierarchical way– a worldview that would surely miss the new transformations– will experience these transformations as disruptive and disturbing, as the cycle of transformation dismantles old realities in the wake of the new. THe nation-state is cracking– along with the socio-spatial scales that are overdetermined by it, as Sassen tells us

The national as a container of social process and power is cracked. This cracked casing opens up a geography of politics and civics that links subnational spaces.

Increasingly, it becomes more problematic to fixate on the national as the primary unit of socio-spatial action, and the typical scalar assumptions from national to supranational to global that are built-up from it. This is not news to the global corporations and global financial organizations that have long ago deconstructed the nation-statefrom their lexicon of operational power, while simultaneously re-enforcing the notion of nation-stateand geopolitics as usual for its efficaciousness in power broking. With both positive and negative effects– many of which are enacted on global proportions– global strategic economic operations along with global capital, have carved a worldwide grid to accommodate millions of non-local actors who comfortably navigate and simultaneously create emerging socio-spatial geographies. Saskia Sassen describes two distinct types of “traffic” operating through this worldwide grid:

The organizational side of the global economy materializes in a worldwide grid of strategic places, uppermost among which are major international business and financial centers. We can think of this global grod as constituting a new economic geography of centrality, one that cuts across national boundaries and increasingly across the old North-South divide. It has emerged as a transnational space for the formation of new claims by global capital but also by other types of actors.

It is not only the transmigration of capital that takes place in this global grid but also that of people, both rich– i.e. the new transnational profession workforce– and poor- i.e. most migrant workers; and it is a space for the transmigration of cultural forms, for the re-territorialization of the “local” subcultures.

 Is this worldwide grid a relevant opening for human action? Is it, as Sassen asks, “also a space for new politics, one going beyond the politics of culture and identity while likely to remain embedded in it?”

One of the most radical forms assumed today by the linkage of people to territory is the loosening of identities from their traditional sources, such as the nation or the village. The unmooring in the process of identity formation engenders new notions of community of membership and of entitlement.

The forces of transformation of the local and the global are both to-down with respect to strategic operations of corporation and financial organizations, as well as bottom-up with respect to local actors and emerging socio-spatial geographies that operate at global levels. And like all other geographies that have come before them, they do not point to any fixed or absolute grid that somehow exists “out there in reality”, due to a type of “force major”, but are geographies of identity and mind, or in other words, they are co-created values arising in emerging socio-spatial geographies. As such they are complex human processesthat are at once impervious and porous to ever-changing degrees. Sassen creates the neologism “glocality” to describe the new framework of socio-spatial action, wherein the local is no longer nested exclusively within the global by an impenetrable rule of scalar relations, rather the appearance of the global in locality after locality — across scales — means that the global is becoming locally distributed. In other words, the space of the appearance of the global is becoming increasingly localized.

Simultaneous decentralized access can help local actors have a sense of participation in struggles that are not necessarily global, but are, rather, globally distributed in that they recur in locality after locality.

[Whereas] … much of the conceptualization of the local in the social sciences has assumed physical/ geographic proximity and thereby a sharply defined territorial boundedness, with the associated implication of closure, … [and] a strong tendency to conceive of the local as part of a hierarchy of nested scales …

To a very large extent these conceptualizations hold for most of the instantiations of the local today, more specifically, for most of the actual practices and formations likely to constitute the local in most of the world. But there are also conditions today that contribute to destabilize these practices and formations and hence invite a reconceptualization of the local that can accommodate a set of instances that diverge from dominant patterns. Key among these current conditions are globalization and/ or globality as consitutive not only of cross-border institutional spaces, but also of powerful imaginaries enabling aspirations to transboundary political practice even when the actos involved are basically localized.

 What is therefore needed from a conceptualized Integral Politics, are just these kinds of “powerful imaginaries” that “enable aspirations to transboundary political practice”– we need conceptual designs that do not merely rationally accommodate the steamy emergence of transformation through convenient categories of scale, since as Sassen and her students demonstrate, “diverse types of research and theorization … show that confining characteristics and locations of that epochal transformation to the self-evident scale of the global and to self-evident supranational institutions is profoundly inadequate.” Rather we need an Integral Politics that is less concerned with shaping the future into known categories and frameworks, and more capable of a kind of midwifery through what Sassen calls for as “an expansion of the analytic terrain and interpretive tools for studying the global”:

… the significant dislocations we are living through signal the need for new concepts and framings. … It is a pattern that breaks with the typical approach in the literature, which has been to start with the self-evident scale of the global, … That approach has made important contributions, but is ultimately a partial view of the larger transformation.

In sharp contrast to the prevailing scholarship, the starting point… is a thick, complex, messy environment where the global needs to be detected, decoded, discovered, and then constructed as an object of study. This type of approach asks what it is we are trying to name with the term globalization. Each recognizes that we are living through a transformation that, though partial, is epochal.

Integral Manifesto Pt I(6): Three Cautionary Tales of Scale/ Geographies

Books Discussed in this Section

The limits to scale?  Methodological reflections on scalar structuration, Neil Brenner 2001. Progress in Human Geography 25, 4 pp. 591-614 / retrieved from

Saskia Sassen (2004), Local Actors in Global Politics. Retrieved from


In his paper on conceptual analysis of sociospatial scale, Neil Brenner explores “the methodological danger” of “blunting the concept of geographical scale as it has been blended unreflexively into other core geographical concepts such as place, locality, territory and space.”  Brenner believes that instead of merely identifying the limits to scale as, for example, a “mere social construction”, a more sustained and constructive exploration of how processes of scalar structuration are relationally intertwined may build what he terms “theoretical vocabularies” which might help decode the main dynamics and contours of the “extraordinary hypercomplexity” of social and political spaces. Brenner’s motivation is the liberation of the  political economy from hegemonic versions of scalar analysis, in ways that have the capacity to “mobilize geographical scale in strategic, often highly creative ways.”

Two distinct meanings of “politics of scale” emerge through his analysis– one, the singular and more conventional meaning, is that of the kinds of scalar relations we “see” in the political arena. The objects of this conventional meaning of “the politics of scale” are peoples, regions, nations, territories, economies, and the like. The objects of inquiry related to the second, plural meaning of “the politics of scale” are the scalar relations themselves– how they underly, overlay and/or overdetermine the political discourse. Brenner makes the distinction as follows:

The singular meaning of the phrase “politics of scale” can then be redscribed through Jonas’ notion of the ‘scale politics of spatiality,’ provided the distinctively scalar content of the sociospatial practices in question is not presupposed but is investigated explicitly. … I would propose to redescribe the plural connotation of the ‘politics of scale’– which … arguably denotes the core analytical focus for any systematic account of scale production and scale transformation– as a politics of scalar structuration or, more simply, as a politics of scaling.

To this end, Brenner identifies eleven methodological hypotheses to serve as starting points for the investigation of scalar structuration, namely

  1. Scalar structuration is a dimension of sociospatial process.
  2. Processes of scalar structuration are constituted and continually reworked through everyday social routines and struggles.
  3. Processes of scalar structuration are dialectically intertwined with other forsm of sociospatial structuration.
  4. There are multiple forms and patterns of scalar structuration.
  5. Scales evolve relationally within tangled hierarchies and dispersed interscalar networks.
  6. There are multiple spatialities of scale.
  7. Scalar hierarchies constitute mosaics not pyramids.
  8. Processes of scalar structuration generate contextually specific causal effects.
  9. Processes of scalar structuration may crystallize into scalar fixes.
  10. Established scalar fixes may constrain the subsequent evolution of scalar configurations.
  11. Processes of scalar structuration consitute geographies and choreographies of social power.

It is important to note from this list, that “processes of scalar structuration” are both epistemic processes as well as processes endemic to human action that occur in geosocial, political, and intersubjective spaces. There is not always a clear or unidirectional causal relationship between these two arenas of scalar structuration. However, it is generally the case that structures that are generated primarily from epistemic processes (theories, models) are too conveniently neatly defined to serve us in trying to understand the more complex and entangled processes in the other arenas. As Brenner himself explains:

Processes of scalar structuration do not produce a single nested scalar hierarchy, an absolute pyramid of neatly interlocking scales, but are better understood as a mosaic of unevenly superimposed and densely interlayered scalar geometries. For, as Allen, Massey, and Cochrane indicate, ‘… different kinds of social process have very different geographies and they do not all fit neatly into the same set of nested hierarchies.’ Hence the meaning of scalar terms such as global, national, regional, and urban will differ qualitatively depending upong the historically and contextually specific scalar partitionings of the sociospatialprocess in question. In this context we can also speak of a “kaleidoscope effect” in which the organization of scalar patterns changes qualitatively according to the perspective from which they are perceived and/or acted upon.

In situations where the process is not suppressed, as in pre-modern times, scalar relations of the geo-sociospatial grow organically from their precursors: the cohering forms of social collectives engaging their collective environment. These forms have varied across time and give rise to the ranges of cultures and the shared recognition of their membership as well as shared perceptions of the outlying boundaries of non-membership. When the scales of geo-sociospatial spaces that frame human action are enforced from the outside as a result of foreign conquest, occupation or colonialism, the superimposed scalar frameworks conflict with the preexisting forms of social collectives, and both forms become increasingly incoherent and unstable. The insistence of nation state sovereignty as a fundamental unit of geo-sociospatial scale, with respect to collectives that have rich histories of sociospatial coherence outside of the concept of nationhood, and more importantly with respect for the historical development of disempowered cultures, must be regarded as one of the major sources– if not the major source– of instability in the world today. Geo-sociospatial scales that rely on inclusivist hierarchic relationships based on the notion of the nation state, and a power structure that scales from the national, to the multi-national, transnational and global through a nested and impervious hierarchy, serves only to reinforce and re-embed the old assumptions of geo-sociospatial scales that were never appropriate for non-Western subcultures in the first place, and no longer adequate for adapting to emergent human realities. As early as 2004, Saskia Sassen was writing about “the possibility of escaping nested hierarchies of scales” and of subjects who can “directly access other such local actors whether in the same country or across borders.

That this situation is beginning to crack can be interpreted as an important time of transformative potential on the stage of human action, in which again organic dynamics are creating new and newly coherent forms of socio-spatial connectedness. The new forms emerge in response for the need for subjects to create collective identities that are meaningful and meaning-making in their lives. Sassen writes:

A key nexus in this configuration is that the weakening of the exclusive formal authority of states over national territory facilitates the ascendence of sub- and transnational spaces and actors in politico-civic processes. … Among these are spaces … that have evolved as novel types in the context of globalization and the new Information & CommunicationTechnologies (ICT’s). The loss of power at the national level produces the possibility of new forms of power and politics at the sub-national and at the supra-national level. The national as a container of social process and power is cracked. … This cracked casing opens up a geography of politics and civics that link subnational spaces.

This feature of our modern human condition is being increasingly well documented. As actors in this transformation, subjects are reclaiming the space of appearance, the capacity to show up as subjects, as well as the capacity to completely redefine what it means to be an actor. In her paper, Local Actors and Global Politics, Sassen profiles these emergent developments in this way

Globalization and the new ICT’s have enabled a variety of local political actors to enter international arenas once exclusive to national states. A key question … is the ways in which … localized actors and struggles can be constitutive of new types of global politics and subjectivities. The argument is that local, including geographically immobile and resource-poo, actors can contribute to the formation of global dominance or virtual public spheres and thereby to a type of local political subjectivity that needs to be distinguished from what we would usually consider local. … The result has been that particular instantiations of the local can actually be constituted at multiple scales and thereby construct global formations that tend toward lateralization and horizontal networks rather than the certical and hierarchical forms typical of major global actors, such as the IMF and WTO. … These developments contribute to distinct kinds of political practices and subjectivities … and have enabled local actors to become part of global netowkrs. … people experience themselves as part of global non-state networks as they live their daily lives. They enact some version of the global in the micro-spaces of daily life rather than on some putative global stage.

From this analysis it seems to me not only relevant but crucial to acknowledge that one of the components of any systematic analysis involving scalar relations must simultaneously relativize the components and conditions of “fixed grid” as a frame of reference, as well as the perspectives from which — and within which– they are perceived and/or acted upon. Finally then, this question of perspectives and perceptions– the simultaneous participation of the subject(s) as objects of (subject to) inquiry and also as the subject(s) of the variables in play– throws back our inquiry onto the nature of subjects and subjectivity itself