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Peter Taylor (1982), Neil Smith (1993), and Sally Marston (2000) all adopt different approaches to scale and the methods by which scale can be applied as a political strategy. Whilst Taylor (1982) focuses on a more conventional, economically centered, three-pronged approach to scale in political geography, Smith (1993) opts for a more complex, multi-layered perspective. Marston’s (2000) perspective is socially centered emphasizing the role of social interactions in founding geographical scales. This essay will discuss how these perspectives illuminate the use of scale in relation to the origins, prominence and impacts of the contemporary and highly topical Black Lives Matter movement.
Taylor (1982) utilizes scale to organize subject matter when it comes to political geography. The materialist approach of Taylor’s (1982) framework places the world economy, in terms of global capital accumulation, as the starting point for the organization of political geographies. In doing so, Taylor (1982) suggests that studies at the national and urban scale should be contextualized within an overall global perspective. After the global scale, Taylor (1982) employs the national scale, to represent the independent nation-states that exist globally. Finally, he identifies the urban scale as that of community and everyday life. Within Taylor’s (1982) framework, the national scale plays an important intermediatory role in helping to arbitrate between the global and urban scales. Furthermore, Taylor (1982) believes the national scale obscures activities occurring on both global and urban scales, and therefore studying it reveals connections between all three scales. He labels the global scale as the scale of reality, the national scale as the scale of ideology, and the urban scale as the scale of experience. Each scale is linked with the notion of reality allowing the discovery of ideology (referring to treating each nation-state within the global scale of reality) and the scale of ideology then lends itself to the scale of experience on a quotidian level.
It could be argued that Smith’s perspective on the scale is more multi-dimensional and thorough compared to Taylor’s as it compromises several scales. The scale of the body defines the site of personal identity whilst the scale of the home provides the specialization of social experiences and activities in which the scale of the body is contextualized. The scale of the community is the scale at which social reproduction occurs; the urban scale is the scale at which employment controls the area over which journeys to work take place whilst the region is the scale at which economic production occurs. Smith’s perspective of the national scale can be likened to Taylor’s, as the dominant scale of state power. Politically, this results in lower spatial scales being policed by the state at the national scale, meaning challenges to oppression typically emanate from these lower spatial scales. Finally, Smith’s global scale refers to the activities occurring as a result of the circulation of capital and thus ties in with Taylor’s economy-centered framework of scale. However, Smith’s acknowledgment of the cross-scale nature of social processes contests Taylor’s view that scale can be employed in an organizational way.
Converse to Taylor’s organizational perspective, Marston (2000) believes scale is a ‘contingent outcome of the tensions that exist between structural forces and the practices of human agents’. Marston (2000) adopts a constructionist approach to scale centered around the role of social interactions in establishing geographical scales. As part of this constructionist view, Marston (2000) opts for a relational view of scale as she agrees with Howitt (1998) who believed in understanding scale as a relational element amongst place, space, and environment. Collectively, Marston’s approach to scale is structuralist but flexible as shown by her agreement with Staeheli (1994). Staeheli (1994) describes how political opposition movements cross boundaries of scale to benefit from the resources at one scale, allowing them to ‘overcome the constraints encountered at different scales in the way that more powerful actors can do’. Conclusively, Marston’s perspective of scale differs from that of Taylor (1982) as she believes looking at the subdivision of social issues and society by scales reveals the complexity of histories and how most scaling occurs through efforts to organise. Furthermore, Marston’s (2000) perspective can be likened to Smith’s (1993) through the mutual appreciation of the cross-scale nature of social processes and interactions.
Relatedly, the perspectives of Taylor (1983), Smith (1993), and Marston (2000) all shed light on how scale is employed in the contemporary Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Given that more than 2 billion people globally access social media every day, there is no doubt that the inherent nature of social media has been of paramount importance to the scalar expansion of the BLM movement. The movement was started in response to the senseless shooting of 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin in February 2012 and the consequent acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman (Bell et al 2013). Alicia Garza (2014), who founded the movement alongside Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, detailed how Travyon Martin was ‘post-humously placed on trial for his own murder’. The origins of the movement align with Smith’s (1993) perspective on the scale, as the oppression and suffering of Travyon Martin, at the scale of his body in terms of his personal identity being attacked, led to protest ascending through urban, regional, national, and global scales. This global outcry resulted from the ability of users to create and share content on social media allowing widespread distribution of information in a proportionately short time frame, as well as the gathering of the information under the hashtag #BlackLivesMatters.
Marston’s (2000) structuralist but flexible approach to scale sheds light on the use of widespread publicity to further BLM movements. The employment of social media to spread information about racial oppression continues to generate monetary donations through the form of GoFundMe pages. Black Lives Matter UK has raised more than £1.2 million in donations which have been given to grassroots funds to fight racism in communities, at the urban scale. Furthermore, the United Friends and Families Campaign received £45,000 to establish a people’s tribunal for deaths in custody. This is directly linked to Marston’s (2000) agreement with Staeheli (1994) as BLM benefits from the economic resources created by social media campaigns on a global scale. This allows the movement to ‘overcome the constraints encountered at different scales in the way that more powerful actors can do’ such as lack of funding for legal cases against oppression through the establishment of organizations such as the United Friends and Family Campaign. Likewise, this monetary gain resulting from far-reaching publicity ties in with Taylor’s (1982) perspective of the global scale as that of capital accumulation.
Smith’s (1993) belief that the dominance of the national scale over lower spatial scales (such as the body scale of Travyon Martin) results in resistance against oppression emanating from these lower spatial scales can be applied to the origins of BLM. This is particularly relevant given that the BLM movement was set up by members of Travyon Martin’s community (Garza, Cullors and Tometi) in response, not only to his murder but the nation-state-level racial oppression that penetrated down these lower spatial scales. Correspondingly, Taylor’s (1982) perspective of scale sheds light on the BLM movement in his belief that an understanding of the national scale, the intermediatory scale, is of indispensable importance given that it obscures affairs at the global and urban scales. This is applicable given that the broader picture of US nation-state affairs was shrouding the oppression occurring at the urban scale for African American communities as a result of the dominance of the national scale. Furthermore, the BLM movement exemplifies Marston’s (2000) social perspective that the tensions between structural forces, such as the nation-state over humans, establish scale.
The murder of George Floyd, an African American man on 25th May 2020 in Minnesota, by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck whilst arresting him for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 note, sparked fresh global BLM protests centered around police brutality (Deliso and Hovos 2020). This can be likened to Taylor’s (1982) perspective as the murder of George Floyd at the urban scale, the scale of experience, caused protests at the global scale, the scale of reality. Marston’s (2000) relational perspective of scale elucidates how this global scale of protest has led to countries or states reflecting on the social injustices present at the national scale, thus developing contextual meanings of BLM protests. In India, BLM protests focused on the widespread impacts of caste-based oppression. Between 180-220 million people in India belong to the lowest caste, known as the ‘Dalits’ (meaning broken people), and ‘experience absolute exclusion from the cradle to the grave’. Despite the recent rejection of the caste system in India, the lack of skills acquired by Dalits and the overcrowded job market means that social and economic inequalities are still present, hence why BLM protests took on a country-specific meaning. Likewise, the increasing sexual violence suffered by Dalits, at the hands of non-Dalits attempting to exert power through intimidation, fuelled protests as shown in Figure 2. This aligns with Marston’s relational perspective as, despite the specific origin of BLM being the murder of Trayvon Martin when expanded through scale, the movement has developed specific contextual meanings. Furthermore, this highlights how BLM protests were descaled by people from a global movement to individual, community or urban scales, with people relating to protests on a very personal ‘body’ scale, in accordance with Smith’s (1993) perspective.
To conclude, the varying perspectives of Taylor (1982), Smith (1993), and Marston (2000) all shed light on the utilization of scale in the BLM movement. Whilst scale was not deliberately employed, the horrific and brutal nature of the oppression and the information being shared through #BlackLivesMatter on social media led to global protests. In this sense, Smith’s (1993) perspective of resistance occurring at lower spatial scales in response to nation-state-scale oppression is exemplified. Likewise, Taylor’s (1982) perspective that the national scale can obscure actions at the urban and global scales is highlighted. Finally, Marston’s (2000) relational perspective is portrayed in the fact that the BLM movement has become contextualized on a national scale such as the protests against caste-based oppression in India. With this in mind, the nature of BLM as a global social movement, rooted in the fight for equality and justice for oppressed members of society, whether that be African Americans in the US or Dalits in India, is epitomized.
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