The Cultural Geography of Scale

Clare K Reid & Matthew Sparke. Handbook of Cultural Geography. Editor: Kay Anderson, Mona Domosh, Steve Pile, Nigel Thrift. Sage Publications. 2003.

Far from neutral and fixed, therefore, geographical scales are the products of economic, political and social activities and relationships; as such, they are as changeable as those relationships themselves. At the very least, different kinds of society produce different kinds of geographical scale for containing and enabling particular forms of social interaction. (Neil Smith, 1995: 60-1)

Geographical theories of scale have come a long way since the days when geographers used to invoke fixed notions of local, regional and national scales as if they were universally understood and unchanging analytical categories. Recent research has highlighted the social construction of scale and the ways in which scale is negotiated and reproduced. Such insights invite scholars to move beyond seeing scale as a politically neutral container of social processes or a methodological abstraction, and to consider instead how it is produced through socio-economic struggles and transformations. These approaches have largely developed out of Marxist theories of the production of space, most notably Neil Smith’s (1984) arguments about the creative destruction of scale wrought by capitalist processes of uneven development. Smith argued that particular consolidations of capitalist territoriality—the formation of regional clusters or cities or even nation-states, for example—need to be seen as transient scalar fixes which, however concretized they may seem, are always vulnerable to the transformations brought about by new rounds of capitalist investment and disinvestment. In this chapter we begin from these basic Marxist insights into what has come to be known as ‘scale-jumping.’ However, in introducing them into an arena of examination addressed by cultural geography—the production and contestation of cultural landscapes—we also argue that the Marxian focus on capitalist economic determinations needs to be radically supplemented by attention to cultural-political forces of ideology, resistance and the construction and negotiation of cultural identity. In this way we seek to explore the production of scale as the overdetermined effect of diverse cultural, political and economic power relations. Reciprocally, we also argue that, because scale-jumping represents the reconfiguration of the territorial scope of power relations, it provides a particularly powerful entry point into empirical research on the ideological overdetermination of particular cultural geographies. We will elaborate on our understanding of ideology and overdetermination shortly, but first we need to clarify the basic argument about scale-jumping from which we are beginning.

The Marxian formulation of scale-jumping develops directly out of Smith’s radical interpretation of uneven development as a product of the tension between capitalist tendencies towards territorial equalization and differentiation, tendencies which themselves relate to the tension between competition and cooperation in capitalism (see also Smith, 2000). Smith argues that scalar fixes emerge as partial and temporary resolutions of the capitalist tensions between equalization and differentiation and it follows that they are frequently superseded by new spatial resolutions in response to capitalist reorganization. In this way, capitalist territorial organization ‘jumps’ scale in the context of overaccumulation or other moments of capitalist crisis and crisis management (see also Harvey, 1999). For example, Smith (1995) points to the development of the European Union to illustrate how the scale at which the capitalist flux of cooperation and competition is mediated can ‘jump,’ at a tremendously general and systemic level, from the scale of the nation-state to that of the continental state (see also Swyngedouw, 1992; 1997a). Through such examples we can gain a vivid sense of how scale is reproduced and transformed through dynamics of political-economic change. Indeed, one of the epistemological advantages of an analytical focus on scale-jumping is that it actually helps to make more clear what scale in fact is: the temporary fixing of the territorial scope of particular modalities of power. In the same way, scale-jumping enables us to theorize the framing effects of particular scales without ignoring the general fluidity of scale and resorting to the old fixed assumptions. It enables us to describe the moments at which boundaries are reconfigured and struggles rearticulated. Because such moments of scale-jumping are also often moments when cultural landscapes are redrawn or reimagined, the resulting cultural geographies register the jumping of scales. This is the basic insight that guides our approach to the case studies presented in this chapter.

All of the above is not to say that the notion of scale-jumping in the abstract makes the substance of scalar configurations transparent. Such ontological questions of substance relate to the particular objects of research under examination, and these can range from economic concerns to other dynamics as diverse as the sexual, the ecological and the racial. In Smith’s analyses of the EU’s development and of gentrification (Smith, 1995) it is economic (including class) relationships that are foregrounded, and thus scale comes to name the territorial scope of particular political-economic power relations. However, the notion of using scale-jumping remains useful as an epistemological entry point into investigating the territorial scope of other power relations too, others that are interarticulated with those of capitalism but in such a way as to remain relatively autonomous. In this chapter we seek to widen our analysis to encompass such variant power relations through a focus on the cultural geographies of ideology and resistance. This does not move us all that far from the basic Marxian attention to capitalism and its discontents, but it does bring into focus the ways in which economic transformations are mediated and sometimes contested by the production of new visions, new ideas, new feelings and new ways of being in the world, all of which remain just as profoundly geographical, in their shifting territorial scales, as the brute economic geographies of capitalist creative destruction.

Linked with the territorial reconfiguration of economic coordination is the representational question of how such reconfigurations are framed ideologically. Corporate elites, for example, often shift the scales at which production is represented in order to avoid regulation and accountability. Sometimes they stake their claim to a national scale of operations, claiming the protection of national sovereignty against threatening international laws. However, at other times they present their operations as footloose and global in order to discipline national governments and labor movements by threatening the loss of local jobs. Such neoliberal ideological maneuverings are one of the concerns raised by the case studies in this chapter, which we examine through the lens of cultural politics.

Following work in cultural studies that has reinterpreted ideology through the conceptual apparatuses of Gramsci’s concept of ‘hegemony,’ Althusser’s concept of ‘ideological interpellation’ and Foucault’s concept of ‘discourse,’ we invoke ideology to describe hegemonic discursive formations in which people’s subjectivities are formed and through and against which counter-hegemonic resistance is enabled (see, in particular, Hall, 1988; Laclau and Mouffe, 1985; Smith, 1988; Spivak, 1988). In a similar way, we follow the post-Freudian/post-Althusserian use of ‘overdetermination’ to signal our understanding of ideological representation (including landscape representations) as being constitutively founded on moments of ideological condensation and displacement (see Silverman, 1983: 62, 90; Sparke, forthcoming). In this register, any particular cultural geography needs therefore to be understood not only as the geographic condensation of diverse cultural, political and economic determinations, but also as a certain form of displacement which, in geographic terms, takes the form of a reterritorialized placement, a particular if still transient understanding and experience of place that at first sight hides its ideological underpinnings.

Much of the best recent work in cultural geography has already drawn on such expanded and culturally nuanced understandings of ideology and overdetermination (Anderson and Gale, 1991; Brown, 2000; Gregory, 1996; Henderson, 1999; D. Mitchell, 2000; K. Mitchell, 1996; Moore, 1997; Sharp et al., 2000; Wright, 2001). Our main goal here is to explore how such widened analysis of cultural geographies can both inform and be informed by the study of scale-jumping. As well as seeking to make a contribution to cultural geography in this way, our reciprocal aim is to expand the conceptual relevance of scale-jumping beyond its traditional focus on the economic geographies of capitalist transformation.

The notion of supplementing the Marxian focus on the economic production of scale is by no means original to this chapter. Other geographers have already sought to bring such concerns into communication with the Marxian literature on scale. Most notably, Sallie Marston (2000) has argued for coupling Marxian attention to the sphere of economic production with analysis of the sphere of social reproduction and its coactive impact on the creative destruction of scale. Marston’s particular concern is with the changing relevance of the home and the public realm as scalar fixes for the expression of feminist agency. In addition to foregrounding the way in which scales are fixed and undone through processes of cultural conflict and negotiation, Marston’s work emphasizes the need to come to terms with scale-making as an arena in which domination and resistance are interrelated (see also Brown, 1997). It is this double concern with how ideological domination and counter-hegemonic resistance are together worked out in an uneven field of circulating power relations that has guided our approach here. Like Marston, we do not view scale-jumping as being neatly dichotomized between ideologically dominant and resistant forms. Instead, we see the resulting cultural geographies as reflecting a spectrum of combinations, sometimes instantiating more the reconfiguration of the scope of dominative power relations, sometimes embodying more the reconfiguration of the scope of resistant power relations, but always emerging as an entangled and hybrid product of negotiation and contestation (see also Sharp et al., 2000).

In order to illustrate such varied combinations of ideological dominance and resistance we have chosen three examples, each of which illustrates scale-jumping from the national to the transnational scales. The first, the construction of a cross-border region called Cascadia, illustrates a dominant neoliberal elite’s cultural geography of scale-jumping: a region invented to expand and entrench entrepreneurial governance across the border between Canada and the US on the Pacific Coast. Instantiating neoliberal hegemony as it does, though, this elite cross-border vision of Cascadia does not completely obliterate more counter-hegemonic scale-jumping visions of the same region as a landscape of ecocentric governance. Our second case, the landscape vision attending the development of the Caribbean trading community (CARICOM), also illustrates a neoliberal cultural geography of scale-jumping. But in contrast to the dominant Cascadian vision, the imagined cultural geography of a common Caribbean landscape underpinning a united CARICOM is also closely articulated with the postcolonial reimagination of the Caribbean as coherent and united despite the legacies of inter-imperial division and rivalry. The depiction of a CARICOM landscape, then, represents a more ambivalent scale-jump, one that is simultaneously neoliberal and postcolonial. Our third example represents a more subaltern act of scale-jumping. It consists of the counter-hegemonic landscape visions of Mexican-US transnationals whose border-crossing ways of being in, seeing and depicting space actively contest the hege-monically divided landscape of policing and violence at the US-Mexican border. We do not seek to romanticize this resistant landscape vision, and only aim to underline how it exemplifies counter-hegemonic scale-jumping in a time and space that has been predominantly shaped by the hegemonic cross-border scale-jumping of production and finance under North American free trade.

Clearly, the overarching context of all three of our examples remains that of neoliberalism, today’s dominant ideology of laissez-faire capitalist deregulation and global market-based governance. In this sense, therefore, we build on the work of economic geographers concerned with the renegotiation of scale in the context of globalization (for example, Roberts, 1998; Swyngedouw, 1992; 1997a; 1997b). However, in acknowledging this important economic context we by no means take neoliberal ideology as some sort of disembodied logic emanating out of the economic ether. Indeed, one of the signal ideological features of neoliberalism is precisely the way it is so often presented as a displaced, non-political, post-ideological global economic imperative. As the cultural anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff underline, ‘there is a strong argument to be made that neoliberal capitalism, in its millennial moment, portends the death of politics by hiding its own ideological underpinnings in the dictates of economic efficiency: in the fetishism of the free market, in the inexorable expanding needs of business, in the imperatives of science and technology’ (2000: 322). Against this pattern of (post-) ideological dissembling, it is especially important to examine the grounded embodiment of both neoliberalism and its discontents in particular cultural geographies of scale-jumping. Thus while our first reason for including three case studies here is to explore the varied combinations of ideological domination and resistance in scale-jumping, our second reason is to flesh out empirically the varied cultural geographies of neoliberalism on the ground. Placing the problem in this way allows us to problematize a dualistic depiction of domination and resistance. But more than this, it helps us to underline how the cultural geographies of neoliberalism are overdetermined by processes of ideological negotiation and contestation. Thus, while each of our cases represents a reflection of the expansion and entrenchment of neoliberal agreements and policy-making across the Americas, they each also show how the reterritorialization of economic relations is complexly displaced and replaced in new, sometimes radically resistant, cultural geographies of scale-jumping.

Selling Scale-Jumping:The Two-Nation Vacation and the Branding of Cascadia

Cascadia, gateway to the Pacific North-west and the Two-Nation Vacation, consists of the American states of Washington and Oregon and the Canadian province of British Columbia. It’s an advantageous location of international tourism and trade … There’s something magnetic here for a certain kind of soul … one who appreciates natural beauty, limitless recreational opportunities, and the vibrant blend of international influences that have produced Cascadia’s diverse culture and thriving economy. Many people have decided to call this region home which is a decision you’ll understand once you see Cascadia for yourself … Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. That’s where Cascadia is. But once you’ve experienced this magical place, its going to be somewhere else as well. It’ll be in your heart and on your mind … forever. (The Cascadian Traveler pamphlet, undated)

Here is a landscape conjured up to appeal directly to international tourists. Packaged as a transnational space for a so-called ‘Two-Nation Vacation,’ this vision has been developed over the last decade as one of the main promotional gambits of Cascadia’s business-oriented boosters. More than just words, the landscape has also been depicted in images and maps, and at a conference of tourism firms in June 1996 in Seattle, the resulting landscaping of Cascadia was presented in the form of a glossy poster. The assembled images in the poster serve at once to evoke an ancient history and a sublime naturalness for the rescaled cross-border region, representing it as rooted as deeply in the soil as the actual forests on the slopes of the Cascade mountains. The result is a graphic that involves the whole panoply of iconic commodification. From the trees themselves to the treeless golf courses, every object and activity is effectively marked as open for the new cross-border business of tourism. Meanwhile, the images are put together with a map that lends a sense of objectivity and historicity to the resulting Cascadian landscape.

This glossy attempt to project the region’s binational diversity means that little escapes the image’s instrumentalizing embrace. Native artifacts, waterfalls, bears, eagles, salmon, trees and orcas are all packaged together into the advertisement. In this superficially aestheticizing way, they are all also reduced to serving as objects for the long-distance touristic gaze (for more on the effects of such a gaze on landscape imagery see Duncan and Gregory, 2000). The objects in the image thus form a fantastic landscape to be viewed from afar, a culturally coded rescaled place that links the entrepreneurial vision of the promoters with would-be vacationers’ visions generated on the other side of the world. While serving thus as touristic objects, they also function for the promoters as a means of fashioning a natural Cascadian future out of the region’s objectified natural history. Indeed, while the ‘Two-Nation Vacation’ advertisements reflect an attempt to market Cascadia’s novelty and diversity as a cross-border region, it is equally notable that they also reflect an attempt to suggest that this is the way things naturally always should have been. It is this effort to naturalize the cross-border region’s status as a consolidated region that reflects in turn the politics and economics of scale-jumping at play. Moreover, the work of the poster itself serves as a form of epistemological framing device which, targeted at tourism agencies as much as at tourists themselves, aims to reframe at a new scale the previously disconnected destinations of British Columbia and the US Pacific Northwest, representing them as a unified regional unit. The very semiotic lengths to which the poster goes in order to entrench a sense of the region’s naturalness and ancient history are therefore themselves part as well as parcel of the processes of scale-jumping.

Although the promoters never use the language of scale-jumping themselves, they are often quite explicit about the political-economic context they see as necessitating their cross-border rescaling schemes. ‘We are competing for tourists in a global market’ Alan Artibise, a Canadian academic and promoter, explained in 1995: ‘To maintain our market share, and indeed increase it, we can do very well by marketing a region that crosses international borders’ (quoted in Webb, 1995: A5). More than just creating a novel niche region with which to attract international consumption spending, though, there is another still more profound political-economic imperative at work behind the development of the cross-border landscape. This basic imperative is interpreted by the local elites as a need to ‘cooperate regionally in order to compete globally’ (Chapman, 1996), and, just as with a number of other cooperative ventures aimed at marketing Cascadia as a site for foreign direct investment, the binational tourism projects are conceived, if not practiced, as another key area for cross-border cooperation. Launched primarily at the instigation of the Port of Seattle, the ‘Two-Nation Vacation’ has also been supported by BC tourism interests as a way of appealing to long-distance tourists from the UK, Germany and Australia. As a marketing concept it simply illustrates an attempt to twin the post-NAFTA notion of a borderless region with the economizing notion that Cascadian tourists can explore two nations and all of their collective recreational diversity for the price of just one long-distance plane ride. However, as part of the larger, scale-jumping dynamics from the national to the continental associated with NAFTA, the resulting Cascadian landscape is also envisioned very much as a sign of the free-trade times (Sparke, 2000). Here, for example, is a typical epochal invocation of the region’s raison d’être:

The lines imposed over 100 years ago have simply been transcended by contemporary cultural and economic realities … Cascadia is organizing itself around what will be the new realities of the next century—open borders, free trade, regional cooperation, and the instant transfer of information, money and technology. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century realities of the nation-state, with guarded borders and nationalistic traditions, are giving way. (Schell and Hamer, 1995: 141)

Other visionaries of the Cascadian landscape have argued that its special future as some sort of neoliberal utopia is already underwritten by a vast cross-section of cross-border economies of scale (Goldberg and Levi, 1993). In the context of free trade, they argue, these economies are only going to grow, and the result will be a rescaled cross-border region unfettered by old regimes of national governance. This leads them to claim boldly that Cascadia is ‘as meaningful an economic entity as California’ (1993: 29). However, as they go about repeatedly presenting the region in such exaggerated ways, it starts to become clear that, just as in the poster for the ‘Two-Nation Vacation,’ the boosters call upon and depend upon the more general contours of the Cascadian landscape to do the work of ideologically legitimating the scaled-up cross-border development plans. It is this landscape and the diversity of peoples and opportunities placed upon it, then, that help naturalize and disseminate the concept of a scaled-up cross-border regional identity to outside visitors. In this way, the geographical representation of a rescaled Cascadian region serves to justify and facilitate the very processes it presents as a fait accompli.

As a basic rationale for Cascadian development, the rescaled binational scope of the landscape vision is often called upon to explain the opportunities that lie in store. In this way it is said to be natural for the separate parts of Cascadia to cooperate locally and build a regional alliance in the context of global interdependencies (for example, Artibise, 1994: 4). Moreover, in terms of explaining why the cross-border scope and scale of Cascadia put the region on a trajectory towards high-tech growth, the promoters also often invoke the landscape’s more aesthetic qualities, arguing that its natural beauty and diversity create the basis for attracting and nurturing a highly educated professional workforce. The lifestyle appeal of the landscape is what is used in turn in the naturalizing accounts of Cascadians’ special destiny as citizens of a rescaled free-trading node of neoliberal opportunity (for example, Sutherland, 1997: 42). There is an unhappy irony in all this in so far as the promoters of Cascadia coopted the concept from its original ecotopian roots in the work of local bioregionalists (see Henkel, 1993). Much cross-border environmentalism persists in the region, and, despite the boosters’ attempts to harness it to Cascadian sustainable development discourse, it is sometimes connected to radically alternative views of eco-centric governance (for example, Schoonmaker et al., 1997). Such visions of governance are oriented by mappings of the region’s ecological diversity and vulnerability. But these more counter-hegemonic representations of the cross-border landscape remain fundamentally displaced and replaced by the Cascadia of recreational diversity and high-tech business parks envisioned by the neoliberal promoters.

Ultimately, as a rescaled landscape vision put to work in widespread rhetorics and plans for regional development, Cascadia is also an ideological coproducer of the very changes it is supposedly meant just to reflect. It actually helps to frame and naturalize a terrain that can then be said to have magnetism, soul and magic. Perhaps the most impressive, even magical, aspect of this ideological rescaling process is that it also conjures up idealized citizen-subjects for the landscape too. Such citizens, or rather post-citizens as they are imagined in the various promotional projects, are basically just potential tourists and investors. But as independent agents bringing money and desires that respond to price signals, they would seem to represent the practically perfect inhabitants of a rescaled post-national region that is imagined as a neoliberal utopia.

Strategic Scale-Jumping: Sun, Sea and Caribbean Unity

The logo of the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM) was introduced in 1983, 10 years after the organization’s initial inception. As a flag and an emblem on official documents, the logo symbolizes and names an organization empowered to promote supranational regional integration, trade and economic cooperation among the small economies of the Caribbean archipelago. In this sense the logo registers a process of scale-jumping, of extending and integrating economies beyond the borders of the nation. The logo invokes a discourse of islandness in which the region is naturalized through reference to ecological similarity and, in the absence of contiguous borders, a locational proximity in the Caribbean Sea. Much more than this though, through its reference to a collective history of domination and subordination the logo also invokes memories of struggle, and as such points to the complex and ambivalent tensions between ideology and resistance in the production of scale. Highlighting a particular sense of Caribbean specificity, the logo represents a complex hybrid of neoliberal and postcolonial remapping.

Like the landscapes used to promote Cascadia, the logo of CARICOM naturalizes the supranational region through recurrent reference to local images of the physical and ecological landscape. Reflecting CARICOM’s origins among ex-British colonies, the logo situates the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop upon which islandness, natural vegetation and sunshine are scripted as characteristic of the region (CARICOM, 1999). The iconification of the entire Caribbean, as geographically unanchored islands in the sun, erases history and geography in favor of a homogeneous and harmonious ecological connectivity that, despite differences in language, ethnicity and historical experience, gives the region a materiality that might otherwise be difficult to imagine. The two large black Cs at the foreground of the logo double as both the initials of the organization, and two open links in a chain. As links in a chain they symbolize unity and interdependency among members, yet as broken links they mark freedom from the chains of colonial bondage. The dual symbolism presented by the chains/ links testifies to a fundamental ambivalence underlying regionalism in the Caribbean.

In the service of a neoliberal agenda, the logo conveys an image of a region open for business: an interconnected economic space ready to service the needs of multinational capital. Not dissimilar to Cascadia’s glossy tourist brochure, CARICOM’s logo erases geographic difference and opens the whole region as a marketable tourist destination. The ever expanding cruise ship industry is attracted to the harmonious and indifferent ‘Caribbean’ as a vacation destination distant from the messy histories that define and distinguish places. Indeed, when ‘real’ places threaten to shatter this image, companies such as Disney and Royal Caribbean have simply purchased their own private islands and reconstructed the ‘Caribbean Island’ where the real cannot puncture the ideal (Orenstein, 1997; Weinbaum, 1997). In addition to place marketing, the image of the island Caribbean also serves to rework local identities in favor of the service industry. Writing about the Bahamas, Alexander suggests that the island discourse works to rescript racialized bodies and identities as serviceable, compliant and available to satisfy a ‘white European longing for what is “rare and intangible”’ (1997: 96). Thus, like the boosters of Cascadia, states in the Caribbean find a strategic way to redefine their role in the global economy through the effective mobilization of regionalized images and identities.

While redefining the role of the region on the global political and economic stage, regionalism also performs an ideological function in managing and controlling internal disruptions. Obscuring difference and providing a unitary bond supposedly creates a sense of a larger goal, an ambition that, if rightly orchestrated, could serve to circumvent the local reactions to intensifying globalization. Economic restructuring designed to increase international competitiveness and openness to trade exerts downward pressures on wages, limits market opportunities for small producers, and undermines the power of unions to collectively organize in the region. Accompanied by state deregulation and the privatization of welfare services, the consequences of trade-led development have resulted in accelerated declines in the living standards of poor populations in the Caribbean (Safa and Antrobus, 1992). As the effects of globalization are increasingly felt at the local level, state political actors and corporate elites can sidestep the political pressures arising at the scales where the hardship of poverty and structural adjustment are most felt. In this context state leaders can be repeatedly heard blaming CARICOM and the regional movement for its failure to address their national economic, political and social problems, problems for which they have no effective resolution at the national scale.

Embedded within this discourse of economic competitiveness and global participation, however, is also a discourse of anti-imperialism and a struggle for independence. For small dependent states, regionalism has been a means to protect and extend economic and political independence in an increasingly neoliberal global economy. In the 1980s, in the context of mounting debts, growing internationalization of production, and US military intervention, independence in the region was increasingly defined in terms of strengthening links with global powers other than Europe. The signing of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) with the US in 1982 promised a preferential package of trade, investment and aid that tied the region much more closely to the American political economy. Introduced in 1983, the CARICOM logo celebrates independence, at the same time announcing the arrival on the global stage of the Caribbean as a region made newly independent and unconstrained by the forces of British colonialism. In the context of growing fears about being left out of an increasingly competitive and integrated global economy, regionalism continues to be invoked as the solution to the region’s marginalization and as a source of independence in an increasingly interdependent global economy (Conway, 1998; Elbow, 1997).

Parallel to concerns about economic self-reliance is also a desire to right historic wrongs, which in an exercise of domination have divided the peoples of the region. Writing about the history of regionalism in the Caribbean, Manuel Zapata Olivella suggests:

the Americas and the Caribbean have been arbitrarily divided up in accordance with the whims of Popes, empires, geographers and politicians … seen as separate economic units, split up in accordance with the interests of those who were unaware of the existence of ecological ties between our ancient regions, ethnic groups and civilizations. (1999: 165)

Here Olivella challenges the perception that nations in the Caribbean are the natural geographic containers of Caribbean culture, politics and economics. With other proponents of integration, he considers regionalism to be a strategy of post-colonial resistance, a strategic scale-jump, necessary for the fulfillment of a historical destiny denied to Caribbean peoples by the violent interruption of colonialism. CARICOM retrieves this shared cultural history to convey a common ground upon which regionalism can be promoted as the right and fitting conclusion to centuries of displacement, domination and separation. The double play on chains, as both links between islands and graphic reminders of enslavement and bondage, plainly marks the significance of the anti-colonial struggle underlying Caribbean regionalism. Jumping up to the scale of the region can therefore be interpreted as an attempt to find a spatial resolution to the twin forces of colonial domination and global competition. Again, however, it is an ambivalent process that revives memories of economic exclusion and discourses of subordination at the same time as promising a neoliberal future based on global economic participation. On the one hand the appeal to this collective history is an appropriation and depoliticization of a radical historical memory. On the other hand, however, the articulation of the anti-colonial discourse into ideologies of neoliberal economic growth revives the memory and inserts it into the contemporary period where struggles against marginalization and domination are constantly made and remade. While the logo of Caribbean unity culturally constructs a sense of a unified economic region, it contains within it traces of alternative and often conflicting readings of regional space and belonging. Unraveling the cultural, political and economic processes producing scales draws attention to these alternative scriptings, and highlights potential fissures or moments of political resistance within the play on unity. The emphasis on a history of colonialism in the Caribbean keeps alive a collective spirit of resistance that many non-governmental organizations are now utilizing to hold CARICOM accountable for its neoliberal development policies. As scale-jumping attempts to transform the spaces in which economies are organized, it simultaneously transforms the spaces of everyday life and creates new opportunities for the articulation of collective demands at a scale other than the nation-state. In the next section, we examine in detail how non-state, non-corporate actors are also able to jump scales. Like many groups within the Caribbean, Mexican migrants are themselves reworking the transborder space of the US-Mexico border on their own terms.

Finding Agency in Scale-Jumping: Crossing La Frontera

The caption on the cultural artifact in Figure 26.3 may be translated as follows:

Figure 26.3 The retablo of Braulio Barrientos (from Durand and Massey, 1995 © The Arizona Board of Regents 1995)

Rancho Palencia, San Diego de la Unión, Guanajuato. January 11, 1986. On this date I dedicate the present retablo to the Virgin of San Juan for the clear miracle she granted on the date of June 5, 1985. Re-emigrating to the United States with three friends, the water we were carrying ran out. Traveling in such great heat and with such thirst, and without hope of drinking even a little water, we invoked the Virgin of San Juan and were able to arrive at our destination and return to our homeland in health. In eternal gratitude to the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos from the place where you find Braulio Barrientos.

Striking in their color and stark beauty, retablos hold an important place in Mexican culture and art. Retablos are small tin paintings left at religious shrines to offer public thanks to a divine image for a miracle or favor received. In Miracles on the Border (1995), Durand and Massey bring together a vivid collection of retablos commissioned by Mexican migrants. In doing so, they argue that the retablos ‘provide a spiritual and cultural anchor for Mexicans in the northern diaspora, giving them a familiar cultural lens through which they can interpret and assimilate the fragmented and often disorienting experiences of life in an alien land’ (1995: 4).

In the retablo of Braulio Barrientos, the author thanks the Virgin of San Juan for bringing him and his friends safely to the United States. The image brilliantly evokes the danger of the border. The sun bears down on the men as one sits dejectedly with his empty water jug among the cacti and scrub brushes. The retablo is a graphic reminder of the fact that a ‘borderless’ world is only really borderless for a few, that the scale-jumping that seems so easy for neoliberal boosters and planners reflects an altogether much more embodied and difficult movement for the subaltern migrant. The result is a landscape vision of the area around the border as a transnational space fraught by the violence of border policing and the perils of border crossing. Yet, the retablo also evokes the migrants’ agency in negotiating that space. It is clear from the retablo’s words that this is not the first time the men have made the journey to el norte. The narrative is one of re-emigration, and the supplications to the Virgin are thanks not only for surviving the journey to the United States, but also for returning them safely to their homeland, Guanajuato, Mexico. The retablo thus tells one migrant’s story of the emergence of a transnational region between the United States and Mexico. The retablo captures the everyday practices of migrants operating in the US-Mexico transnational space, and thus registers their own scale-jumping reterritorialization of the two nations. The landscape vision also works to facilitate further transmigration, as stories of successful crossings and passages home become woven into the Mexican cultural fabric.

The transnational migration networks that have developed across the US-Mexico border are embedded in historical geopolitical and economic relations, and have arguably existed for many centuries. As with the Canada-US relationship, however, NAFTA has extended economic and political links between the United States and Mexico, consolidating a transnational economy within which commodities and investments move freely across the border. Paradoxically, the porosity of borders to the flows of capital has led to a contradictory increase in the militarization of the US-Mexico border that attempts to limit the flow of (some) people across it (Andreas, 1998-9; Connolly, 1996; Nevins, 2001; ÒTuathail et al., 1998). This concomitant opening of the borders to trade and closing of the borders to immigrants from the south is legitimized through a neoliberal agenda that not only promotes freer markets but also argues for the scaling back of government expenditures (such as education, healthcare and welfare benefits) for ‘undeserving’ populations.

The retablo shown, however, suggests that migrants are not passive agents but are in fact also ‘jumping scales,’ and in the process actively transforming the spaces of the US-Mexico border. While the US government continues to construct political franchise and access to social services within its own borders, migrants are engaging in transnational practices that delink social relations from a territorially defined nation-state. It is worthwhile to be careful about construing transmigration as an essentially oppositional or subversive practice (see Guarnizo and Smith, 1998; Mitchell, 1997; Ong, 1999). It is often as much a strategy for enabling capitalist flexibility as it is for contesting hegemonic narratives. However, to miss the way in which Braulio Barrientos is reframing and thus rescaling territory from his perspective is to ignore the way in which human agency and subjectivity formation are just as much part of the construction of scale as are the systemic transformations of a capitalist political economy.

One way we can see transmigrants jumping scales pertains to the ways in which they are responding to the erosion of the welfare state and the denial of public benefits for immigrant families. In interviews undertaken by one of the authors in southern California,1 migrants discussed how economic instability and uncertainty are forcing them to devise economic strategies that rely on flexibility and distributing resources across multiple locales. Paula, a Mexican migrant who works as a maid in a hotel in San Diego, recognizes her tenuous position in the US economy and sees maintaining ties to Mexico as an important escape route: ‘I listen carefully and when things here start to get too bad I can go back to Mexico … [with my] savings I can survive there.’ Paula knows she will not be eligible for government welfare assistance if she loses her job. But because ‘a dollar counts more’ in Mexico, she is expecting to use her savings to settle there rather than in San Diego. Ironically, Paula is capitalizing on the same boundary of ‘difference’ constructed by the scale of the nation-state as are multinational corporations when they move south of the border to escape labor or environmental regulations. Other interviews illuminated the ways in which migrants remained politically active in their home villages (see also Basch et al., 1994; Smith, 2001). Such transnational practices problematize the idea that politics are always local, and force us to focus instead on how migrants construct their own cultural geographies across multiple scales simultaneously (Grewal and Kaplan, 1994).

Whether or not all migrants are conscious of the political ramifications of their transnational practices, they are nevertheless an important force rescaling political and economic relations between Mexico and the United States. The Mexican state has begun to extend citizenship rights—including health and welfare benefits, property rights and voting rights—to nationals living in the United States, thus reconceptualizing the historic links between citizenship and the nation-state to accommodate them. Although this can also be seen as an attempt to coopt the wealth and political support of those abroad, it nevertheless shows the way in which migrants themselves play a role in creating a new ‘scalar fix’ for the Mexican state. Like the retablo, then, the embodied and clearly voiced cultural geographies of migrants’ daily practices underline the need to consider the role that transnational practices ‘from below’ play in the counter-hegemonic construction of scale (see also Silvern, 1999).


The three case studies discussed in this chapter give empirical specificity to the spatial transformations resulting from and contributing to the scale-jumping associated with the recent neoliberal restructuring of the Americas. They highlight not only how scale reflects the changing territorial scope of capitalist economic organization, but also the complex ways in which this is ideologically refracted, culturally coded and resisted. The boosterish visions of a neoliberal utopia in Cascadia, the struggle for postcolonial independence in an interdependent global economy in the Caribbean, and the lives of migrants operating at the US-Mexico border all highlight how scale is reproduced through the overdetermination of particular cultural geographies. Scale in these contexts is not simply rewritten by the juggernaut of global capital, but in each landscape it is produced through negotiation with individual and collective subjects, local histories and the environment.

We have presented the social construction of scale—at the moment of scale-jumping—as a complex and contradictory process engaged by multiple actors in political struggles that span continental geographies and the spaces of everyday life. On the one hand, scale-jumping provides an abstract framework through which it becomes theoretically possible to witness the re-placing and remapping of the scope of power relations. On the other, cultural geographers’ attention to landscape, text and identity illuminates how socially and culturally inscribed agents struggle over ideology and meaning systems, and in turn interact with patterns of governance to form a scalar fix (Marston, 2000). This approach both deepens our understanding of cultural geography and opens a conceptual space to broaden our definition of what constitutes relevant subject matter for understanding the rescaling of the territorial scope of power relations. Paintings by migrants, organizational logos and tourist brochures suddenly become critical sites for understanding patterns of economic and political restructuring and the ideological (dis)placements through which power is mediated, organized and struggled over.

Our objective in this chapter has been to open geographers’ research and praxis to a greater critical sensitivity to how power operates through the overdetermination of scale. Placing the problem of scale-jumping, as we have in our three examples, works to undermine dualistic notions of domination and resistance and suggest more creative ways to approach the (re)production of cultural landscapes of power, domination and resistance under neoliberal restructuring. Our case studies also show how cultural landscapes of scale-jumping are multiply determined sites of contestation and struggle. Just as they are the sites through which power is exerted, they are also constantly being rewritten and reworked through the production of collective subjectivities and sometimes radically resistant and profoundly human geographies too.