The reality of austerity in our eight case study cities and elsewhere has been strongly shaped by a phenomenon, long studied by geographers and recognized across the social sciences as well as by practitioners in policy making, politics and activism: social, political and institutional spaces are structured through a hierarchy of spatial scales that is not pregiven but socially constructed. Emphasizing scale in this manner confirms an intuitive assumption we make on a daily basis – when we go to work from our home, or when we go on vacation – that ‘spaces across the world differ from one another’ (Brenner, 2009: 27). What might sound trivial, is an important marker in the way we understand the world around us. How, then, does scale matter specifically? We all know the concept of scale from the ways we use a map or a measuring tape. In this colloquial usage, we presuppose that there is a natural quality to the concept: we rely on its truth as given. If you use a map for a cycling trip, and its scale tells you that one centimetre on the map represents ten kilometres, you assume that if you plan a trip represented by five centimetres on the map, it means that the distance you will travel is, in fact, 50 kilometres in reality (never mind the hills and valleys).
While this ‘natural’ understanding of scale underlies its use in this chapter, we add to it the notion that scale in social life is, for the most part, not a given but socially constructed.
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