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Re-imagining the scales, dimensions, and fields of socio-ecological sustainability

O'Reilly, Dermot; Allen, Stephen; Reedy, Patrick


Dermot O'Reilly

Stephen Allen


This paper critiques the two-dimensional (hierarchical-spatial) focus on scales evident in management and organizational studies, and the Capitalist Ecological Modernisation (CEM) paradigm that dominates current corporate and governmental approaches to sustainability. Our contribution is to propose a more complex and nuanced understanding of scale, which incorporates social, political, temporal, and material dimensions. We propose a heuristic framework from Harvey (2010) in order to evaluate different paradigms of socio-ecological organizing: specifically, the dominant paradigm of CEM against a Social Ecology (SE) alternative. We explore the divergent conceptions of, and relative importance placed upon, concepts of scale, grain, level, and field in these two contrasting paradigms. Our analysis highlights the limitations and contradictions of the CEM expression of scale, namely its predominant focus on measurement and expansion through ‘economies of scale’. By offering an alternative conception of the links between scales, grains, levels, and social fields, we show how this enriches the conceptualisation of potential forms of socio-ecological organizing and opens up the potential for alternative modes of organizing socio-ecological sustainability.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2018-04
Journal British Journal of Management
Print ISSN 1045-3172
Electronic ISSN 1467-8551
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 29
Issue 2
Pages 220-234
APA6 Citation Reedy, P., O'Reilly, D., & Allen, S. (2018). Re-imagining the scales, dimensions, and fields of socio-ecological sustainability. British Journal of Management, 29(2), 220-234.
Keywords Scale; Sustainability; Ecological modernisation; Social ecology
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