Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Reimagining the scales, dimensions, and fields of socio-ecological sustainability

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


lancDermot O'Reilly

Stephen Allen

Patrick Reedy


This paper critiques the two-dimensional (hierarchical–spatial) focus on scales evident in management and organizational studies, and the capitalist ecological modernization (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, 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 conceptualization of potential forms of socio-ecological organizing and opens up the potential for alternative modes of organizing socio-ecological sustainability.


O'Reilly, L., Allen, S., & Reedy, P. (2018). Reimagining the scales, dimensions, and fields of socio-ecological sustainability. British Journal of Management, 29(2), 220-234.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 6, 2017
Online Publication Date Apr 15, 2018
Publication Date 2018-04
Deposit Date Dec 11, 2017
Publicly Available Date Apr 16, 2020
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
Keywords Scale; Sustainability; Ecological modernisation; Social ecology
Public URL
Publisher URL


You might also like

Downloadable Citations