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Scale and Social Relations

  • Author(s): Berreman, Gerald
  • et al.

"Scale," a term referring to size and/or complexity, is a societal dimension frequently employed and generally regarded as important but rarely systematically investigated. This paper provides a critical overview of the meanings which have been attached to the concept and the implications they carry. Special attention is paid here to the diverse literature dealing with the contrast between societies characterized by such polar terms as Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, folk and urban, small and large, simple and complex. The paper then turns to a consideration of the effects of social scale as an independent variable affecting social organization and social relations. This is undertaken by reference to the author's own ethnographic research in societies and situations which apparently offer contrasts in scale: (1) the Aleutian Islands, where a case study was made of processes and results of a major change in scale, from that of a small-scale hunting and fishing society to one participating in the national political and economic nexus of the United States;(2) village India, contrasting the very small scale of a Himalayan village and its region with the larger-scale situation of villages of the densely populated Indo-Gangetic plain; (3) urban India, contrasting social organization and social relations in the city with those in traditional villages, as described in 2. In each instance, general principles have been derived from the ethnographic data concerning the social consequences of variations in scale and the social processes which they engender, e.g., the widespread quest for community, communal sentiments, and communal experience which large-scale organization brings about. In conclusion, some two dozen general inferences about the ways in which scale influences social relations are proposed and enumerated. It is hoped that as a result, other anthropologists may be moved to investigate the implications of scale in the various societies in which they work. One significant aim would be to ascertain what features of social organization and social relations are inherently aspects of scale, what features are affected by scale (and in what ways), and what features are independent of scale.

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