Politics of scale in "Sanlu-Milkpowder Scandal"

Yungang Liu, Fenglong Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Since the 1980s, scale was rediscovered by some pioneering western human geographers and becoming a key concept in analyzing or criticizing social-spatial processes. However, scalar view is mainly developed in the fields of natural geography or GIS rather than human geography in China. Actually, scale connotes real, analytic and practical meanings in geography, the practical meaning of scale mainly acts as politics of scale. On the basis of a systematic review of researches on scale in human geography in current English sphere, this paper examines the connotations of scale in human geography and constructs an general conceptual and analytical framework of "politics of scale", which includes three actors with unequal power, the weak actor mainly uses "politics of scale" through direct fight by improving its mobility or making alliance with its fellows, or through indirect mobilization by networks or scaled representation. This model is used in explaining the scaling politics in the world-notorious Sanlu-Milkpowder Scandal that happened in 2008. Using materials collected from newspapers and various websites in the two stages of this case, the authors make some efforts to shed light on the comparison between China and the western countries on the features of "politics of scale". We also argue that this perspective is very useful and effective in understanding quite a lot of social processes in China. This study shows that there are numerous stakeholders and complicated scaled political processes behind social events like Sanlu-Milkpowder Scandal, in these issues the relationships between the central and local governments play a critical role. Our analysis shows that the central and local governments acted first as the third party and then as the strong part which mainly scale the impacts down and stop the weak part from expanding their influences, which is due to the lack of relatively independent third part in China. It is believed that this paper can add some new ideas in current researches on "politics of scale" and give a promising outlook of researches on scalar politics in China in the future, when the geographical concept of scale not only can be applied to explain and resolve some intractable social problems, but also will generate some profound influences on other disciplines such as political science and sociology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1368-1378
Number of pages11
JournalDili Xuebao/Acta Geographica Sinica
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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