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From the Local to the Global, a Geography without Limits

12 September 2003
Denise Pumain
Cet article est une traduction de :
Du local au global, une géographie sans échelles ?

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1Contemporary social sciences, between interactionism and ‘cognitivism’, is passionately interested in interpersonal relations, the reflexive games of the adjustments in intention of the networks of power and the professions, the multiple configurations of individual trajectories.  Economics inserts limited rationality and reflexivity into the theory of games; micro-history looks into the details of biographies.  The ‘subject’ is undergoing a spectacular return on the intellectual scene, on the scale of the myth of the actor.  The models of simulation that have become the norm are those of the ‘small worlds’, where  leaps are taken from the micro to the macro, from interactions between individuals to the emergent structure of a society.

2With the fall of the great narratives, the success of methodological individualism, militant faith in liberalism, right up to the development of the Web, which puts everyone in direct contact with everyone else in the world, one  is left with the impression that the social fabric can be made and unmade, almost instantaneously, in fleeting networks that are continually being reconfigured, at the whim of the interactions of the moment, according to the will or the caprice of the actors.  But where have the structures gone—those backbones of systems; where are the groups, the classes, the taxinomies and the typologies?  Might their articulations, the joints and the fractures, have suddenly disappeared?

3Admittedly, geography must participate in research into individual practices and representations, in their interferences with structures of space.  But after having challenged the reductionist simplifications of man as dweller or man as producer, it has not known how to invent a ‘homo geographicus’ for itself.  In theoretical production, the discipline seems better placed to bring to mind and question once again the reality of intermediate levels, the effects of scale, demension, situation and configuration.  Between local and global, then, the issue is not about reinventing identities fossilized in territories, turning social groups back to interactions based on physical nearness.  It is in the structure of the networks that we should look for the effects of scale, not only by an individualising interactionism, but by identifying the sub-systems (the ‘cliques’ of the graphs) and their powerful centers, those that turn cooperations into federations, like those who organize between individuals and territories the pathways of dependence and domination.

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Denise Pumain, « From the Local to the Global, a Geography without Limits », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Éditoriaux, mis en ligne le 12 septembre 2003, consulté le 22 juin 2018. URL :

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Denise Pumain

Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne,UMR Géographie-cités,

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