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Scaling Issues in the Social Sciences: A Report for the International Human Dimensions Program

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Gibson, Clark C.; Ostrom, Elinor; Ahn, Toh-Kyeong
Date: 1998
Agency: International Human Dimensions Program (IHDP), Bonn, Germany
Series: IHDP Working Paper No. 1
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4280
Sector: Theory
Subject(s): social science--methodology
environmental change
Abstract: "Numerous human activities--from the cutting of firewood in rural Uganda to the production of hydrocarbons by oil refineries in southern California--have causes and consequences measured at small, medium, and large levels on spatial and temporal scales. The multilevel/multi-scale nature of the problems relating to the human dimensions of global change demands that researchers address key issues of scales and levels in their analyses. While natural scientists have long understood the importance of scales, and have operated within relatively well-defined hierarchical systems of analysis, social scientists have worked with scales of less precision and greater variety. With the growing realization that the insights of social science are crucial to understanding the relationships between people and the natural environment, it is necessary for social scientists to identify more clearly the effects of diverse levels on multiple scales in their own analyses, to comprehend how other social scientists employ diverse kinds of levels and scales, and to begin a dialogue with natural scientists about how different conceptions of scales and levels are related. "This report seeks to facilitate this dialogue among researchers by reviewing the concept of scale in the social sciences. After reading extensive numbers of articles and books related to the broad concept of scale, one of the key problems that we have come to recognize is that terms such as level and scale are frequently used interchangeably and that many of the key concepts related to scale are used differently across disciplines and scholars. Thus, we present in Table 1.1 definitions of key terms that we have come to use after reading the literature cited in the bibliography and struggling with the confusion created by many different uses of the same word."

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