The easiest way to think about “scale” is through visual representations such as maps. The scale of a map is the degree to which it compresses real-world space: for example, 1 cm on the map represents 1 km in the real world. Maps can represent the world at multiple scales, from the street level to an entire continent – or even the whole planet. However, the concept of scale is not limited to the domain of spatial representation: it can be used to refer to temporal duration, or to different levels of abstraction in the understanding of a certain phenomenon.
It is in this last sense that the idea of scale can be usefully applied to migration. Migration involves individuals, with their motivations for migrating, their aspirations and hopes, their unique background and experiences (personal scale). But migration is also a global trend that can be linked to war, political oppression, structural inequalities leading to extreme poverty, and climate change (planetary scale). Migration is further influenced by local attitudes and cultural biases (local scale); even more significantly, it is shaped by policies and legislation on national and regional (e.g., EU-level) scales. Migration is thus a complex phenomenon that spans multiple scales.
Scale is also an important factor in narratives of and on migration, and combining multiple scales in stories can be seen as a form of multiperspectivity. It is widely recognized in narrative theory that narrative has an “anthropomorphic bias,” in Monika Fludernik’s (1996, 13) words: that is, it tends to foreground human or human-like protagonists and their embodied experience. This entails that narrative as a practice favors the personal scale. Typically, the protagonist of a story will be the main focus of the audience’s attention, eliciting responses such as empathy and sympathy. This bias towards the individual is an asset for narrative, but it is also a limitation when it comes to representing phenomena, such as migration, that go beyond individual experience. How can stories convey not only the experience of a single migrant (or group of migrants), but also the larger local, regional, and global processes that bear on their experience? Put otherwise, how can narrative capture interactions as well as discontinuities across scalar levels (see Woods 2014 for more on these discontinuities)? These questions point to the problem of multiscalarity (see Caracciolo 2021, 43-46) – that is, of integrating multiple scalar levels in a narrative context. Multiscalarity calls for different approaches depending on a narrative’s broader pragmatic context and goals: for instance, novelistic strategies for imagining migration as a multiscalar phenomenon may not translate easily into the context and vocabulary of journalism (see Adinolfi and Caracciolo 2023). Nevertheless, more exchanges between artistic and media practices revolving around migration are certainly desirable and may help address biases inherent in these discourses. Creating awareness of multiscalarity remains a priority for narrative-based approaches to migration.
⇢ see also Experiential storytelling, Life story, Multiperspectivity, Narrative, Narratives on migration, Representation of migration, Stories of migration
References and further reading:
Adinolfi, Simona, and Marco Caracciolo. 2023. “Narrative, Scale, and Two Refugee Crises in Comparison in Italian Media.” Ghent University. [Working paper of the OPPORTUNITIES project 101004945 – H2020.]
Caracciolo, Marco. 2021. Narrating the Mesh: Form and Story in the Anthropocene. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
DiCaglio, Joshua. 2021. Scale Theory: A Nondisciplinary Inquiry. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Fludernik, Monika. 1996. Towards a “Natural” Narratology. London: Routledge.
Woods, Derek. 2014. “Scale Critique for the Anthropocene.” Minnesota Review 83: 133–42.
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