Working Group: Scale and Scope

Peter McFarlane, "Obsolete", circuit board and skeleton (all rights

This working group looks at the historical role scalability and scope played in organisational issues and structural settings and how this impacted knowledge cultures. In what ways does the process of "making things work" change when the size of a scientific, technical or creative enterprise changes? When does scale matter? How do systems, activities and ideas expand and what are the factors and vectors that facilitate the embodiment of big notions in small details? As such, this working group is concerned with the large-scale role of organizational knowledge and structural parameters in historical knowledge cultures, and also considers the degree to which ‘messy’ disjunctures distorted the scalability of enterprises.

 Historians of economic processes, especially, have linked scale to expansion and a knowledge economy that identifies knowledge and action in close relation to the intricacy of organisation. Sciences of scale and scope were developed to provide a formal structure for the management and manipulation of scale: the ability to change scale and measure its impact, process different approaches, and deploy multi-scale models. In a broader view, a history of scale and scope inquires historical approaches to balancing specificity and generalization. How did historical actors manage complexity or approach simplicity? How was coherence achieved within complex locales? What were the scale effects in various fields of expertise? Paying attention to articulations of scalability and issues of scope requires rethinking the history of knowledge practices and ideas. Juggling limitations, retaining foresight while developing methods of extrapolation, dealing with uncertainty while planning for (improvised) predictability, all of these need to be incorporated into questions of how the notion of scalability and issues of scope tested the boundaries of who knew, what was known and why.