restricted access The Power of Scale: A Global History Approach (review)
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The Power of Scale: A Global History Approach. By John H. Bodley (Armonk, M. E. Sharpe, 2003) 297 pp. $69.95 cloth $26.95 paper

Social-scientific paradigms rarely emerge in a full-blown theoretical gestalt. Glimpsed in tantalizing metaphors and enmeshed in opposing ideological clusters, they are constructed along the path of disciplinary research. Take the paradigm of globality, for example. The heady social-scientific outbursts of the 1990s about globalization and its phenomena have reached a plateau, and "globality" has arguably become the benchmark for the present. Yet its elaboration as a superparadigm for the humanities and social sciences remains a work in progress, advanced and formulated by scholars working global topics and concerns into their local disciplines.

Bodley contributes to this interdisciplinary endeavor as an anthropologist, tackling the uncertain prospects of global society in light of the quantum leaps of "social power, the ability of individuals to influence other people and events" (4). Bodley's global history distinguishes between the "no-growth" tribal worlds of his discipline and the "power-seeking elite individuals" whose "post optimum societies" may have finally maneuvered humankind into an unsustainable situation socially as well as environmentally (81, 238).

The Power of Scale incorporates tribal worlds, thus going beyond traditional world history and its myopic focus on world civilizations (which tend to be few in number and inevitably crowned by its western variety). Bodley embraces the numerous ethnolinguistic groups that have enriched humankind with "tremendous cultural diversity created over the past 200,000 years of cultural development" (6). Extending the world-historical time frame by one order of magnitude (from about 10,000 years to at least 100,000 years) and enlarging the pool of historical subjects (to include tribal peoples) gives Bodley's approach to global history unusual temporal depth and social reach. Furthermore, small tribal cultures assume key-historical importance, and "civilization" is qualified as an imperial plot aimed at "control over people and maintaining systems of inequality" (99).

The idea that "optimal distributions of power" are still possible today is inspired by the ethnographic literature about tribal peoples and Bodley's personal experience among the Peruvian Ashaninka (3). The upshot of this disciplinary knowledge is "a model of successful small-scale corporate communities operating democratically in support of the humanization process" (258). In this ethnotheoretical-utopian context, the author envisions the global goal of "an optimum-scale society" that would be "more equitable, stable, and secure" for everybody (236, 262).

Two theoretical engines drive Bodley's argumentation—the individualistic concept of "imperia" and the logarithmic mechanism of "scale" as "multiples of ten" (4, 55). Together, they form the "imperia and scale approach" (5). Imperia explain "the role of individuals in directing cultural development" and "scale theory" accounts for the many [End Page 241] order-of-magnitude increases that have occurred throughout human history.

Eschewing Marxism (137: "scale theory is concerned with personal imperia and individual human agents, and does not treat social classes as decision-making agents"), Bodley nonetheless shows that elites have managed time and again to concentrate privilege, wealth, and power in their hands. Based on the assumption that "growth is an elite-directed process that concentrates power in the form of ever-expanding imperia" (5), the author introduces "three distinct cultural worlds: tribal, imperial, and commercial" (6). Case studies about the "domestic imperia" of the Ashaninka, the "political imperia" of the Chakri dynasty in Thailand, and the "commercial imperia" of the United States exemplify the disproportionately growing power of imperia. Subsequently, Bodley details how individuals (like John Jacob Astor or Citicorp's Walter B. Wriston) and powerful families (like the Grosvenors, Rothschilds, Bonapartes, and Rockefellers) have used historical growth opportunities for ever- increasing personal gain and influence.

Nevertheless, Bodley's last chapter assumes the feasibility of "an optimal-scale commercial world," in which "the power of scale would be democratically managed for the maximum human benefit" (235). In the best of all possible worlds, runaway economic growth would be restricted and all decisions made by the majority. According to the author, this feat could be achieved by combining "the advantages of small, domestic-scale societies with the benefits of industrial production and...