Scale, causality, and the new organism-environment interaction

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The fallout from environmental determinism of the early 20th century steered geography away from biological and evolutionary thought. Yet it also set in motion the diversification of how geographers conceive environment, how these environments shape and are shaped by humans, and how scaling negotiates the interpretation of this causality. I illustrate how this plurality of scalar perspectives and practices in geography is embedded in the organism-environment interaction recently articulated in the life sciences. I describe the new fields of epigenetics and niche construction to communicate how ideas about scale from human and physical geography come together in the life sciences. I argue that the two subdisciplinary modes or 'moments' of scalar thinking in geography are compatible, even necessary, through their embodiment in organisms. To procure predictability, organisms practice an epistemological scaling to rework the mental and material boundaries and scales in their environment. Yet organisms are also embedded in ontological flux. Boundaries and scales do not remain static because of the agency of other organisms to shape their own predictability. I formally define biological scaling as arising from the interplay of epistemological and ontological moments of scale. This third moment of scale creates local assemblages or topologies with a propensity for persistence. These 'lumpy' material outcomes of the new organism-environment interaction have analogues in posthuman and new materialist geographies. They also give formerly discredited Lamarckian modes of inheritance a renewed, but revised acceptance. This article argues for a biological view of scale and causality in geography.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-441
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2012


  • Determinism
  • Epigenetics
  • Evolution
  • Geography
  • Niche construction
  • Scale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Scale, causality, and the new organism-environment interaction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this