Scalar Narratives in Bilbao: A Cultural Politics of Scales Approach to the Study of Urban Policy


  • The fieldwork for this article was conducted during my PhD for which I acknowledge a doctoral fellowship from the Basque government. I am also grateful to the Research and Training Network ‘Urban Europe’ for allowing me the time to write the final version while enjoying a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department for Social Research and Sociology, University of Milano-Bicocca. Many thanks also to John Tomaney who carefully read the final version. Finally, the article benefited from the comments of two anonymous referees.

Sara González (, School of Geography, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.


In this article I explore how theoretical metaphors about the contemporary rescaling of the capitalist economy are used by local policy actors to justify an entrepreneurial urban policy. I develop a new theoretical concept (scalar narrative), suggest an analytical approach (cultural politics of scales) and give evidence of a particular case (Bilbao). The article is structured in the following way. First, I briefly review the literature on politics of scales and contribute to the debate with an approach that incorporates elements from cultural political economy and interpretative policy analysis. Within this approach I mobilize the concept of ‘scalar narrative’ that has already been suggested in the literature but not fully explored. I then put this approach into practice with a particular case study, Bilbao, a city in the north of Spain, which has recently gone through extensive urban regeneration, where I describe the appropriation of three scalar narratives by the policymakers. To show this I draw from empirical work done in Bilbao that looks at statutory and strategic planning documents as well as urban marketing literature and interviews with key informants.