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Keywords:

  • politics of scale;
  • scalar hierarchies;
  • welfare redesign;
  • gender and social reproduction;
  • child care;
  • Canadian cities

Scalar theory has recently come under attack for its emphasis on hierarchy. Yet the notion of scalar hierarchies cannot be abandoned if we want to understand actually-existing social relations and the governance structures in which they are enmeshed. The conception of hierarchy employed by political economists is also more complex than that suggested by the ‘Russian dolls’ metaphor. A multiplicity of diversely structured, overlapping interscalar hierarchies operate in and across diverse policy fields. While these arrangements clearly influence what happens at the local scale, sufficient room often exists for local actors to modify the effects. The complexity of scalar hierarchies is illustrated through an analysis of the governance of child care provision in Canada. Child care arrangements are becoming integral to social reproduction in post-industrial economies, where women form an increasingly important part of the labour force. This paper focuses on child care in three of Canada's largest cities, each of which is subject to a distinct provincial regime through which federal contributions are filtered. Yet, as we shall see, these cities are more than ‘puppets on a string.’