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Power, discourse or something else

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Power, discourse or something else

Since the late 1990s critical theory has been criticized more and more. Being the most important fundament for communicative or collaborative planning theory this may mean that we have to look for other philosophical fundamentals to underpin an alternative theory on spatial planning. Even better is to talk about spatial change because also the word planning itself is contested. In this thesis I try to formulate the fundamentals of an alternative theory on spatial change which meets the criticism on contemporary critical theory and communicative and collaborative planning. Therefore it is necessary to find out which philosophical fundamentals meet the criticism on Habermas’ critical theory, and how they can be translated into a theory on spatial change. To reach this goal I have done literature research on the work of both philosophers and planning theorists.

Summary

Since the late 1970s modernistic philosophy with its focus on progress and feasibility finds itself in a crisis. By establishing a theory of communicative action, Jürgen Habermas tried to safe the project of modernity. He believes we should take different criteria into account in order to reach mutual understanding. In this way communicative rationality can replace the goal-means rationality of earlier modernism. However, postmodern philosophers have argued that rationality as a whole cannot be hold anymore. They have shown how common knowledge can differ from time to time. In history we can trace moments where one kind of common knowledge suddenly is replaced by another one. Other philosophers have searched for a synthesis of the opposing theories, which agrees on the impossibility of finding stable fundamentals but is not relativistic.

After the 1970s in spatial planning theory we also see a shift toward another view on spatial issues. In planning, it is the theory of communicative action which gains the most influence. Communicative and collaborative planning has become the leading theory in the 1990s. However it has been criticised more and more for its normativity. A small minority of spatial planners has also done some theorizing based on postmodern philosophy. Others have searched for a theory that incorporates the best of both worlds. Synthesising opposite theories should lead to a more adequate theory on spatial change because it merges the best of two opposite theories into one new theory.

In philosophy Bruno Latour did synthesize pre-modernism, modernism and postmodernism, whereas planners have not taken pre-modernism into account already. Therefore it could make sense to use the ideas of Latour to explain spatial change. Dropping the subject-object antagonism is one of the fundamental parts of his theory. When we study spatial change, it is neither social nor technical aspects where we have to look at. Fact and opinion do not exist as autonomous phenomena. In the new Constitution it are associations of humans and non-humans who are going through a process before they become instituted as actors in the collective. Scientists, politicians, economists and moralists contribute to this process. In the field of spatial change, planners can take the role of one of the four disciplines.

Two spatial issues are taken as examples to see how the theory developed by Latour could work out in practice. In the first place we can have a look at the Aramis case. Aramis was an innovative form of public transportation which had to be developed and implemented in Paris. However, the project failed. The investigation on the cause of death of Aramis does not lead to social or technological elements. It turns out that Aramis was taken as a fact already when it was only an idea. There has never been a discussion on the essence of Aramis. That was why the project was terminated. A second example is the development of the through station of Stuttgart and the surrounding area. The project is still underway. However it seems to get on very well. The proposition of the plan Stuttgart 21 is running through the process as described by Latour.

The most important conclusion of the research presented in this thesis is that the philosophy of Bruno Latour can be used in order to establish a theory on spatial change. This theory meets the criticism on modernism. At the same time we do not need to give up planning as a whole. Latour’s theory is a synthesis of different opposite theories. It allows us to find out how humans and non-humans influence each other. Furthermore it can be taken as a framework in which both discourse and power can be used to explain spatial change.

Ritske Dankert
Ritske Dankert is oprichter van De Beleidsexpert en De Corporatiestrateeg. Hij helpt beleidsmakers en corporatiestrategen met tips voor meer impact en draagvlak. Ritske heeft 14 jaar ervaring met het maken en uitvoeren van beleid voor meer dan 30 overheden, corporaties en andere maatschappelijke organisaties. Hij vindt het leuk wanneer je reageert op zijn blogs :-)

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