When planners deal with change: Stories of Performativity in the politics of urban planning in two Scandinavian cities: Reflexivity, normality and (de)routinization

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From American pragmatism, the communicative turn and interpretive theories, we have learned that planning is performed by a plurality of actors, discourses and stories, the analysis of which provides new insights into the intelligence of planning. The idea that planning is what is actually performed (Forester, 1993) when giving direction to the future has been the centre of a debate about planning in the past two decades (Innes, 1995; Sandercock, 2003; Versteeg and Hajer, 2010). However, much of the planning literature has now shifted towards the structural conditions of planning in its various meanings, its politics and the complexity of governance. This shift in planning research has made it possible to understand the complex dynamics of deliberation in planning and its connections with politics and power (Hayek, 1945; Mandelbaum, 1979; Flyvbjerg, 1998; Brooks, 2002; Hajer and Wagenaar, 2003; Lissandrello and Grin, 2011). However, with the growing focus on how structural conditions shape and limit planning, too little attention has been paid to how individual planners navigate planning processes as catalysts and initiators of change (Albrecht, 2003). This paper explores how individual planning professionals become carriers of specific abilities that shape the possibilities of action and innovation in urban planning practice. It also argues that planning is performed by a plurality of actors, discourses, stages and politics but that in addition, urban planning proceeds by the acts of planning professionals. The paper offers a heuristic of planning as performativity; an analytic that points to the action of individual planners within the structural conditions that shape and limit planning actions. The paper is based on conversational interviews with two planners who have navigated the terrain of changing structural conditions altering current urban planning practice in two Scandinavian cities. Inspired by John Forester, their stories are here as lessons about what planning practitioners do in practice when facing challenges in their work. The aim is to explore an interpretation of the performative qualities of planners within a framework derived by feminist critical theory (Butler, 1988). It draws thus on a set of repetitive acts that constitute planning sheding light on how planning is dynamically renewed, revised and consolidated over time by these individual acts of planners. The ‘repetitive acts’ investigated here are intended to give substance to planning when change takes place. The paper concludes with a reflection on how, when understood under an analytics of performativity, planning reveals its transformative character of reshaping, re-enacting and re-experiencing the future within a set of meanings and forms of legitimation. Across this analytic approach, some dimensions of transitions in urban planning include new institutional conditions and the actions of public planners, their performativity and their role in establishing innovative policy-making and planning practices towards the future.
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateJul 2015
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015
EventInternational Conference on Public Policy - Catholic University of Sacro Cuore, Milan, Milan, Italy
Duration: 1 Jul 20154 Jul 2015


ConferenceInternational Conference on Public Policy
LocationCatholic University of Sacro Cuore, Milan

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