TU Berlin

Chair of Planning Theory and Urban-Regional Policy AnalysisProfile

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Planning Theory is, in our understanding, a critical-reflective perspective on urban and regional planning as social-political domain of agency.

Planning theory thus conceived is based on a broad, trans-disciplinary understanding of what urban and regional ‘planning’ is. It deals with more than a ‘discipline’: it deals with a complex of actions which concur – in the sense indicated by Henri Lefebvre – to processes of the ‘public production of space’. By this are meant not only measures related to defined ‘bounded’ spaces – ‘spatial planning’ in the narrow sense – but also socially constructed relations and discourses which affect ‘space’ rather indirectly, but contribute decisively to defining and (re-)producing the social meaning of ‘space’. Most obviously, historical consciousness is an important dimension of this critical-reflective attitude.

In this sense – it could be said – spatial planning should be seen as an ‘impure’ discipline: as one which is not definable on the basis of a pure disciplinary ordering, but also as one which is required to engage systematically with other disciplines for the sake of its own justification and sense-making.

An important aspect of this understanding is the adoption of a policy approach (in the sense of the policy analysis tradition), according to which scientific explanation and normative commitment are not primarily pursued through the analysis of formal structures and procedures, but rather through inquiry into concrete agency and processes. A policy approach is hence also an important epistemological condition for a critical-reflective of spatial planning as a governance practice, that is, as a complex of (para-)political processes through which public and private actors pursue spatially relevant collective goals across the domains of the state, the market and civil society.

According to this understanding, planning theory holds a mediating position in relation to themes and contexts related to spatial development as well as in the trans-disciplinary connection of related sources of scientific knowledge. The goal is promoting a reflection on socio-spatial processes that spans disciplinary boundaries and that does not refrain from critically engaging in public debate.

Among the issues that are central in our interests are accordingly developments which question our understanding of ‚planning’ and its social-political meaning:

Governance and new forms of territoriality

The trend towards conceiving spatial development as an outcome of governance processes – whereby public tasks are increasingly dealt with in connection to demand-led and ‘market-compatible’ goals – also transforms the territorial frames of reference for politics. Political action spaces are less and less defined by institutionalised criteria of territorial sovereignty and hierarchy, and more and more ‘enacted’ through goal-oriented and context-dependent initiatives towards the mobilization of collective resources. In this sense, we could talk of a relative shift from a ‘logic of sovereignty’ to a ‘logic of regulation’ in the relationship between state steering and territoriality. What new social and political spaces are emerging in this process? What forms of territorial (dis-)embeddedness are devoloping by this, and with what consequences for public steering, policy-making and institutions?

New governance arenas and social interaction processes

The shift from a ‘logic of sovereignty’ to a ‘logic of regulation’ in state policy raises issues in democratic theory. Governance processes develop increasingly beside or outside of the domains of formal public institutions and representative democratic procedures. New arenas of governance require new forms of negotiation and development as well as legitimation of spatially relevant decisions. How far can (structured) forms of interaction play a democratizing role in such contexts? Can planning and governance experiments based on the adoption of interactive processes play a lasting role in the building of institutional capacities and in the promotion of institutional change?

Planning and social conflict

Through the progressive move of European welfare systems from redistributive towards competitive rationales, in which the role notions such as social justice and political integration is being redefined, also the role and effectiveness of institutionally embedded forms of conflict management is being affected. Social conflicts are less and less framed within state-defined forms and less and less embedded in public politics. Conflicts are more directly and immediately experienced throughout society, but increasingly lack institutional mediation and adequate arenas for public treatment and argumentative exchange. The role of planning in dealing with social conflicts is also transforming accordingly both in a procedural and substantive sense. How can spatially related planning processes contribute to re-integrating social conflicts into the public sphere?

Transnationalisation, Europeanisation and post-nationality

Developments in national-state structures and systems of regulation in the context of internationalisation and European integration are affecting not only our understanding of planning competences and authority, but also of planning goals and of planning effectiveness. What new requirements of coordination, cooperation and strategic capacity across national-state boundaries are following from this? Are shift in power relations and democratic legitimation involved? Does ‘Europeanisation’ require a new planning theory for the European space?


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