"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent"

- and talk as situated


Lisbeth Birgersson, PhD., Ass.Prof.

School of Architecture

Chalmers University of Technology

S-412 96 Göteborg, Sweden

Tel:+46 31 772 2479, Fax: +46 31 772 2488




"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" and talk as situated

For the title of this paper I have chosen a widely quoted expression coined by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein as a philosopher investigated the character of logical truth. From the onset the focus was on mathematics - the exact general language. Later he became more and more interested in the practical function of language, and the limits for what is understandable. "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent".


I have borrowed this quotation from Wittgenstein to set the tone for this paper. What inspired me about this quotation was the way in which he expressed the difficulty of catching the important things in life by means of words. Words are explained by words, but the meaning escapes. Meaning in life is about establishing relationships between what we are able to express, and what the expression is about. The relationship between expression and reality is basically cultural. Meaning comes about first when we see ourselves as being situated in a context. This is the reason for my amendment 'and talk as situated'. By this I want to stress that we live and act in a physical setting. Aside from the deliberate action in focus, we are bound by traditions, affected by others in history and in the future, by objects and nature. To be situated is not just something we are thrown into. It is also a force that we must take into account and trust.


This paper is a reflection around those attempts that I, as an architectural researcher, have participated in where the aim has been to increase peoples' influence over the environments they work in. As a tool for this dialogue, I have gained inspiration partly from books taking up planning theory, and partly a perspective and terms based on design theory. I draw attention to the dialogue affecting people and all their senses, and which not only involves the participant human beings, but also those phenomena and objects we create and surround ourselves with. Such a dialogue may be carried out with the objective to, for instance, discuss a plan, or to contribute to a vision. It may also be seen as a component of a practice in the process of change. When the researcher participates in such a process of change, what is taken for granted in research practice is also tested. What are the possibilities and limitations of reflection?

Three decades of attempts to broaden participation in planning

During the 1970s, people gathered on the streets and squares and at their workplaces to protest against changes affecting their conditions. Residents tried to stop the demolition of old established housing areas. City dwellers fought to preserve green corridors, and stop the development of motorways. Employees criticised inhuman production environments. Citizens protested against the development of nuclear energy, and other strategic decisions that they perceived as being threatening to the eco-cycle that they themselves were part of. The common environment became both an important issue, as well as a scene for protesting against decisions on the part of both the authorities and companies, and to formulate alternative solutions.


In Sweden, these actions resulted in changed legislation. Tenants are now able to voice their opinions in connection with the refurbishment of their flats. Town plans are exhibited for public consultation. Employees must approve changes in their working environment etc. Similar reforms were implemented in the other Scandinavian countries. Parallel in time, research was developed in conjunction with the introduction of new methods and processes in local authorities and private companies.


This research has continually broadened its focus:

- During the 1970s, research was focused on supporting the users of the built environment as new actors in the planning process. The relevant issue was how the citizen could be made to articulate his views, and be able to express them in dealings with the local authority and companies.

- During the 1980s, the task was expanded to test methods and processes able to integrate citizens' experience with the planning actors in local government departments and private companies. The objective was to produce 'broad' and 'well-rooted' bases for decision-making. The development work was often carried out in the form of pilot projects.

- During the 1990s, opportunities for creating learning processes came into the foreground. The objective was now to by-pass one-off experiments and make the broadened processes a part of everyday planning tasks, and in the long-term practical sustainable action. Influence being not just a part of a dialogue around planning programmes, but also a part of the decision-making process, and other elements of planning practice.


My own research has been typical of that of the 80s an 90s. I have worked with the careful renewal of industrial areas in conjunction with local authorities. This has been carried out together with fellow researchers in the field of business development and urban planning. I present my findings in this paper from the design theory perspective. An ambition has also been to start to bridge this interpretation to planning theory research. In this respect, I see a strong connection to the planning theorists Bryson and Crosby, who advocate that a multi-dimensional picture of power is a necessary point of departure in order to understand practice and to be able to change it. They also draw attention to the fact that all three points above are relevant in order to achieve a continuous learning process in the social processes that change the environment, and they stress the relevance of the connection between them.

Design theory as a tool...

The word design refers to the act of creating, giving shape to something, and the notion that moves this act forward. In an action where something is changed, the purpose is displayed in what is created, in the artefact. The artefact may be a product or something else represented and interpreted as a phenomenon created by a human being.


Research on and for design has its origins in the post World War II period with its increased manufacture of products. This lead to a rationalisation of the design task by the introduction of standards, division of functions and specialisation. Among other things such methods as operational analysis and systems' analysis were developed. During the 1960s, a movement to promote design methods was started, and this was based on a desire to both rationalise the design work and propagate for the creative element.


To start with work was concentrated on developing systematic methods for a logical design process (1st generation). Later a new generation of design theorists evolved where the focus was on the issue of managing diffuse, complicated and value-loaded problems, so called 'wicked problems' (2nd generation). A later generation primarily drew attention to the way of working and the competence of the designer, and that design may be regarded as a specific way of thinking (3rd generation).


How does design come about? Donald Schön has in a well-known example monitored how an architectural student sets about the task of designing a school. To assist her she has an experienced architect in the studio. When the architect tries out different solutions by sketching on paper, it is like a reflective conversation with the situation. The task is to get involved in and be able to deal with a complicated and value-loaded situation. The architect tries to find an organisational principal to provide the situation in question with a meaning and to make the problem manageable. In this manner the situation becomes framed, and it becomes possible to test various principle solutions within the framework of a certain rationality, a means of seeing the situation as if... The solutions are tested in the form of sketches. Every such enables the architect to take a step back and allow the representation of the new situation to answer back. In this manner the architect is able to judge if the situation must be reinterpreted, and the search for new principles and solutions carried further, or if the solution in question is a able to provide a basis for further work.


Such a dialogue with the situation and different design proposals involve changing between steering a proposal and being open for all the aspects, between a deliberate reasoning and an observation with all senses. By allowing the proposal to answer back, the non-intended and the non-controlled are able to be brought forth. Indeed, one might say that it is first when the proposed idea answers back that the originator of the idea knows what he/she has achieved and is working towards.


The dialogue with the situation is not carried out in a vacuum. Action is based on experience gained and recognised from a repertoire of solutions. The practitioner learns by making comparisons with what others have done. When faced with a task, one searches for similar and inspiring examples able to fulfil the principal for organisation in question, or provide ideas for such. Our search in our own or others repertoires is facilitated by peoples' ability to understand whole contexts in a figurative manner. We see something as. To see something as has an openness, which is important for its utilisation. It loses its creative power if one tries to replace it by an exact description.


A dialogue with the situation differs from an analytical way of working. When analysing, the notion of knowledge is that the situation is understood by summing up the content of already known building blocks to make a whole. In this case the point of departure for planning is to define the objectives and to search for means which are evaluated in the light of formulated criteria. In design, knowledge is regarded from the situation that both the point of departure, the future, and the means cannot be defined from the onset. The planner has to work in an iterative manner, backwards and forwards, in order to arrive at a satisfactory combination of all three. The design process is a "process of elimination, of gradually reducing the non-determination of a project, through the successive elimination of conceivable but in some way inferior possibilities. From this follows that an important part of the competence of the designer is composed of being able to deal with his own insecurity, i.e. to be able to act on the basis of an incomplete and uncertain body of knowledge."


Schön regards the dialogue with the situation as an 'art of practice' common to several professions. He considers that a fruitful way of looking at this form of knowledge is as reflection-in-action. This view of knowledge assumes that the human body is situated. Talking is based on and creates in turn shared meanings.

.... for a broadened planning

A proposed change in the built environment involves many people if it is to be implemented, for instance, landlords, the controlling authorities, designers, builders, property managers, in whose complex structures the new proposals have to fit in with, or alternatively be changed to fit in with the proposal. Here complicated meetings arise between a unclear creative process stretching established boundaries, in search of freedom for the creation of alternatives, and an instrumental production process geared up towards eliminating possibilities and uncertainty in the shortest possible time. Actors pull in different directions, and there are a mass of regulations to follow or to go against, before the mutual image of the change is sufficiently concrete to be able to be implemented.


A change also involves those that live and work, or are going to live or work, in the environment in question. How can their experience and involvement be utilised? At the research unit at the School of Architecture where I work, this issue has lead to development work focused on the early stages of processes of change i.e. before plans and sketches have been formulated, and before ideas have been directed towards definite courses. We attempt to develop what we usually refer to as a mutual design process where those involved are drawn into a dialogue with the situation. We test tools in which the residents or employees are placed on the same level as the professional planners in the early stages of a process of change.


The objective is to develop tools which allow the participants to be able to articulate their experience and opinions, being both experts and amateurs with regard to the situation in question. This articulation firstly involves the participants in a dialogue with themselves - compare with the architects' sketching phase - and then with the others. And because there are now many participating in the design process, with different backgrounds and working with different things, the creation of a common language able to support the relevant experience throughout the change becomes important. The process will result in the participants acquiring a mutual notion of the situation today and tomorrow. And this is to a certain extent, according to my view, dependent on the participants allowing themselves to get involved in the situation, and by the propositions for changes that the participants propose in the course of the dialogue.


Here I shall present an early case of such a development project. During a two-year period, between 1985 - 87, a regeneration scheme for the Kungssten Industrial Estate in Göteborg was implemented. The objective of this scheme was to initiate a course of rehabilitation taking into account the experience and points of view of the businesses and their employees. This scheme was planned and carried out as a mutual development project between researchers at the School of Architecture at Chalmers, and local council officials from the Urban Planning Department as well as the politically elected members of the sub-committee responsible.


The main implement used in the process for improving Kungssten was the so-called work-book method, which had been developed earlier by the Norwegian Institute for Building Research. This method is so named because it is based on a series of illustrated manuals, which are designed to illustrate the interests of the users. The idea is to get the users to formulate their own ideas about improving the area in question in such a way that they are prepared to negotiate, and if possible to also take an active part in any eventual changes that are decided upon. During the two years this experi-mental scheme was being carried out, a large proportion of the firms in the area became involved with the aid of this method of planning improvement measures.


Some of the proposed measures the firms at Kungssten wanted were implemented, others were not. Generally speaking there were few visible improvements, and those that were carried out were of a traditional kind. It was primarily solutions aimed at increasing access and mobility that were implemented. These are conventional in the sense that they are commonplace in other renewal schemes, without the kind of involvement of the businesses practised in the Kungssten project. The more socially oriented step-by-step solutions proposed by the businesses could not be catered for within the framework of the local authority planning procedures. It is however important to point out that a number of measures normally implemented in connection with the renewal of industrial zones were not carried out if they were against the wishes of the business firms. This resulted in increased respect for the work of the local authority despite the disappointment over the fact that few concrete measures had come about.


As a tool for a meeting between a local authority and a user group such a type of dialogue functions relatively well. It may be applied to many different situations and processes. It may also be developed and include tools to make the dialogue less dependent on the ability to formulate text and sketches. The problem as I see it is how the dialogue can be integrated in the practices involved. The issue is how measures and method of bringing about change fit in with deeply rooted structures, and the usual way of doing things. In the case of Kungssten it became obvious that the dialogue ended up between two practices - that of the small enterprise and that of the local authority. The small enterprises made certain attempts. The local authority undertook certain measures, but most of the desired changes were not implemented.


A further limitation of the attempt in Kungssten was that no changes took place in the routines of the local authority to enable the experiment to be repeated, or become an ingredient in regular planning procedures. There was such an expectation, both on the part of the researchers and the local authority, when the co-operation began. The work of change was not able to penetrate into the authority's deeply rooted social structures to bring about changes in their patterns of action, regulations and habits. The same applies in the case of the businesses, with the exception of them setting up a local association to deal with mutual affairs. It is limitations of this kind that are clarified in the findings of Bryson & Crosby, but these did not attract the attention of the development work carried out during the 1980s.


The issue that became central to my continued research is how a meeting between a local authority planning activity and local businesses at a specific place may become an element of each others practice. Or on a lesser note, how is one able to clarify the fact that the practices involved, when they have to face up to one another, have different views of rationality with regard to action? They perceive the situation differently. They want to manage changes in a different manner. If these limitations are able to be clarified from the outset, one is able avoid many misunderstandings and disappointments.


I shall now take up two other cases which show, on the one hand, an example of a development project where the practice of small businesses was affected, and, on the other hand, an attempt to affect the practice of local authority planning. In so doing one might say that I go from using design terms to describe and create an extended dialogue to even regard the dialogue as an element of a practice undergoing a process of change.

... for the practice of small businesses

At the beginning of the 1980s, the Nääs Mill at Tollered, a rural textile community 30 km east of Göteborg, closed down. What could be done with 14-15000 sq. m of redundant floorspace in such a location? With the aim of broadening the municipality's industrial and commercial base, as well as reducing its dependence on Göteborg, the local council at that time was in the process of formulating a business development programme. This programme became linked to the empty mill at Nääs when the idea was coined that the mill premises could be refurbished for small businesses. This concept was proposed by a team of researchers at the School of Architecture. Backed up by this idea, the local authority business development officer formulated a vision for how the cotton mill could be transformed into a business centre over a period of 5 years. When this vision gradually gained the support of the councillors the business development officer moved to an on-site office at the mill.


The refurbishment and letting-out of these premises did not follow a conventional course. The refurbishment works were carried out in small stages according to demand. The normally separated processes of design, construction, letting-out and management were fully integrated. The emphasis was on developing enterprise in the mill, and the creation of a business environment. As anticipated, it took roughly five years to fully transform the complex into a business centre with about 65 different firms.


The Nääs project attracted quite a lot of attention, and many visited the centre. People were impressed by the fact that a public authority had been so bold as to set up a centre for small businesses in such an old established single company village, and in addition at a place where there was no formal demand for business premises. Some visitors were primarily impressed by the physical environment. They wanted to set up similar environments elsewhere, taking it for granted that conventional planning and construction procedures would suffice. What they did not see was that the creation of a 'culture for enterprise' was the key element. Other visitors were impressed by the 65 mainly newly established firms, but did not appreciate the prevailing 'lack of order'. They regarded the process as being uncontrolled, and questioned if basic safety demands and standards were being met.


My opinion is that this five-year process may be conceived as a mutual design process for those participating, knowledge and objectives being developed along the road. It may be regarded as a dialogue with the situated practice. It is a dialogue which includes communication in its broadest sense, everything from legislative agreements to what the individual is able to experience with all senses and as a part of a cultural community.


The object of the dialogue &endash; the artefact - changed during the course of the project: from the buildings themselves, to their refurbishment and then to entrepreneurship as a cultural form. It is the sum of these action oriented dialogues that proved to be the key to the creation of the business centre at Nääs. This design work, or series of dialogues, started off from a rudimentary, and at the same time somewhat vague vision as to what constituted a business centre, and a complex of old mill buildings. Externally this vision was advertised from the outset of the project, but within its walls the vagueness and uncertainty as to the 'end result' was regarded as a positive challenge. The vision had to be brought about by the combined efforts of the individual tenant enterprises and the firms collectively. In the dialogues where the buildings were in focus, the participants were able to relate to each others views. In the concrete conversion works individual intentions became interwoven. And the newly created units strengthened the intentions of the collective. New habits found their place - a new practice of small businesses became established.


The local authority allowed in this instance this 'free process' to take place independently of the normal planning procedures. This was accomplished by means of what I term 'boundary regulating instruments'. These stipulated, for example, how regulations that applied generally within the area of its jurisdiction, such as public safety factors and what was democratically acceptable, were to be applied within the project, without demanding detailed drawings and calculations in connection with each stage of the refurbishment works. Examples of such "bridges" were the politically elected executive group and a working party of council officials. The task of the latter was, throughout the course of the project, to discuss priorities and uncertainties with the executive group. Another such boundary regulating instrument was the basic letting-out plan formulated at the beginning of the project. In this, certain principles were set out as to how the two divergent rationalities of action - within the mill and within the local authority area - should co-operate.


The case of Nääs shows that a public authority is both able to control that general standards and democratic demands are fulfilled, and at the same time able to support a locally-based development process. In the case of Nääs, this succeeded because the local authority did not attempt to regulate in detail the locally based process, instead providing the resources that were needed to create an arena where on-site social creativity and local networking was able to be developed. A balance between control by general regulations, and trust in peoples' own ability to support each other was achieved by means of the boundary regulating or bridging instruments. These instruments helped to generate respect for each other's actions and could in the long run be developed as learning instruments.


… for change in local authority planning


During the period 1996-1999, the Swedish National Association of Local Authorities conducted a research project entitled 'The local authorities as a R&D environment, and their opportunities for carrying out development work and making use of research findings'. The aim of this research project was to test different types of meetings between researchers and practitioners as a way of promoting development work and making use of research results within local authority operations. Nine development projects around Sweden described such meetings. One of these was carried out by a group of researchers at the School of Architecture together with a group of officials from the planning department in Göteborg.


The research group had the experiences from the renewal project in Kungssten in mind. The objective then had been to find new ways of renewing the older workplace areas in Göteborg. At this point, however, it proved that the circumstances for the attempt were too special, and thus the experience gained became difficult to apply in the local authority's normal planning activity. With these new meetings in the 1990s, the researchers now wanted to work closer to the everyday reality of the officials' routines. Their normal conditions of work were to set the terms for the new meeting between research based and practical knowledge.


This proved to be easier said than done. How can a balance be found between the actions that are based on logical reasoning and on the simplification allowed by a distanced relationship to the changing practice, and the actions that are based on routines and habits in an extremely complex decision-making situation? We had to find a way of making the complex situation manageable, to focus deliberately on certain things without creating so specific terms as to squeeze the development process outside everyday life.


When after a number of meetings the work group decided to direct the work towards an old industrial area a few km north of the city centre, a balance in the process between 'that steered by ideas formulated by the researchers' and 'that steered by the planning officials' current patterns of action' was found. The ideas regarding method development, and what to do next became incorporated in the terms valid for the course of action. The research group contributed to positioning this long-term process, and giving it some momentum in an otherwise open and uncertain course. The researchers supported the council officials with regard to reflection on the course of events and describing them, in order to provide a form to the development work.


Due to the fact that the possibilities for renewal were at a deadlock in the area in question, the research group and the council officials initiated a dialogue with the most prominent property owners who had previously purchased land in the area pending large-scale redevelopment. Their plan was to replace the existing, heterogeneous building stock - accommodating mixed activities - by a new homogeneous housing estate. The question was whether or not a new vision for the area could be found, which the property owners and the local authority could agree upon. Is there a fresh point of departure based on the possibilities of the site, where the renewal process may be commenced tomorrow?


It took more than a year of regular meetings before the contours of a new vision, and a fresh point of departure began to emerge. The idea is now, from 1999 and onwards, to test a renewal based on the area remaining in commercial usage. Large-scale solutions are given less emphasis to the advantage of renewal block for block. By gradually raising the status of the area, it is assumed that it will become attractive for new types of activity. The overall aim being that this area may remain a centrally situated and mixed-use area able to accommodate gradual change.


When trying to formulate a new vision for the area the buildings and their uses have been in focus. The properties in question have been visited. The discussions have floated backwards and forwards over photos, maps and simple sketches. Does the area consist of worthless buildings housing twilight activities or of structures able to form the basis for creative activities? In the dialogue all the participants have primarily contributed with their respective personal knowledge in relatively simple dialogue form. However, the dialogue has also been carried forward by the fact that the meetings of the group have provided scope for 'new' information. For example, the research group organised a conference in spring 1997. At this it was discussed how the local authority objective, as set out in the comprehensive plan, to unite competitiveness and sustainability, could be implemented in the area. The conference was based on the presentation of good examples from other regions, as well as on different actors' perceptions and ambitions for the area. The participants also carried out a team project. From the specific problems and possibilities of a certain place, officials from the local authority's environmental, business development and urban planning departments got the opportunity of working together with outside consultants, researchers and students in order to attempt to combine different action repertoires into concrete visions for the area. As proposals, the visions were not particularly remarkable. Their importance has been rather that they represent the possibility of visualising and initiating change and of creating new networks for a more sustainable development of the area.


In the case in question the issue has been that the property owners, the local authority officials and the research team have met to carry on a dialogue between themselves, and with the area. In the dialogue the area was an object, an object for change. The objective was to find a new structure for renewal for those networks with rights to decide over the area, and which act from a distance to the area. The strategy was, through a dialogue with the area and with other examples of change strategies, to create a stronger relation to the area that allowed a more situation-adapted renewal. However, this area is not only a planning object but also an everyday space for people who work or have other reason to be there. People experience everyday space with all their senses and relate themselves to it, and incorporate it in their practical and social contexts. These relations include knowledge and networks, constituting a fundamental competence, which takes a long time to build up again should the space be cleared for exploitation. A future challenge for the development work between the researchers and the council officials is to let the dialogue, which has focused on the development of knowledge about the space, also interface with the dialogue that captures the experience available in the area and that which can develop the local culture.


When the researcher participates in a course of events of the type described, the researcher's own experience is also questioned. The researcher's habits are elucidated in the change process, becoming a part of reflection-in-action. But to be able to see ones own habits in the light of the others habits, and to have time for questioning and testing new paths, co-operation projects need to be run over a long period of time. It is essential that the researchers have time to ask themselves whether or not to link the new experiences to the ordinary references or whether or not it is legitimate to work in another way. Do we have to search for the ultimate truth or should we strive towards what seems to be the best in the situation, in this specific place? Should we discuss value premises in texts, or let the ethics show themselves in action?

Hidden power structures in the dialogue

In this paper I have referred to some development projects, different in principle, which I have attempted to describe by means of perspectives and concepts drawn from, or inspired by, design theory. To sum up what I want to show is:


- that when citizens take part in a change in the urban environment planned by a local authority two different practices become engaged in the change process. Great efforts have been made to develop methods and to proceed by trial and error to arrive at different ways of integrating the experiences of the users in the planning task. In some cases, this development work has given rise to an interesting dialogue. However, if the dialogue is to lead to something being done, the change must necessarily involve the deep structures and habits of action that form the practice. A common situation is that the actor who has preference of interpretation or the greatest initiative in the situation at hand, applies his own interpretation of the dialogue and decides what is to be done. Many citizens have thereby become disappointed when realising that their own participation has left no significant traces. However, planners who have participated in the dialogue may also eventually become disappointed because so many good ideas have led to so little, and that in the end the usual measures were carried out. These deep structures and habits have not been regarded as part of the development project. Such experiences have led me to search for solutions allowing interaction between different rationalities of action (see e.g. the next point). Furthermore to try to articulate from the start the importance of being aware of, and indicating, which practice the dialogue is intended to be part of.


- that, it is possible to place the influence from the people concerned in their situation and to start a generative cultural development based at a specific place. The changes that the local authority, for legislative, equal rights or economic reasons, have to regulate in the process can be implemented through the creation of special bridging instruments. Such instruments may be regarded as an opportunity for dialogue between two separate practices with different rationalities and with the possibility of learning from each other in the long term. With regard to the development of the business centre at Nääs, this resulted in the local authority adopting a new business culture in a community which otherwise risked being without jobs and service, as well as people getting the opportunity to build up a spirit of enterprise and gaining strength both as individuals and as a community.


- an example of a development project between planners and researchers in a local authority area. The ambition has been to avoid the development work becoming an experiment outside regular activities, and thus not being able to influence and be influenced by everyday planning practice. In this case, I regard the work of change as talk in situating practices. Viewed from the outside, such a dialogue may seem irrational. The dialogue is searching, it questions existing behavioural patterns and tests new possibilities until a new picture and new actors emerge as a basis for new practice. Then the dialogue is able to be continued on new premises. When researchers participate, the tacit knowledge of the research traditions is also elucidated, that is, the tools built into the practice of the research. One such tool is reflection through text abstracted from situated practices.

The possibilities of reflection?

In our actions, we rely on tools that we are used to using. We consciously focus on the future, while our tools are formed of the past. What kind of society is there around the corner? Can the methods of action that we develop today cope with the situations of tomorrow? What about the idea of reflection-in-action, that I have not questioned up to now?


In order to throw some light on these questions, I have used the book "Reflexive Modernization". Here, Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Scott Lash contribute a chapter each as a the point of departure for a dialogue between themselves. I chose this book because I was interested in the discussion about the reflexive modern society, which Beck calls the risk society. According to Beck, the modern society that appears to us today is in a phase of 'self-confrontation'. It is the unwanted, non-predictable, global and local side effects of the modern project - of mans' own decisions - that now take us by surprise and challenge us with undreamed of risks. The new situations evade control from the institutions that previously upheld modern society. At the point in history when we conceive ourselves as being able to decide our own future, an unwanted transformation is taking place - a reflexive modernisation - of society. We are faced with the paradoxical situation that more control no longer seems to lead to increased security, but rather to increased insecurity.


A society that is confronted with itself at all levels turns into a self-critical society, and reflection acquires a prominent role. This is also supported by the more or less voluntarily liberation of the individual from historical bonds. The question is whether or not this reflection involves something new, a new opportunity for a judicious governing of society? All three authors place this question in focus. However, the message of their contributions differs somewhat, partly due to the fact that they approach the problems from different angles. I have mainly used Lash's contribution as the point of departure. He conducts a clear dialogue with himself and the other two contributors, and his text is easier to relate to my concrete level of working in comparison with the other two.


Lash assumes that traditional societies presuppose communal structures. A simply modern society presupposes collective structures. The latter is built up based on the idea that the local structures are already broken down. In the simply modern society, 'we' means a set of abstract, atomised individuals. True, the whole conception of 'society' in the modern project is abstract in character. Collective thinking builds on people being united around different interests, while the cementing factor in the traditional society is a shared view of the meaning of objects and things.


In a reflexive, modern society, Lash continues, the individual is an actor, free from social structure, even from the communal structures of the simply modern society. Lash gives examples of what such an individualisation might entail. On the one hand, autonomous companies in a network and various welfare arrangements controlled by the citizens. On the other hand, an alienation of people, who are denied access to the crucial information and communication flows of today.


In this connection, Lash makes an interesting comparison between Japan and Germany, on the one hand, and the USA and UK, on the other. Unlike the latter, the former contain regions, Lash notes, that are built up on trust relationships within working life. These relations create economically productive and socially loyal networks. Many companies and population groups are drawn into the information and communication flows. Lash makes at this point an unexpected interpretation. He asks himself if, in actual fact, it is not a matter of reflexive traditionalisation, rather than reflexive modernisation. That is, that there exist bonds, which were previously only associated with the traditional society, but which today seems to have the ability to act reflexively and learning in these locations.


The speculations on what a 'we' can be in the reflexive modernity lead Lash on to discussing cultural collectivities. He investigates 'we' as being constituted by …"collectivities of shared practices, shared meanings, shared routine activities involved in the achievement of meaning". Here, Lash departs from Jurgen Habermas' theory of communicative action. According to Lash's interpretation, Habermas wants to take the enlightenment project further by means of the inter-subjectivity that may be created in communicative actions. Habermas, therefore, intends to strengthen and provide scope for the 'life world', over which the abstract systems have spread themselves within the framework of the thinking and action pattern of modern society. This is taking place through a communicative interaction, in which "speech-acts or utterances are potentially 'discursively redeemable validity-claims' ". In this communicative rationality, the text has its great value in the abstraction from the social practice in which it came about. "Utterances are assumed to be in the first instance about attempts to establish or overturn positions of power. Speech acts become power plays. But, in fact, in most communities of practice, communication does not in the first instance or usually involve power plays, but involves developing successfully a common collective practice."


Lash elucidates further. Through practical actions, we draw each other into meaningful practice with the aid of different tools. It is only with the breakdown of the routines and shared meanings that the tools become objects and the unique finite human beings become 'subjects' for one another. "This is where the expert systems, this is where the legitimating discourses, come in; that is, to repair the breakdown so that practices and shared meaningful activities can resume once again." But when the expert-systems and discourses chronically intervene, when they intervene 'preventively' and pervasively, then the practices, shared meanings and community become increasingly marginalised, made progressively less possible. Habermas' communicative action theory is, according to Lash, not too abstract to serve as a model for a practical dialogue, which has earned him much criticism. The problem is rather that it has too much purchase on reality. Lash argues that the social reality, therefore, is at risk of being made too abstract, too immersed in the discourses of the expert systems. If I understand Lash correctly, he hints that Habermas' medicine may have the opposite effect to the intended one.


Lash further establishes that reflection demands some form of mediation. This mediation need not occur by means of an abstract language. It can also be aesthetic. Lash talks about an aesthetic reflection, which assumes a growing importance in the consumption society of today. Such a mediation is proximal, as opposed to the cognitive, which strives towards the ultimate. Regarding both types of reflexivity, he states that: "It is more likely that neither the incessant discourse of the concept and cognitive reflexivity nor the interminable deconstruction of mimesis and aesthetic reflexivity might be the best mode of access to truth. What could be an alternative? Perhaps only in involved engagement, in having concern for things and people in a shared world. Perhaps not the incessant noise of the signifier of either discourse or deconstruction, but instead the already shared meanings of everyday social practices, make thinking and truth (and community) possible."


In both cognitive and aesthetic reflexivity, a non-situated subject is presumed from whom the world is (conceptually or mimetically) mediated. In the search for a new point of departure in a shared world, Lash draws inspiration from, among other things, Pierre Bourdieu's reflexive sociology and the reflexive anthropology influenced by the latter. Bourdieu's world of concepts opens up the possibility to leave 'the objectivism', and instead to learn through 'habitus', in which the truth appears as shared practice. Lash coins a third type of reflexivity, the hermeneutic, which exists in a shared world, is present in practice, and belongs to the sources behind the individual. "The meanings and practices incorporating the substantive good are learnt, but then become unconscious as if inscribed on the body."


Analytically, we can distinguish between cognitive, aesthetic and hermeneutic reflexivity. They probably exist in the world, says Lash, as sources of the contemporary self in a perhaps contradictory and irreconcilable way. We are exposed to, as well as use, all three in practice. They should therefore not be treated based on the logic of consciousness but on the logic of practice. From this perspective, power is about the possibility of shared meanings and habits.


In hermeneutic reflexivity, according to my interpretation of Lash's text, knowledge and feelings are communicated through what is being done and shown to the participants in place, in the relations that develop in the situation. It is not a question of arriving at "the most correct" or "the most beautiful". The cognitive and aesthetic languages are regarded as imbedded in the practical actions. They function as inner indicators of the common direction and as such are strengthened during the course of the work. Lash's concept of hermeneutic reflexivity is thus coherent with reflection-in-action, the view of knowledge that accepts that one is situated. It is delimited in space to the reach of human relations.


In my view, the design tool enables hermeneutic reflexivity to be handled and developed as part of the governance of change. The creation of artefacts means thinking and acting situated and using all kinds of images. Something shows itself, is perceived as a whole and can be valued cognitively and aesthetically as a basis for an ethical judgement of the situation. The interface between the participants and the artefacts can be strongly or less strongly mediated. It may require simple media, which anyone can master &endash; like body-language or a paper model - or consist of complicated expert investigations into, for example, the relation of the locality to the global greenhouse effect. The challenge is to create an inter-subjective experience between those involved by a change. Ecological changes sometimes become manifest - for example, when seals or birds die - but often needs to be transformed from uncertain abstract global tendencies through several levels down to the local level in order to become comprehensible and possible to be considered in concrete action. In my opinion, the planning problem is, from the perspective of sustainability, a question of bringing about a dialogue around artefacts that makes a situated reflection possible. We may not know the absolute right thing to do according to our analytic tools, but still have to find an expression that enables people to value and take responsibility for what they do in the practices involved.


From the perspective of sustainability, Lena Falkheden highlights, in a study of three Danish examples, the importance of expressing intentions in the built environment in order to influence and inspire more sustainable actions at the local level. She points to the possibilities of a strategy that departs from the local situation but that at the same time extends over it and connects global and local courses of events by means of bridging links. Falkheden argues that the transmission of generally recognised knowledge to concrete situations should not be regarded as a form of general technology that is impressed on the landscapes, but as an artistic task. The creation of new artefacts, for example a new purification plant, constitutes a tangible medium for new actions. If the sustainable dimensions are clearly manifest in the new artefact, they can be reinforced still further in subsequent actions. Cognitive and aesthetic reflections are thus being captured and made part of a physical and social infrastructure that makes new habits possible and fosters hermeneutic reflexivity in a sustainable direction.


The built environment constitutes a place and a medium for the building up of new patterns of action and ways of life. Continuous construction can, as we saw in the case of Nääs, be an asset supporting the building up or strengthening of existing and new ways of life at the local level, the goal being not to be finished. The change itself, the building of new walls, strengthens and communicates the intentions of the new actions and ways of living. The 'incomplete buildings' are, in my opinion, a necessary medium in a reflexive society that demands that individuals themselves take an active part in the creation of trust and reflexive ways of life at a local/global level.

Research potentials

Using the book 'Reflexive Modernization' as the point of departure, I have tried to make a connection between my experiences regarding increased citizen participation in local authority planning and the discussion about the modern reflexive society. All three contributors to the book interpret the reflexive society as both a risk society and a reflecting society.


Beck's theory on the reflexivity of modern society includes the theory on reflection, but not vice versa. As a cognitive theory, he stresses, the picture of reflexive modernisation tends to ignore the possibility that society's transformation into another epoch takes place unintentionally and unseen as well as surpasses the dominating categorisations and theories of the industrial society. My interpretation of this statement is that, even if we understand what Beck says at an intellectual level, we are in our acting so much part of our tools, that we have difficulty in acting differently.


Beck dissociates himself from the optimistic view of the cognitive theory that more reflection, more experts, more science, more public space, increased self-awareness and increased self-criticism will open up new and better possibilities of taking action in a world that has gone wrong. Beck's theory on reflexivity does not share this optimism. Nor is it its opposite, a pessimistic view. The reflexivity of modern society may lead to reflection on the self-destructive characteristics of the industrial society, but not necessarily so.


Town planning is a part of the practical management of modern society. My interest in broadening the dialogue to include the people concerned in a developed reflection/reflexivity is motivated by the possibility to develop practices, which are more self-regulatory and more ethically oriented compared to previously and therefore can meet a more diffuse future. What I have attempted to show is that it is possible, in practice, to develop situated practices based on the available experiences of the people concerned, in interaction with the built-up environment and nature. I have also demonstrated the possibility of increasing such a reflection/reflexivity in professional planning practice. I have also looked at the practice of researchers as part of the creation of meaning in the change in question.


My experiences reflect a search for possibilities to spread power within planning. I have pointed to the possibility of regarding actions as a practical meeting where a mutual meaning can be created even between different action rationalities. Such a coming together can also include research as practice. Research may here, in my opinion, assume a reflexive position. The boundaries of the own language are reflected in the encounter with other practices. It is a situation where one neither counts on arriving at 'the truth' or 'the good', nor that everything is relative. Instead, what is correct and good is generated inter-subjectively in action. Meaning and responsibility are generated in and through practice. Similarly, this thesis is also a part of practice. It provides an expression for an ongoing action in order to allow a dialogue with myself and with others about the value of this action.


Paul van Eijk, Sybrand Tjallingii and Marleen van den Top



Menu of Conference Papers


Communication in
Urban Planning

Göteborg Conference Papers - Oct 1999

Workshops for Environmental Innovations (Eijk et al)

Communication and Urban Green (Lindholm)

Integrating Biodiversity (Gyllin)

User participation in Public Park Administration (Delshammer)

Making Outdoor Places for Children (Kylin)

The Home Street (Staffans)

Identification of ecological potentials (Guldager et al)

Evaluation and Dialogue (Sager)

A Communicative Planning Methodology (Stromberg)

Rationality Revisited (Lapintie)

Planning deconstructed and rebuilt as discourse analyses


"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent"

















European Research Network - Urban density and Green Structure

Proceedings of the Gothenburg Conference:
Communication in Urban Planning - Oct 1999

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