Rationality Revisited
From Human Growth to Argumentation


John Friedmann's conclusion in his Planning in the Public Domain that 'if there is one theme that runs through all the discussions and debates on planning, it is that of rationality' (Friedmann 1987, 97) seems to have remained valid through the recent developments in planning theory. Whether more theoretical or practical in their orientation, planning theorists cannot seem to be able to avoid the basic philosophical and socio-political debates around rationality. Contemporary theories on communicative planning (e.g. Healey 1996, Sager 1994, Nylund 1995) are, obviously, based on a critique of instrumental and strategic rationality of synoptic and strategic planning, and they usually rely on some form of the Habermasian concept of communicative rationality. This in spite of the fact that they are clearly interested in developing new forms of planning practice; sticking to an outmoded conception of rationality seems to these writers prevent the development of new tools for the reflective practitioner.

On the other hand, the revitalized interest in the problems of power relations in planning has opened another perspective in the debate. Bent Flyvbjerg's critical analysis of the history of the Aalborg Project (Flyvbjerg 1998) is also meant as an introduction to an alternative theoretical perspective (as compared to the Enlightenment tradition) informed by Machiavelli, Nietzsche and Foucault. Although Flyvbjerg's study does not actually enter the theoretical debate, the contribution of this alternative intellectual root is essential, however, and I assume that future planning theory will have to address the Foucauldian concepts of power/knowledge and productive power more seriously.

There are, however, still reasons for a further sharpening of the theoretical tools used in the aforementioned approaches. The purpose of this paper is to examine a couple of the problem zones that seem to have been mapped too hastely. Firstly, I shall argue that the transition from the instrumental rationality of rational planning to its dialogical alternatives if often given a too rough formulation. In a sense, instrumental rationality is given up too easily, which also means that the real meaning of communicative rationality is not given due attention. Correspondingly, when communicative rationality is introduced, it is usually connected to the whole of Habermas's theory of communicative action. If Habermas is swallowed in one piece, the heterogeneity of his work is not given enough attention, and the different rationality concepts are falsely taken to be logically connected to the other parts of his theory.

In contrast to Tore Sager, I suggest in my paper that the essence of rational planning is not the availability of perfect information and the relevant calculation capacity of the planning agency. The introduction of imperfect information and risk by no means entails an irrational element to planning; On the contrary, the rational planner, as far as he or she is rational, must take the limited amount of knowledge and the limited capacity to process it into account. However, there are serious theoretical problems connected with the rational planning paradigm - and subsequently addressed by the communicative planning theories. I demonstrate this by discussing the "human growth" rationale for planning introduced by Andreas Faludi and used also in the communicative theory of Sager, as part of his "compound rationale" for planning. I point out that this is based on the Cartesian philosophy of consciousness and the modern, Hegelian political philosophy of a conscious and self-guiding political community.

Since this tradition has an insufficient capacity to analyse the actual social relations determining the problems and potentials of planning, I suggest in my paper that communicative theories should take a distance from this tradition, in order to address both the structural and the micro levels of power relations. I shall then discuss how the argumentative approach that I have suggested earlier (Lapintie 1998) could contribute to this debate.

Full paper availabe from the author on request. Email Kimmo Lapintie .

Kimmo Lapintie
(full paper availabe from the author on request)

Laboratory of Urban Planning and Design
Department of Architecture
Helsinki University of Technology



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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