Planning deconstructed and rebuilt as discourse analyses

Lars Orrskog

Department of Infrastructure and Planning, KTH


Planning in Sweden is more or less out of date. We live in a post-socialistic society where things are more and more often settled through the market. In the paper an attempt is made to find a fruitful approach to planning, which functions also in the society of today. The approach examined is the discourse analyses approach. The way to that goes in the paper through deconstruction of some of the concerns at heart of traditional planning, namely The Common Good, The Rational Planning Process, The Undisturbed Communication and the Town and Countryside Idylls.

The purpose of deconstruction is to criticise and discard but to save and develop as well what is worth consideration in the future. The reasoning is exemplified with discussions about the sustainable city and its relationship to the countryside. It is found that there are many ideas competing about not only the Good Society but about Society, Development and Planning on the whole, that the road from formulating the problem to proposals and implementation is still in many ways a mystery and that it is of decisive importance in determining who gets the privilege of formulating the problem: planners or other experts, planners or politicians, or stake-holders in the process.

Critical discourse analyses may sort out the situation planning theory is in, and maybe also help as method in planning. Against growth and other ideas about a special direction of Development stands in such an analyses solely the idea of change. Against universalistic formulations of a Common Good stands particularism and anti-essentialism characteristic of all kinds of post-structuralism. Against the idea of a rational and linear problem solving process stands the idea of conditional rationality or even irrationality. Against relying only on communicative reason stands the more profound insight into the conditions for communication you can find in modern theories of power. Against the dream of a Good Society stands the plurality of different societies with different qualities for different groups in society.

In planning, for instance of the countryside around a city, you can say that different groups compete through their respective discourses about the wealth there is in nature and the use of it as for instance a pleasant living place, a beautiful scenery, a fertile soil, a recipient or a refuge for biodiversity. Planning would in the perspective advocated thus have to be very sensitive to profoundly different concepts and perspectives. Planning as discourse analyses would also mean that the problem-solving and legitimating processes intertwine so that you almost cannot think of problem-solving as a professional activity in its own. As a planner you would furthermore have to prove the possibility of many different truths, perspectives and futures and argue that planning processes should be organised deliberately as arenas where different perspectives meet.

Technically you would look for different perspectives and try to understand them, their legitimacy, strength and implications rather than as hitherto ask for different claims of for instance land. You have a mission also to uncover and show your political board that there are perspectives normally neglected in planning and politics, which may be worth bringing out. As a whole you would in planning through discourse analyses find yourself in a position opposite both to the production of utopias typical of architects and to the tradition of science, calculation and forecasting belonging to the rational approach.


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Planning Deconstructed and rebuilt as discourse analyses

Dept. of Infrastructure and Planning, KTH, Sweden

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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