Participation, urbanism and power
Abstract:This thesis explores how an adherence to professional principles can be reconciled with a commitment to inclusive participatory planning processes in urban governance. Two themes are drawn together. First, the study concerns recent shifts in thinking about public participation that have resulted in innovative approaches to engaging citizens in urban governance processes through deliberative, interactive workshops and forums. Second, the study focuses on power relations that are inherent in such forums, particularly when a variety of different knowledges (expert and lay) interact. The two themes are brought together by focusing on the participatory practices of the urbanist movement - an urban form movement that draws specific principles from the urbanism of traditional towns and cities in order to create socially and environmentally sustainable places. Within urbanist participation, professional principles for the built environment and a commitment to a form of deliberative democracy are combined. In this study, the crucial question asked is: what is the nature and effect of the power relations on the democratic character of public involvement in participatory planning processes?To explore this issue, two urbanist Enquiry by Design processes were selected as retrospective case studies. One case involved a regeneration project for an inner urban area of a north England industrial town, while the other case involved a greenfield urban extension in the south west of England. The empirical research, undertaken in mid 2005, comprised 52 semi-structured interviews, analysis of extensive background material, and site visits. Research participants were selected to capture a range of perspectives and experiences of each process.To understand the power relations in the cases a two pronged approach was taken. The study was informed by literature from communicative planning theory and deliberative democracy. From this literature, an Ethic for Communicative Participation was developed as a heuristic device to evaluate urbanist participation. Concomitantly, to understand the nature of the power relations involved in the deliberative forum, the study employed a discourse theory perspective after Laclau and Mouffe (2001). Thus, power was understood as relational and imbricated within all social relations, while conflict was conceived of as an indicator of power.The study found that the urbanist discourse, as a hegemonic project, had a significant effect on the nature of the participatory processes. In disseminating and instituting a particular vision for urban sustainability, the urbanist participatory process was found to be instrumental to realising the urbanist vision in each locality. As such, the cases studied displayed a thin commitment to democracy. Moreover, the discursive constructions of concepts of community, representation, consensus and participation evident in the cases, exposed a unified and homogeneous understanding of social groups. Consequently, the complexity of power relations and conflict inherent in the processes were bracketed, resulting in the exclusion of certain perspectives.Nevertheless, the study illustrated the value in understanding the inherently antagonistic nature of the public sphere for both research and practice. The study supported emerging claims for a democratic politics in which antagonism is transformed into agonism - a space of reciprocity and mutual respect in which contestations over meanings can be articulated. In the cases, the participatory space allowed participants to challenge the hegemonic nature of the dominant discourses. Therefore, the thesis argues for two important ways to rethink power in both theory and in practice. First, there must be a willingness to engage with conflict and power. Second, there must be an interrogation of claims to unity or collectivity. Understanding the public sphere as inherently antagonistic, heterogeneous, and criss-crossed with complex power relations potentially provides conditions in which hegemonic forces can be contested. An agonistic politics has the potential to facilitate the open contestation of different knowledges and transform the dominant power relations such that an enhanced democracy can ensue.
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Geography
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis
xiii, 312 leaves :ill. ; 30 cm. Includes bibliographical references. "July 2007". University of Otago department: Geography.