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Paper 2 for: CD505X "Community Development II" Dr. T. Borich
Spring 2007 Iowa State University
“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you only have one idea.” Émile-Auguste Chartier, (1868-1951)
In this paper, I will compare two contemporary approaches to facilitating community change through planning processes. Both approaches draw on the idea of communicative rationality, that knowledge and meaning are constructed in the social act of communicating. The first approach, collaborative planning, was developed by Canadian-British theorist Patsy Healey most fully in her book of that title (1997). Collaborative planning draws most notably upon the work of the postmodernist philosopher Jürgen Habermas and sociologist Anthony Giddens in an attempt to foster inclusiveness in planning processes in multi-cultural political communities. The second approach, neopragmatism, while also recognizing the importance of inclusivity, tries to achieve this in a way that avoids the perceived pitfalls of absolute relativism implicit in an extreme postmodernist viewpoint. Canadian theorists Thomas Harper and Stanley Stein are the primary advocates for the application of this postmodern-informed pragmatic rationalism (see Brooks, 2002, pp. 82-84) to the field of planning. A series of their articles published in the Journal of Planning Education & Research (Harper & Stein, 1995; Jamal, Stein & Harper, 2002; Stein & Harper, 2003) will serve as the primary source material on neopragmatism for this paper, although the approach is more fully articulated in their recent book Dialogical Planning in a Fragmented Society (2005). In Part I, an overview of the collaborative planning approach will be provided, followed in Part II by an overview of neopragmatism. Part III will provide an examination of the 2
differences between the two approaches, as well as an examination of their similarities in practice and commonalities within the context of their shared paradigm of communicative rationality. Part IV will contain a personal assessment of the efficacy of the two approaches.
Part I. Healey’s “collaborative planning” Healey’s theory of collaborative planning is grounded in several strands of philosophical and social thought, but most notably in the ideas communicative rationality, as developed by Habermas, and structuration, as developed by Giddens, Another significant source of inspiration comes from the field of regional studies in the idea of new institutionalism (Healey, 1997, pp. 44, 326). Communicative rationality was born from the postmodern denunciation of modernist belief in conceptual absolutism and objectivity. As pointed out by Willson (2001), defining a theory of communicative rationality is problematic because of its grounding in the fluidity and non-decisiveness of meaning (p. 10). However, as the term implies, communicative rationality means that what is ‘rational’, what constitutes ‘truth’ to individual stakeholders, is determined not by objective reasoning and reference to absolutes existing outside of social contexts, but rather by the social interaction of these stakeholders in public forums. Knowledge is constituted through debate and the multiple forms of reasoning that stakeholders bring into the debate, rather than by any single form of reasoning, especially instrumental rationality and its claims to objective truth (Healey, 1997, pp. 52-53). Giddens' theory of structuration also addresses the context in which meaning is created, rejecting the notion of the autonomous individual making the ‘best’ decision possible under the guidance of rationality. Structuration means that our social worlds continually create who we are, our lifeworlds, from birth to death, and throughout our lives we continually recreate these same 3
worlds. As such, “our sense of ourselves is inherently constructed through interaction with other people and the natural world” (Healey, 1997, p. 45). The sociological variant of new institutionalism that Healey draws upon in her book has strong similarities to both Giddens’ structuration theory and Habermas’ communicative rationality. As with structuration, the institutionalist perspective understands “ways of seeing and knowing the world, and ways of acting in it…as constituted in social relations with others” (p. 55). And as with communicative rationality, the institutionalist approach recognizes that in “encounters between actors in institutional sites of collective action” knowledge and values are transformed through the process of “social learning that takes place in such encounters” (p. 326). At the center of Healey’s collaborative approach to planning is her contention that communicative work is transformative work (p. 263). Only through the active fostering of inclusionary practices can communicative rationality be achieved and the faux collaborative model of corporatism, a collaboration of vested and powerful interests, be avoided (p. 224). Similarly, only through the fostering of mutual respect and understanding of the multiplicity of viewpoints on an issue can the constant hostility and stalemating of the adversarial model of pluralist democracy be avoided (p. 222). The methodology Healey proposes to accomplish a collaborative approach to planning takes the form of a series of questions. In adopting this format, Healey recognizes that any attempt to develop an abstract collaborative planning ‘model’ would inevitably be the result of local knowledge, developed in disregard to the stakeholders involved in any particular strategymaking instance (pp. 268-269). The questions she proposes relate to the fostering of the soft infrastructure of specific instances of collaborative planning processes and the hard infrastructure of institutional capacity that allows these processes to operate and proliferate (pp. 268, 284). 4
In relation to fostering the soft infrastructure conducive to collaborative planning, Healey highlights several areas that need attention in any given instance of strategy-making. The first involves identifying stakeholders and determining the appropriate arenas for strategy-making processes. There is no one way to go about identifying stakeholders, but the result of such an inventory should be a “conception of a stakeholder community, with both territorial and functional reasons for membership” (p. 271). Equally as important is consideration of the arenas in which discussion will take place. Cultural traditions and stakeholders’ perceptions of different arenas for discussion will view certain places as more or less appropriate, intimidating or ineffective. After “thinking about who to get involved” and “where to meet”, the task of deciding “how to conduct discussion” must be addressed (p. 270). Again, cultural differences may come into play here, as “rituals of policy discussion” (p. 273) can vary enough that communication will be impeded. Identifying the different styles and languages of stakeholders is important to avoid ‘talking past’ one another in the sense of, for example, misunderstood sarcasm, metaphors or vocabulary. The desired result of a strategy-making processes is a coherent policy discourse derived from the collaborative decision-making undertaken by all stakeholders. Because changing a policy discourse is more difficult after it has been established, ensuring that the previously mentioned issues (identifying stakes, arenas, styles and languages) have been addressed before a coherent policy discourse is developed is important. In spite of the difficulty in it, policy discourses should also be re-visted through some sort of review mechanism that will ensure that consensus is maintained and emergent storylines and ideas are incorporated into the discourse throughout the dynamic process of strategy-making. In conjunction with the soft infrastructure of specific strategy-making instances, Healey proposes another series of questions intended to foster the hard infrastructure of the “political, administrative and legal processes which give legitimacy” to collaborative policy discourses (p. 5
286). These questions involve the design of changes to the social institutions that structure, or frame, specific strategy-making instances. Together they comprise an attempt to construct a “structure of challenges” that will inhibit the abuse of power through political, administrative and legal structures (p. 295). The first of these questions concerns rights and duties. Clearly defining the rights of stakeholders “help[s] to ‘fix a stake’, and to strengthen the power of voice” (p. 296). By “rights”, Healey means more than just the voting rights of pluralist democracies; she refers to the right to call government to account when all voices are not heard, the right for all stakeholders to be able to challenge decisions that have affected them, and the right to access high-quality and usable information that will assist in the determination of who has a stake and what that stake is (p. 297). The concept of duties is a corollary to that of rights and entails the duty of the government to acknowledge the “particular circumstances and values” of all members of society, to “carry out agreed policies and programmes effectively”, and to “operate within openly agreed principles”, as well as to be held accountable to the citizenry (pp. 298-299). The second of the questions aimed at fostering inclusiveness through hard infrastructure concerns allocation of resources. Policy agendas resulting from collaborative planning processes are likely to need "resource pots" that governments and stakeholders can draw upon to ensure that quality of life, citizenship rights, capital investments and high-quality, usable information is made available or achievable to all members of a political community. Additionally, there must be resources available to “provide redress to those adversely affected by policy initiatives” (pp. 301-303). Other questions Healey proposes about hard infrastructure concern how rights and duties are to be interpreted, and how violations of these are to be addressed. The “criteria for redeeming challenges” that Healey lists include the recognition of alternative viewpoints on an issue and the 6
justification of grievances according to agreed strategies. Healey recognizes that grievances may not always be resolved in the ideal situation she envisions and adds that “the principles suggested here would merely serve to foster inclusionary tendencies and impede a regress to administrative or political convenience” (p. 306). The determination of governance competencies is also a question that should be addressed. Healey sees “a more horizontal, territorial conception” of levels of governance as a solution to both bureaucratic inefficiencies resulting from the hierarchical structuring of government and locally-focused governance that does not recognize the claims of stakeholders living in the “endogenous region” (Korsching & Borich, 1997), outside of official, territorial boundaries but within the organic, functional network of social relations (Healey, 1997, pp. 306-307).
Part II. Harper & Stein’s “neopragmatism” As Healey notes (1997), postmodernism has provided the recognition that meaning is socially constructed and that ways of thinking and acting are socially embedded (p. 30). To Harper and Stein, this aspect of postmodernism is problematic because it leads to the extreme situation wherein all viewpoints are discredited because none can claim to be objective and absolute. In such a situation, "people live in different worlds, with different rationalities…(in) a world without notions of truth or progress". They suggest the danger in this situation of extreme postmodernism with a quote from fellow pragmatist Hilary Putnam: "the philosophical irresponsibility of one decade can become the real-world political tragedy of a few decades later" (Harper & Stein, 1995, p. 235). While recognizing the valuable insights that postmodern philosophy has contributed to the practice of planning, namely the application of Habermas and others' ideas of communicative rationality, Harper and Stein nonetheless feel that an acceptance of "the [postmodern] idea of 7
different incommensurable conceptual schemes that are not translatable", particularly the way this view is adopted by planning theorists informed by Foucauldian postmodernism (Stein and Harper, 2003), is at odds with the practical goals of planning practice (Harper and Stein, 1995, p. 236). Harper and Stein see the goal of planning practice as seeking not the "best practice" or the “true” account of any issue, as in the classic formulation of pragmatic rationality (see Meyerson and Banfield, 1955; Brooks, 2002, pp. 82-84), but rather "which accounts are most productive to the human enterprise, which ones are most useful" (Stein and Harper, 2003, p. 126). It is from this focus on the relative utility of knowledge and action, of different concepts and strategies, to the community change process that neopragmatism gets its name. Accordingly, they eschew the throwing around of labels (of types of people, communities, theories) in community strategy-making meetings because if its dis-utility. From a study about conflicts over the use of a national park in Canada, they demonstrate, for example, how “by avoiding labeling a set of beliefs as ‘environmentalist’…fewer people may reject them outright, and more may be willing to debate them” (Jamal, Stein & Harper, 2002, p. 169). They emphasize the importance of mutual learning in planning processes that “allows new, shared meanings to be formed by participants” (p. 172). By allowing concepts to evolve through communication, consensus is more easily achieved. They propose their approach as a way of “arriving at some form of consensus or agreement since it veers clear of negotiating issues that are fixed by absolutist positions”, like “environmentalism” or “development” (p. 173). Equally as important as their emphasis on conceptual fluidity is their emphasis on the centrality of trust to communication. Rather than accepting all-out the Foucauldian premise that “power constitutes concepts and vocabulary”, Harper and Stein concede that while power is an important factor to consider, caution should be used in the application of this logic to the project of facilitating community change because of its tendency to foster suspicion and conflict among participants. They 8
maintain that “whereas [focusing on] unequal power relations can undermine and thwart community, trust will underwrite it” (Stein and Harper, 2003, p. 135). The practical approach to facilitating community change is to recognize that “trust is at least as basic as power” (p. 136) and that focusing on the latter will only “breed despair and suspicion, undermining trust” (p. 126). Hence, the neopragmatic approach emphasizes consideration of ideas and strategies that arise from a communicative approach to building consensus and that are relevant to the particular situation at hand, regardless of their relationship to discourses about planning or “sets of beliefs” that may be debated in society at large.
Part III. Differences and similarities Harper and Stein ask, “After all voices have been heard, what is the planner to do?” (1995, p. 239). This statement is illustrative of the legacy of instrumental rationality inherent in their neopragmatic approach to planning. It belies their assumption that “the planner” is the locus of a planning process, the lead actor in a process of community change. This idea that the specialist is responsible for thinking up ways to of “changing culture” has deep roots in the positivistic tradition of rational planning. Banfield writes that, “Doubtless a ‘change in the heart and minds of men’ would solve a great many problems. But how is such a change to be brought about? Until the means are specified, this ‘solution’ must be dismissed as utopian…The fact is, however, that no one knows how to change the culture of any part of the population” (1970, p. 240). Whether deemed futile, as does Banfield, or essential, as do Harper and Stein, the role of the planner as a specialist in and a leader of community change processes is an important element of pragmatic rationality. On the role of a “leader” in specific instances of strategy-making, Healey takes a markedly different stance, emphasizing that they “need not be in formal leadership positions” 9
(1997, p. 270). Her characterization of a leader is someone who “merely [has] the capacity to see and articulate to others a strategic possibility" (p. 270). This capacity essentially consists of the analytical ability to understand the structuring of social relations and their influence on knowledge and meaning in local contexts. While trained planners, like Healey herself, certainly possess this capability, the fact that she rarely mentions explicitly the role of “planners” or “leaders” in her book underlines her belief that community change processes are firstly and primarily the work of communities, not specialists. This places her in direct opposition to the rationalist and neopragmatic valuation of scientific or objective knowledge as the domain of the planner. Neopragmatism also differs significantly from Healey’s collaborative planning approach in the degree to which each views the role of the community change process in the sustainability of consensus. Harper and Stein, in their practical concern for establishing collective meanings that matter to the stakeholders in the issue at hand, do not address the issue of the sustainability of consensus. In speaking of the utility of labels like “environmentalist”, their appropriateness “is determined by how well they serve our purposes rather than how well they conform to reality” (Jamal, Stein & Harper, p. 171). While local purposes are an indispensable focus of collaborative planning, they are not the only ends sought through this approach. Through her prescriptions for hard infrastructure, Healey seeks to institutionalize these meanings and strategies that are collaboratively-constructed through communicative action. Hence, collaborative planning is not solely about fostering consensus through a communicative re-structuring of local social worlds; it also views the propagation of community change processes through participants’ social “web(s) of relations” (Healey, 1997, p. 47) as an inevitable and desirable consequence of specific strategy-making instances.
Even given these fundamental differences between Healey’s collaborative planning and Harper and Stein’s neopragmatism, the two approaches have much in common. This is likely the result of their common source of inspiration: Habermas and his theory of communicative action (Healey, 1997, p. 53; Stein & Harper, 2003, p. 134). Their agreement on the role of social learning in community change and the importance of trust to effective communication are good examples. The necessity of social learning in the process of producing consensus on community issues has been demonstrated empirically elsewhere (Lauber and Brown, 2006). On the role of social learning in the approaches to community change discussed here, compare Healey’s position wherein the “knowledge [that] is developed in group work is not ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, but is actively being produced through social interaction and social learning” (1997, p. 256) with Jamal, Stein & Harper’s comment that the “neopragmatic approach…supports an interactive, learning-based approach to planning under conflict that allows new, shared meanings to be formed by participants” (2002, p. 172). The former explicitly states that meaning is not preexisting, that it is created in the social situation, whereas the latter implies that some meanings are pre-existing and must be ‘checked at the door’ so that new meanings are allowed to be produced in the social situation of community change planning. Both statements emphasize the importance of learning on the part of participants in the formation of consensus and community change. Likewise, Healey recognizes that her approach “assumes a deep structure of dissensus, riven with current and historical relations of dominance and oppression” (1997, p. 263). This is the Foucauldian notion of the pervasiveness of power and its role in the construction of meaning which Stein and Harper strongly discourage as an organizing principle in planning theory because of its tendency to fracture trust and make consensus impossible (2003). But Healey 11
continues: “Social learning processes which engage in consensus-building thus have to build up trust and confidence across these fractures and chasms” (1997, p. 263). Thus, it would appear that Healey is not one of the “Foucauldians” that Stein and Harper ridicule by lumping them together with the absolutist views of “modernist utilitarians, Freudians, sociobiologists, or Marxists” (2003, p. 137). Healey, Harper and Stein ultimately all believe in the idea that communicative work is transformative work (Healey, 1997, p. 263). In other words, both approaches share the view that communicative rationality is more productive than either the positivist’s instrumental rationality or the postmodernist’s absolute relativism (Jamal, Stein & Harper, 2002, p.165). Both seek pragmatic paths leading towards a collaboratively-constructed consensus on ways of fostering community change.
Part IV. Which way forward? How then, if they are so similar in their fundamental philosophies of ends and means, can I recommend either of these approaches over the other? I would not. My recommendation is for the appreciation of the relative merits of both approaches and, in the spirit of pragmatism, an adoption of the most practical insights and strategies that each has to offer. From the neopragmatic approach, I would recommend adopting the attitude of open-mindedness implicit in their call to go 'beyond labels' and seek meaning and relevance within local contexts. This attitude works in a variety of everyday instances, from making new acquaintances at work to discovering new music on the internet, so it is a familiar mode of thinking for many people. By emphasizing the need to drop preconceptions and set aside political agendas for the time being, a community change organization may be able to move itself one step closer to achieving the consensus that will bring about the changes desired by participants. 12
In complement with the need for practicality in strategy, I would emphasize the corollary need for a vision of the long-term effect of the consensus generated during strategy-making instances. As Harper and Stein see it, "Both citizens and professional planners need some hope that they can make their world a little bit better" (Stein & Harper, 2003, p. 132). Looking beyond the specific instances of community consensus, Healey sees the potential for "systemic institutional design" of the legal, political and administrative systems which constrict and/or enable community strategy-making (Healey, 1997, p. 284). By advocating for a more thorough entrenchment of the values of a liberal democratic society into a political community's hard infrastructure, the possibility that the dynamics which led to a particular instance of community consensus will be spread through social "webs of relations" to other communities and other people's lifeworlds is greatly increased. In this advocacy for practical solutions for ideal goals, for the 'hard-wiring' of principles of inclusivity in society, planners and community development practitioners can play an active role in decreasing the prevalence of the adversarial, conflictdriven approach to community change that pits one idea against another, the ultimate goal of which is the rationalist triumph of the "best practice". From the above comparison, it should be clear that Harper, Stein and Healy all agree with Chartier's observation of the danger inherent in this.
References Banfield, E.C. (1970). The Unheavenly City. The Nature and the Future of Our Urban Crisis. Boston, MA & Toronto, Ontario: Little, Brown & Co. Brooks, M.P. (2002). Planning Theory for Practitioners. Chicago, IL and Washington, DC: Planners Press, American Planning Association.
Harper, T.L. & S.M. Stein. (1995). Out of the Postmodern Abyss: Preserving the Rationale for Liberal Planning. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 14: 233-244. Harper, T.L. & S.M. Stein. (2005). Dialogical Planning in a Fragmented Society: Critically Liberal, Pragmatic and Incremental. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University. Healey, P. (1997). Collaborative Planning. Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies, 2nd Edition. Hampshire, England and New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillian. Jamal, T.B., S.M. Stein & T.L. Harper. (2002). Beyond Labels. Pragmatic Planning in Multistakeholder Tourism-Environmental Conflicts. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 22: 164-177. Korsching, P.F. & T.O. Borich. (1997). Facilitating Cluster Communities: Lessons from the Iowa Experience. Community Development Journal, 32(4): 342-353. Lauber, T.B. & T.L. Brown. (2006). Learning by Doing: Policy Learning in Community-Based Deer Management. Society and Natural Resources, 19: 411-428. Meyerson, M. & E.C. Banfield. (1955). Politics, planning, and the public interest: The case of public housing in Chicago. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Stein, S.M. & T.L. Harper. (2003). Power, Trust and Planning. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 23: 125-139. Willson, R. (2001). Assessing communicative rationality as a transportation planning paradigm. Transportation, 28: 1-31.