Postmodern Planning Research in American Indian Reservations

2007/7/31 – Joren Jacobs

For centuries Native Americans in the United States have been struggling to save their culture from the threat of an emerging western culture of immigrant Americans. Through a long history of conflicts and treaties, Native Americans now have ‘the opportunity’ to live in reservations that can be regarded as independent nations, having political sovereignty in relation to the federal government of the United States. This does not imply however, that these tribes can govern their reservations without deliberation with governments of the surrounding state(s) and the relevant federal agencies. The context of planning therefore is one of the most complex situations that exists, especially because of sovereignty (Zaferatos, 2004). However, not much is known about Indian reservation planning and about the way American Indians deliberate with federal and state agencies. There has been a lot of research on related topics but not with an emphasis on planning. Zaferatos and also Hibbard are some of the few dealing with these issues in scientific literature, but Zaferatos’ purpose is the development of an approach to strategic planning, and Hibbard is dealing with the issue of Tribal Sovereignty. They do not aim at gaining insight in the way planning is actually carried out in Indian reservations. At the basis of this article is the position that to gain insight in the actual practice of planning is crucial if one wants to change it. Understanding the actual practices, however, involves an understanding of a wider context. This entails a specific approach to doing research, which we will call a methodology: referring to more than a simple set of methods, namely the rationale and the philosophical assumptions that underlie a particular study. This article will explore methodologies from planning research and indigenous studies in order to come to a fruitful combination of the two. The attempt, furthermore, is to do so within a framework of postmodern social science. Thus, before going into the practical side of the story, we will pay attention to planning and indigenous discourse. We try to make visible the differences in perspectives, for instance between our own perspective and that of American Indians. Only after breaching this gap, we can proceed to discover, or rather construct, meaningful knowledge about the local context.

Planning Theory and Practice
Planning, foremost, is an activity, carried out as daily practice by a great diversity of actors. Its academic counterpart might be called “planning research”, which can be divided into many different categories. One aim of planning research might be to supply professional planners with knowledge necessary to complete a planning project, such as the construction of a new highway. Naturally, this requires technical knowledge of all sorts, and it could also require knowledge about the preferences


of local inhabitants. Another aim of planning research might be the design of the planning process; for instance, planning methods, instruments for planning, or communicative procedures. There is another aim of planning research, however, which is the analysis of the planning practices themselves, to come to a deeper understanding of the ways in which they work. It is this latter category of planning research that we will discuss in this article. Ever since the early days of planning as an academic discipline, planning practices have been analyzed and reflected upon. In the nineteen-fifties it was generally agreed upon by the early planning theorists that the academic discipline was to bring an objectification (synonymous to scientification) of professional planning by focusing on rationality; making planning more rational, and analyzing planning as an activity of rational decision-making (Friedmann, 1998; Beauregard, 2003). Spatial dynamics were regarded in a rational system of relations, and analyzed in terms of rational components – among which were stakeholders – interacting according to identifiable patterns and mechanisms. In the course of decades social aspects of planning became more important, both in planning practice and research. This shift could be observed across the social sciences, under the influence of structuralism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism. In order to be taken serious as science, many disciplines were emulating the natural sciences (cf. Flyvbjerg, 2001) but now it could no longer be attained that social inquiry is scientific because of its objectivity. Thus many of the social sciences diverged from natural science and the validity for scientific findings is claimed through different procedures. As regards planning research, there are some difficulties. Because there is a strong tradition of technical research, planning research is not social science per se. When studying planning practices, however, one enters the domain of social reality. We argue that this cannot be approached technically, because social reality is not objective. Thus, planning research that studies the planning practices themselves, can be seen as social science. Postmodern views in the social sciences are based on a conception of social reality that opposes the traditional conception of objective reality which is still workable for most of the natural sciences. Social reality is much more ambiguous; our experiences of it are subjective. In short, our experiences of social reality are shaped and structured by our previous experiences, which differ from individual to individual. Furthermore, every individual is culturally conditioned, for instance through our upbringing and education within e.g. western culture. Social reality, therefore, is socially constructed. Acknowledging this account of social reality, we understand that social science should never function in the technical way of natural science. The difference between the two approaches is described by Herrnstein Smith (2006) as the difference between absolutism and relativism. Knowledge produced within the natural sciences tends to be of an absolute character; it is valid and can be applied in a wide range of conditions all across the world. Knowledge produced within the social sciences has a relative character; it is valid in the specific case that was studied, and only from the perspective that is offered by the scientist. Planning practices take place within the constraints of social reality. Thus, we have to study them as such. Postmodern views are now commonly accepted in the social sciences, whereas in the academic discipline of planning the terrain is still somewhat contested. Nevertheless, postmodernists (albeit not always self-declared) are gradually gaining more prominence in planning research; postmodern


views are incorporated in planning theory and methodology more often now (e.g. Flyvbjerg (1998), Van Assche (2004), Duineveld (2007), Allmendinger). In this process, traditional paradigms in planning theory are sometimes absorbing new notions and concepts, sometimes responding in adverse to them. The communicative discourse on planning, for instance, still (implicitly) takes reality as a collection of objective, absolute elements and tries to incorporate new concepts, like power, into its own views. The term power is taken up but its new, postmodern meaning, is ignored and it is fitted into the old framework. This is exactly what Kuhn (1970) describes as the prerevolutionary stage of the paradigm shift. Misunderstanding the postmodern concept of power, in this case, leads to the enterprise of delineating ways of working around power. This is why Habermas’ communicative rationality receives so much attention. The postmodern paradigm, that is gaining foothold, sees power not as an element to tread but as something ever-present, to acknowledge, not concrete or graspable. It utilizes the concept in the analysis of discursive practices.

One of the few recent explicit contributions to the field of postmodern planning research methodology has been by Flyvbjerg (2004). Others have explicated their approach to planning research mostly as a clarification for specific research projects. Therefore, we will borrow from the insights of Flyvbjerg to construct our own methodology. Flyvbjerg introduced what he calls “phronetic planning research” following his study of Danish planning practices (1998) and his analysis of the “failure” of social science (2001). Phronetic planning research is a direct response to research that is informed by the rational planning paradigm, the knowledge/ action theory of planning, or the communicative paradigm. These all carry the burden of taken-for-granted truths about the rational and progressive promise of planning (cf. Flyvbjerg, 2004). When studying planning practices, planning researchers often use concepts like Habermas’ communicative rationality as a frame of reference (e.g. Innes, 2004; Healy, 2003). This concept, however, describes an ideal situation that is not realistic. Based on the work of Machiavelli, Nietzsche and Foucault, Flyvbjerg proposes that power relations are a much more useful frame of reference for research of planning practices. Planning is not characterized by (power-free) communicative rationality, but by power relations. This analysis paves the way for the introduction of postmodern research methodologies. It acknowledges the notion that all knowledge is laden with values and interests. Traditionally (from the Enlightenment) science has not been interested in such subjective material. Science has been pursuing (universally) rational and objective knowledge. In order to study social reality, however, this “instrumental” rationality should be balanced by value-rationality, which means that the persistence of values and interests behind all knowledge should be taken into account and studied explicitly. Contemporary planning theorists have been studying the concept of power from different angles. Friedmann (1998) acknowledges the neglect of power in past and present planning theory. There are, however, many ways to take power into account, and so it has been. If one takes power as a negative force, for instance, that is possessed by one and exercised over the other, the focus might be to minimize the role of power in planning practices. Flyvbjerg (2002) argues that this is what Habermasian communicative rationality strives for. On the other side, if one conceptualizes power in a Foucauldian sense, as an ever-present aspect of discourse – not negative, not statically possessed


by one party, but inevitable, and therefore neutral, applied dynamically as a strategy in communications – it becomes interesting just to study how this works in practice. In the tradition of Foucault, we take the position that power cannot and should not be banned from planning. It is what makes planning a social activity, what makes it interesting and challenging. If, as planning researchers, we study these phenomena, we might demonstrate that power is sometimes abused. We might also show how certain parties dominate over other parties. But this is not the fault of power itself! To account for power in the research agenda of social science, Flyvbjerg (2004) introduces the concept of phronesis. This is Aristotle’s concept for the virtue of prudence, the ability to choose what is best in every specific situation. It is a kind of practical wisdom that cannot be explained in rational terms, and has therefore been ignored by modern science. Science has been focusing only on objective knowledge (episteme) and technical knowledge (techne). This forms only part of social reality, and should therefore be balanced by power/value-knowledge – phronesis. Flyvbjerg calls the traditional rationality of science “instrumental rationality”; phronesis he calls “value-rationality”. By incorporating value-rationality in social science, we can make a balanced study of social realities. Thus phronesis introduces power and values into planning research. Following Aristotle’s philosophizing, however, Flyvbjerg presents phronesis as an imperative; social science should be phronetic. For us, this does not follow from the distinction of Aristotle’s three intellectual virtues of episteme, techne and phronesis. Rather, it follows from the acknowledgement that social reality produces knowledges and rationalities that can only be judged good or bad in relation to values and interests, in order for good and bad to have meaning (cf. Flyvbjerg, 2004). Because in everyday planning practices knowledge and rationality are inseparable from values and interests; power plays a major role in the production of knowledge and the definition of what is rational. Than what do we gain from studying planning practices? According to Flyvbjerg (2001) it is not about doing science for the sake of science. The research should have a strong and reciprocal relation with the context. He demonstrated this in his study of Aalborg planning practices (Flyvbjerg, 1998) where the researcher was a neutral participant, asking questions concerning the developments in the Aalborg Project, involving all stakeholders participating. Applying a phronetic stance, a sensitiveness for the workings of power, and attention for apparently insignificant details, sometimes he was able to show that oftentimes democratic values were ignored for the sake of personal gains, and that goals set on the start of the project were not reached, or were even abandoned, under influence of power relations. Also here, planning practices could be clearly characterized as games of power, where multiple perspective, multiple rationalities battle against each other. Flyvbjerg was able to show that sometimes this battle was not fought in the open, and that everything seemed to happen in rationally and democratically acceptable ways, while in reality very specific interests were winning ground over the initial and more general interests for which the project was set up in the first place. In this case the general public often was not aware of what was happening, because everything happened behind closed curtains. Flyvbjerg (1998) notes that from a phronetic perspective these were moments to become part of the research, to influence the reality under study. This meant that he confronted participants with his findings, asking for clarification and opinion, in the act changing the course of the project. Flyvbjerg was even asked to participate in a radio interview, because he exposed some of the events behind the curtains, drawing public attention to the project.


We agree with Flyvbjerg that research should be rooted in its context; not its scientific context, being part of some institution’s research program, but in its local context. Furthermore, we should acknowledge that by investigating social practices we become part of them, whether or not this was our conscious goal. We will realize then that we are influencing what happens, and that we can decide to make good use of that position. Going back to the stage of setting up the research, we distinguish two kinds of attitudes towards influencing practices. The first attitude is when we would design and carry out our research as a conscious effort to change the practices under study. However, this attitude we dismiss because it narrows our sight from the beginning on, it is elitist, modernistically pretentious, and it runs the risk of imposing views on individuals and groups under study. Is it not so that research is conducted because there is a lack of knowledge, not because we already know what is wrong? Therefore, carefulness is a prerequisite in the initial stages of the research, and changing practices should not be the initial aim. The alternative attitude is to be modest and acknowledge that we don’t know anything. The aim is then to gain insight, being happy to learn of all the different perspectives present in reality. From this attitude we are beginning to understand what are really important factors, not in our own experience, but in the experiences of the people we study, the local context. Writing science from this position, we are more certain that our work can be used both by ourselves and by the local context. Like Foucault diving deep into the many perspectives present in history, we are trying to show the contingency of social reality, trying to show what is really going on, exposing realpolitik (Flyvbjerg, 2004) instead of the formal proceedings of planning, which is our disciplinary focus. We should, indeed, step outside our own field of expertise, in order to understand. By exposing reality like this, we are creating many more opportunities for changing reality than we would with an elitist attitude of being the researchers who come in to change all kinds of stuff. And this is because we ourselves are not changing reality, but (groups of) people can use our findings to change things themselves. This was also what Foucault said when he discussed his study of the prison. He said that prisoners were reading each other out loud from Discipline and Punish (Foucault, 1980). Foucault’s work gave them some way of rebelling against the system, because it showed the historical contingency of the prison system, and it exposed some quite inhumane principles behind it.

American Planning
From the contingency of social realities, we will move on to say something about the contingency of a planning system. It is easily assumed that planning is the same activity everywhere; a communicative process aimed at changing the spatial organization of a certain area. By focusing on communication, the communicative turn in planning theory therefore dominates in international planning discourse. However, there are fundamental differences between, for example, European and American conceptions of planning. These differences are mostly ignored by the dominant discourses, while they should be acknowledged ex-ante in order to construct a proper analysis of planning practices in context. We will make a short comparison between Dutch and American planning in order to show that different issues are at stake as a consequence of different traditions of planning. Rooted in a history where freedom and rights of the individual are very prominent, spatial planning is much different from Dutch spatial planning American planning seems to be relatively technical, limited, and restrictive, as opposed to political, comprehensive, and proactive. In The Netherlands the situation is rather different. Planning in The Netherlands was originally a technical or


technocratic activity but has been changing over the last couple of decades to a more sociocratic (Van der Valk, 1999) or even political activity, where the choices planners make have to be legitimated to the public more often. This is generally described as a shift from government to governance (Hajer and Zonneveld, 2000), and within planning it is emerging as a shift towards development planning. An important aspect of this change is the position of governments. No longer can they preside over spatial planning in a hierarchical way, but neither can they leave everything to the mechanisms of the market. Governments are finding a third way of coordinating spatial developments, which is sometimes called the “network model” (Buitelaar, 2003). It means that they are sometimes the initiator and sometimes the cooperating party in planning processes, but they always start off at an equal level with the other parties and stakeholders involved. Politics, negotiation, communication, and cooperation are much more important now. Furthermore, where planning in The Netherlands has been quite comprehensive since the issuing of the national spatial planning reports, in the United States such a thing cannot be observed. Neither is there a strong history of state-led comprehensive planning. Large scale plans that are not clear in a legal sense are seen as intrusive, possibly affecting people’s property rights. So if you say planning in the U.S., most people think about zoning in the first place, and the zoning ordinances are generally upheld by having people comply with the rules. It is much more about making rules that can stand in court, than about creating spatial visions about the future. Herein lies also its restrictiveness; instead of focusing on new and creative developments, most planners work on and with existing zoning codes, making sure that spatial development is legally right. As Faludi and Van der Valk (1994) talk about the community of professional planners, such a thing also exists in the United States. Generally speaking, politically they are progressive-oriented. They support the idea of some government power to realize the public good, concerning the strategic and comprehensive intervention in the organization of space. A more liberal view on the advancement of spatial planning can be seen in the idea of grass roots, similar to the Dutch interest groups. But ideas about planning cannot always be pinned down on a political preference; they are often mixed. Nevertheless, planning theorists and professional planners are lobbying against the present state of affairs in American planning. Movements like new urbanism and smart growth are a result of this and they are gradually gaining popularity. Thus, in the United States there exists no such thing as a strong planning tradition. Stronger planning can be observed around bigger cities but it does not often connect to a strong tradition; it is usually a money game, in which you can do anything you want, as long as you can pay for it. Unfortunately, the organization of space is perceived neither as something that could potentially bring together the policy-making of adjacent administrations, nor bring together the different fields of policy-making, like nature conservation, housing, et cetera. Planners still have a hard time “selling” comprehensive plans. This position of planning in the United States should be taken into account when we investigate planning processes in Indian reservations, for example, and when we discuss the potential of planning. Taking Dutch planning as a frame of reference, we would too easily conclude that planning in Indian reservations is under-developed, for instance. Acknowledging the American tradition however, the modest role and few promises of planning are not so surprising. Instead of telling American Indians how to develop their planning system, we would then take a better look at what is behind the situation, culturally, politically.


Decolonizing Methodologies Indigenous Discourse
Before our research on planning in American-Indian reservations we were confronted with some important ethical considerations. For instance, American Indians have a very problematic relationship with (western) science; they have been studied ever since Europeans first encountered indigenous peoples, in the Americas and the South Pacific. It remains to be questioned, however, what American Indians have gained from this. According to Linda Tuhiwai Smith in her book Decolonizing Methodologies (1999) they have not gained much. Moreover, the so-called scientists and anthropologists have made a significant contribution to the colonization of indigenous peoples. Commencing our own research in Indian reservations, we regarded it important to inquire about this problematic relationship between indigenous people and western science. At this point it is useful to introduce the notion of an academic discourse of indigenous studies. According to Smith there are two major strands of critique originating from and sustaining this discourse. One of them applies a notion of authenticity of indigenous peoples, in order to claim rights. This concerns the original state and culture of American Indians and the argument that they never asked or wanted to be ‘discovered’ by Europeans (Smith, 1999). The second strand is more similar to what we described earlier as the Foucauldian approach to historical research. This involves the analysis of exactly how the process of colonization of indigenous peoples took place and with what legitimizations on the side of the colonizer. It results in a variety of academic texts, albeit to some extent they all have an advocative or emancipative character. There are texts aimed at very concrete instructions for doing research with American Indians, for example in the form of “research guidelines” (e.g. Mihesuah, 1993). And there is a great amount of historic accounts of indigenous peoples; either offering the indigenous perspective or deconstructing western perspectives (e.g. Smith, 1999). It seems that the indigenous discourse revolves around decolonization, being the academic contribution to the emancipation of indigenous people, undoing the wrongs of past scientific practices. From our viewpoint, some of the (sometimes implicit) aims of the indigenous discourse can be problematic. When advocating for a certain group, such as American Indians, an image of this group has to be constructed. Yet, groups are almost never homogeneous; there are American Indians who like old cultural traditions, and there are American Indians who don’t care about them. Moreover, the presumed needs of this group in this case are not constructed within the group itself, but inside the academic discourse of indigenous studies. The connections between the academic discourse and the subject community are diverse and ambiguous. The academic discourse has developed their own way of looking at communities of indigenous peoples and their needs. Smith’s work is situated mostly in the second strand of critique; she attempts a Foucaldian analysis of colonization, and then constructs an indigenous research agenda for decolonization. She focuses mostly on the academic discourse itself. Among other notions, she uses Foucault’s concept of the cultural archive to explain that western research is underpinned by a cultural system of classification and systems of representation, by views about human nature, human morality and virtue, by conceptions of space and time, by conceptions of gender and race (Smith, 1999:44). These are all present in the cultural archive and all play a part in the functioning of western society and research.


Although there might be rapid changes, sometimes, in ideas about what scientific research looks like and how it should take place – like Kuhn’s (1970) paradigm shifts, for instance – the contents of the cultural archive are never erased; they are maybe arranged, and selected differently for the production of scientific knowledge. In order to show how western science has contributed to the colonization of indigenous people – by (implicitly) maintaining the conceptions of the western cultural archive – Smith constructs an image of western science, which complies more or less with the stereotypical image of positivist science. Such science has existed and probably still occurs every now and then, but most social scientists have been informed by social constructivism and other postmodern notions. Most scientists will claim that they don’t apply concepts of superiority or inferiority, for instance, and that they value every culture equally “good”. It may only be, through the idea of the cultural archive, that implicit notions persist, for instance about the grade of civilization (e.g. Indian culture is less civilized than American culture) or the origins of criminality (e.g. Indian people become criminals easier than American people). If this is the case – to whatever extent – it inevitably affects the knowledge produced by the researcher. Indeed, as scientists we share a set of (taken-for-granted) truths and ideas on how to study reality. These shape the knowledge we produce. We ourselves, however, are the only ones who will interprate our work in the way we have meant, because it is our own background that has led up to this piece of knowledge. When confronting a group of truck drivers, for instance, our work will most probably be interpreted completely different, and maybe even deemed useless. This is due to the fact that scientists don’t share a common background with truck drivers. Yes, we are both familiar with norms and values connected to our society, but in everyday discourse (academic versus “lays”) we develop crucial differences in our language and foreknowledge. The same academic background that enables us to do science, prevents us from communicating about it with truck drivers. Scientific knowledge is true for us but meaningless for truck drivers. The bigger the difference between discourses, the less useful can knowledge of the one be to the other. Scientific progress, to us, is not a legitimation for doing scientific research. Moreover, scientific progress has been demonstrated to be a very problematic notion, by many (postmodern) theorists, like Foucault and Kuhn. Major part of the legitimation of scientific research must be sought in the context studied. Thus, when studying a community of American Indians, we have to inform ourselves with local perspectives – local rationalities. If we don’t, it will remain unclear to that community what is the point of our coming. We will fit ourselves in the well-known image of the scientists who come in to gather data for their own benefit, without any sense of reciprocity. One might call this a form of exploitation. Furthermore, if research is to benefit the context under study – for instance, the social-economic situation of an American-Indian reservation – it should communicate with that context. This can only occur by connecting our perspective to local perspectives. Another interesting aspect of acknowledging multiple perspectives is the connection of knowledge to power. In his account of perspectivism Nietzsche (1968) says it is the will to power that determines our perception and ideas. According to Nietzsche our inner drives translate into a lust to rule over others’ inner drives, compelling them to accept our drives as the norm. This will to power does not belong exclusively to formal leaders, or people with money; rather, it is human nature;


scientists have been doing it to indigenous peoples too. Within planning practices, it is the values and the interests that go behind the communicative processes. Ideally, every stakeholder would like to impose its own rationality on other stakeholders, making planning practices games of power, rather than rational processes of consensus-building, in which everyone shares the same rationality. Here power relations will often lead to unequal outcomes. By realizing the presence of these kinds of mechanisms, we can prevent a lot of harm. We can never be sure, however, that we don’t apply any other implicit notions that might turn out to be problematic for the community under study. In the end, the scientific work is still our representation of their everyday reality. Even the application of a very culturally sensitive and elaborate research methodology cannot prevent such. The least thing a researcher can do, we argue, is to be smart enough not to mess up. Therefore, the persistence of indigenous peoples’ bad experiences with science, is due to stupidity of individual researchers, rather than to the innate problems of western science as a whole. The image Smith constructs of western science, can therefore only be understood to explain part of the relationship between western science and indigenous peoples. She does, however, offer very crucial insights about the mechanisms at work in the intellectual colonization of indigenous peoples in the past, continuing possibly to this day.

The Right to Write
In the second part of her book, Smith sets out to articulate an indigenous research agenda. She proposes that indigenous researchers (and non-indigenous researchers who study indigenous peoples) have a very important task to decolonize traditional research methodologies. This means that all implicit and explicit notions that could harm indigenous peoples and cultures should be erased from methodologies, and that methodologies for indigenous research should be explicitly enriched with notions that will benefit these cultures. Articulating such an agenda, however, is not without risk. Notwithstanding the images Smith constructs of science and indigenous peoples, in reality within academic as well as indigenous communities there are many differences that will ensure that the indigenous research agenda is not always useful or applicable. A much bigger inspiration for us as scientists is Smith’s Foucaldian analysis of the colonization process, which is of use in understanding the present situation of indigenous peoples in general. Similar kinds of (early) postmodern analyses or critiques have been very useful for the emancipation of different groups – for instance, feminist studies have gained a lot from the work of Foucault. Drawing on bad experiences with western science, it is often suggested by indigenous scholars that indigenous peoples from now on should preferably be studied by indigenous researchers, people who have a cultural understanding next to their academic training. It is suggested that their representation of indigenous perspectives is more respectful and correct than those of their western colleagues. After that, the next best option are western researchers with culturally sensitive methodologies, for instance western researchers who operate under research guidelines (Mihesuah, 1993), or a tribal participatory research model (Fisher and Ball, 2002), or who attend specifically to indigenous interests. This line of thought, in our view, is full of ambiguous ideas. In the first place, it is based on a stereotypical image of western researchers, which might explain why it is hard to find any recent examples. Secondly, it is too easily assumed that indigenous scholars are more able to define what is good and bad for indigenous peoples, while being indigenous is not a guarantee for being all-knowing. The indigenous researcher might, for instance, be less able or willing to


understand western perspectives. But all this is speculative. What we mean, is that it is about individual researchers, and not about whether indigenous researchers are better than western researchers. It is a play of empty concepts. What may be the link between indigenous ways of knowing and postmodern ways of doing social science, is power. Smith (1999:26) explains that imperial power provided the means through which concepts of what counts as human could be applied systematically as forms of classification. Western science has done so, she argues, by regarding indigenous peoples as ‘not fully human’ because they lacked the presumably human virtues of inventing things, creating institutions, or writing history, among others. Power relations in the imperial age enabled this to happen because they never required western scientists to identify underlying assumptions. Moreover, the imperial powers were quite happy with the work of their scientists, because it helped legitimate the maltreatment and even extinction of indigenous peoples. It sounds legitimate to say that there was not a lot of rationality behind their acts, but especially power, will, and will to power. Untrue, there was a very important rationality in it. In the relation between natives and newcomers, however, the power relations determined what rationality came to count as reality. So at least from the arrival of the colonists, power has become an important aspect of indigenous histories. In a postmodern approach to social science, power is a crucial notion. Not in the traditional sense of finding out who decides over whom and what, but in the discursive way of finding power in rationality, analyzing the circumstances (power relations) that enabled history to develop in this or that way. It is in writing of history, writing of science possibly, that indigenous aims and Foucauldian analysis – what we called a postmodern approach to social science – come together. Postmodern perspectives on history could be very similar to indigenous perspectives. Moreover, for indigenous people, says Smith (1999:33), critique of western history has been a fact of life, way before postmodern critique emerged.

Case Study
During three months of research in two Minnesotan Indian reservations we experienced for ourselves how the different discourses related to reality as seen from the outside perspective. In this qualitative research project, a case study was used to gain in depth information about the planning practices and their context in the Indian reservations. Observations were done, interviews with keyparticipants inside and outside the reservation were carried out, and documents were collected. Important to note here is that the researchers studied planning in its broadest sense, as “the strategic choices and actions employed by tribal nations to bring improvements to the physical, political, social and economic conditions of the reservation community” (Zaferatos, 2004:88), albeit with an emphasis on spatial planning. In the following chapter methodological considerations will be given on doing research as European researchers in a context of American Indian reservations. Foregoing theory on social science, planning, and indigenous discourse will be combined in order to form a fruitful methodology, meaning a set of methods embedded in a rationale of philosophical assumptions underlying this particular study. Whenever possible we will give suggestions to doing ‘cross-cultural’ research in general. But in the first place, one should understand these findings in this particular context and should therefore use the article as a source of inspiration to come to an own understanding and explanation of issues (cf. Ramírez, 1995).


Positions and Attitudes
Introducing ourselves to the people we wanted to meet and talk to, we always mentioned our Dutch origins. From our perspective this is not important but to many people it does make a difference. Generally we had the feeling that our nationality was beneficial to our progress in the research, that there was some kind of sympathy because of our Dutchness. This is something we had not anticipated, and naturally the sympathy effect differed for every individual. Some people we met expressed a strong disliking of Americans and the United States government. The Netherlands, if they knew it at all, was seen as a small and neutral country. Some people therefore seemed more eager to express their thoughts about America and about their own community. As outsiders we would not be quickly offended, we would not be biased, and we would be open-minded, some people seemed to think. Whether or not this is true, this is the way it works. It is important to realize that we as researchers come with a bag full of images, assumptions and prejudices, but that our subject is prejudiced just as well, or maybe even more than us, not having undertaken any background research on us. Images of the self and images of the other initially have to be accepted as they are. At the beginning of our research project we attempted to establish contact with three reservations. We drafted a short description of ourselves and our backgrounds, and about our research, to be sent to the contact persons in the reservations. We did not establish the contact ourselves but had some assistance from American Indians in Saint Cloud State University. From one of the reservations we received a negative answer with unclear reasons. For the moment it seemed best to accept this, although we did not know whose decision it was to deny us access. Different images, questions, and expectations might have played a role. It is not possible to anticipate all these in our short introduction. The example poses a dilemma. Generally it is advised (e.g. Letiecq and Bailey, 2004; Mihesuah, 1993) to work with established contacts, someone who acts as an intermediary, for better trust and cultural sensitiveness. There is, however, a risk in having these images and expectations mediated, especially when contacting a reservation. We supplied our intermediary person with some information to be used for asking permission, and then we had to wait. The approach we used for two other reservations was more successful. It had to with presence which, according to Letiecq and Bailey (2004), has a positive effect on collaboration. Through our presence at the university, where we sometimes studied in the library or had meetings, we met some American Indian students. Also we attended some activities organized by the American Indian Centre at Saint Cloud State, where sometimes people from the reservations performed in ceremonies or gave lectures. We expressed a general interest in American Indian history and culture and were soon introduced to different people, establishing a small network. We talked about ourselves and our project in person and asked attentive questions about the reservations where the people came from. In this way we showed our goodwill and our sincere interest. At a certain moment we felt comfortable asking what they thought about our options to visit their reservations. The responses were surprisingly positive. It seemed that at this stage people appreciated the fact that we picked their reservation for our research. They were very helpful in setting up meetings and recommending certain people to talk to. In retrospective it is clear that this approach was only successful because it was not planned but naturally developed in personal contact. We feel that you have to enjoy the contact and appreciate the things you learn in this way also from a non-scientific perspective. We often forgot about our scientific objectives and found ourselves submerged in social


activities. Afterwards we often realized we had learned much more than we had expected from the configuration of our research, and had gained better contacts and trust. Another result of this approach was that we constantly had to be flexible in our research agenda. Some of the initial research questions disappeared from the picture and others emerged, because we discovered what the important topics were for the people we spoke. Sometimes these topics were new, like for example taxation, which was a reason for conflict between tribal governments and counties. With all the discourse on cross-cultural research, indigenous studies, decolonizing methodologies, a constant struggle arises about why do we want to do this study, who are these people, what will they think of us? These questions, unfortunately, even add to the ‘us-them’ distinction. The discourse creates distrust, paradoxically. Moreover, through this discourse we become entangled in a debate about interests. The indigenous discourse’s multiple suggestions that all scientific research should benefit the community are so strong that we began to doubt our right to do research at all. What do we have to offer? Have we got anything to offer at all? Maybe our research will benefit only ourselves in the end. It was therefore necessary to make our aims explicit. Whereas decolonizing methodologies aim explicitly at the promotion of indigenous perspectives, postmodern planning research is interested in the workings of planning practices, which it sees as multi-perspective games of power. There is no imperative to give one of the groups or individuals involved in these games more voice than the others. Thus, there is no direct goal of postmodern planning research, other than the “scientific” goal of gaining a deeper understanding of social reality. By focusing on power and values, bearing in mind the hidden assumptions and interests of groups and individuals, it tries to produce a perspective that is more realistic and therewith offers possibilities to change practice. This is also what Smith (1999:23) talks about when she argues that a deeper understanding of how the colonization of indigenous peoples took place, will help to improve present day conditions for these peoples. And according to Smith (1999:35), revisiting history – from the indigenous perspective – is the most powerful way of resistance. What’s our aim? Science in society, the role of the scientist. How is validity claimed? Validity should be established in a wider context than science itself. Scientific validity is soon created. It is, for instance, the scientific method. Or the idea of “gaining more insight” which is valid enough for scientific reasoning. Within science it functions in the way described by Flyvbjerg (2004:292); as everything is based on interpretation and is open for testing in relation to other interpretations and other research, validity is defined in the conventional manner as well-grounded evidence and arguments, and the procedures for ensuring validity are no different. Furthermore, if we want to do research about planning, we have to ask ourselves exactly what it is that we want to do. Do we want to know about planning procedures? And why? Is it to know what procedures work best? This may be the case but we have to realize that the functioning of certain procedures is based on a certain group of people. They have constructed the procedures, and are complying (or not) with them. Introducing the same procedures into a different context (i.e. to different people) yields different results. Therefore, we argue, in order to understand the procedures, an understanding of the people is necessary, and therefore an understanding of identity. We have to step out of our domain of planning in order to gain this understanding. We need to think geographically, anthropologically, sociologically, historically, et cetera. We can only begin to say something about planning if we have acquired some of this deeper understanding.


Regardless of one’s training (i.e. scientific background) a social scientist should be able to think across the lines. This can be illustrated by the multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary concept of identity. In the model of identity construction (Van Assche, 2004) images of history, group identity, and place identity, together define the personal identity. Moreover, they are interrelated, overlapping, and mutually dependant. The model can be explained simply as follows: there is a specific history, a specific group, and a geographic area. Together they form the personal identity. This is too simple, because it is especially the connections between the aspects that are decisive. They differ for each person, and each person therefore has a different identity. In dealing with people, it is of the utmost importance that we are foremost human, not scientist. How are you more human than scientist (in the subject’s perspective)? Being multi-disciplinary among others. It is just a difficult word for wanting to know a lot of things.

Important Concepts and Themes
In our practice of social science we find ourselves constantly navigating through a giant field of all kinds of notions, especially when we have to make explicit as much as possible for the sake of good science. There are many concepts associated which each other in one way or another, among which are general and postmodern notions about social science, like reflexivity and phronesis, and also there are very specific topical concepts, like planning, sovereignty, and identity. Sometimes it is a big puzzle to fit these all together. This can only occur in a specific context. All concepts have to be adapted to their local interpretations, local rationalities. They have to be enriched with local knowledge in a context of power relations, because we know that on the outset our research questions are heavily influenced by our frames of reference, that our images of American Indians and of planning might not be in accordance with the local context? When we set out to do research in two American Indian Reservations in the State of Minnesota, we experienced just this challenge, because our suppositions about American Indians and planning changed rapidly as we set foot on American soil. Experienced academics in the field of “indigenous studies” helped us to find our way into the history of American Indians, and told us how we should deal with them in conducting our research. For this we were very grateful but at the same time we realized that we were dealing with one of the many possible perspectives on the matter. We felt that these helpful academics were also advocating for the American Indians – understandably so. Our aim, however, was to gain insight in planning practices, not to make a case for or against American Indians. We had to find a way to deal with both our own aims and the question of how to do our research without harming American Indians. One thing was clear; apparently well-known concepts, like planning, Indians, and scientific research, first had to be problematized. We know their meaning in our own country but what do they mean here, in an Indian reservation, in Minnesota, USA? Before proceeding with the research, we found we had to gain some deeper understanding of these questions. Therefore, we introduced the theoretical concepts of identity and sovereignty. Identity (identity is actually a theory; it assumes that there exists something that defines or is defined by a subject – or maybe even object). Sovereignty is maybe the key-factor in planning and development of tribal nations judging, at least, from the use of the notion of sovereignty in rhetoric. In our country, The Netherlands, people generally think they know what identity is; it is who you are, or it is the character of a place, or it is your culture. Even in planning, the concept is applied to say


something about a place; for instance, that it has a strong identity because there are many historical elements. For American Indians, as we found out, identity is much more complicated. The concept touches on many areas of interest. What is the American Indian? Is there one kind of American Indian? Who decides what American Indians are? Do you have to know who you are, before you know what you want? Should you know what you want, before you do planning? What do American Indians want? Do they live in wigwams? Do they drive cars? Is that what they want? Do the kids want to go to McDonalds too? In The Netherlands we kind of have a sense what the answers to these questions are. In Indian Reservations, we don’t. So we examined stories of American Indian history – both from the perspective of American text books, and from the stories of American Indians themselves. They often conflict; they select different elements from “actual” history and present those as what really happened. Americans celebrate the discovery of the continent and the settler life, while Indians talk about cultural domination, poverty, and genocide. There is no one truth out there. There are only multiple stories that can be strategically applied to either maintain the status quo, or to force a change. History has brought American Indians where they are now. It involves making choices, would they want to change that situation. In order to make a case for American Indians as a group, however, images have to be constructed – images of history, images of the enemy, images of the self. No single American person can be found who will claim responsibility for the poverty of American Indians. Still, many American Indians claim that it is America’s fault. The other way around: American Indians claim that their culture has been destroyed. But at the same time, many of them have adopted American culture, and frankly don’t want to go back to their old culture. The images are useful, but they are not always realistic. Rather, they are used to get something done. To create and maintain an image of American Indians as very wise, noble, and spiritual people, may benefit tourism and provide income. Another image is possible too: in some reservations casinos have been established that generate a lot of revenue. Because they don’t have to pay taxes (established by treaty) they keep a lot of money themselves, which they use to buy expensive homes and cars. This image can be used against American Indians. Planning involves strategically applying images of identity, images of the past, the present, and the future, in which sovereignty plays an important role. These images help to visualize a common future. In the state of poverty that most Indian communities are in, however, it is not easy to focus on long-term perspectives. Priority number one, for many American Indians, is to get enough money to make a decent living. In some cases the new casinos have provided such income. The only problem is that many people don’t know how to deal with money. Coming out of a situation of poverty, they tend to spend the money to fulfill short-term needs. In many cases, these short-term needs appear to be liquor, drugs or – somewhat better – cars, hamburgers, and expensive clothing. In short, it is hard for people to really think about a future beyond the next couple of weeks. Tribal sovereignty, the other important concept, in the United States is different from the versions developed in Europe before 1800 (Foucault, 2003), in the sense that Tribes are not totally sovereign. The main difference is that Indian Nations are internally sovereign, but externally they’re bound to the federal government of the United States. Tribes can not engage in relationships with other sovereign nations, but do have a government-to-government relationship with the United States


(Research Department of the Minnesota House of Representatives, 2003; Ebbott, 1985; Mitchell, 1997; Toulou, 2002). Most tribes possess and exercise internal powers, unless they have been terminated by the federal government. The internal powers are among others: the power to establish a form of government, to determine band membership, control entry on tribal lands, regulate the use and distribution of tribal property, and administer justice among band members and sovereign immunity, i.e. immunity from suit in federal court. Tribes have the power to determine which of these aspects of internal sovereignty they control (Toulou, 2002). This is all theory and generally accepted by federal, state and local governments (cf. Hibbard, 2006). There is, however, a discrepancy between the theory of sovereignty and the actual practice of sovereignty. The concept of sovereignty for instance, is not clear to everyone. It is a big word with very little practical content. The disputable status of sovereignty leads to a lot of issues, especially between tribal governments and counties, ranging from debate about hunting and fishing rights to issues concerning jurisdiction. Nevertheless, sovereignty is crucial, because it is used very strategically, and rhetorically by tribal governments in these kinds of disputes. There is a strong relationship between sovereignty and group identity. It is clear that sovereignty is a very important concept to both Minnesotan tribes and tribes others have studied (e.g. Hibbard, 2006). Tribes are very keen on asserting their sovereignty and constantly stress their distinct identity and pose it during every form of communication. This is necessary to retain their sovereign status, for sovereignty is defined partly based on a distinct group of people (Anderson, 1996). The central concept here is power, which inevitably comes into play, when differences of conceptions are largest, for instance the idea of sovereignty according to a tribal nation and the idea of sovereignty according to an adjacent county. One becomes to realize that a term, like sovereignty, can play a strategic role, getting attributed different legal statuses by different parties. Even for judges and attorneys, it becomes impossible to decide what the real legal status is, and who really is right in the debate. Rather than a rational process of finding out what the answer is, there emerges a big strategic game of truth. As Foucault (2003) pointed out, games of truth are more about power relations than they are about rationality. Every player in the game has at its disposal ancient and recent histories from which to choose elements, to present them as facts, to apply them for claiming rights, et cetera. In our research we came across a tribal government that claimed far-reaching sovereignty with reference to their treaty with the United States government in the 1850’s. A neighboring county, which opposes this tribe and claims rights over reservation territory too, challenges this treaty, pointing to a recent court case in South Dakota, where circumstances were similar, and a judge ruled in favor of the county (Kolb and Lopez, 2006). This battle is continuing to this day. Also Smith (1999:33) talks about these debated accounts of sovereignty. The problem is that there are different cultural frameworks and truth only exists within one framework. We add that when different frameworks are confronted with each other, it is to a large extent power relations that decide what comes to count as truth. Nonetheless, our position is uniquely privileged to analyze the different frameworks clashing with each other. To us this means that we have to consult the actors inside multiple frameworks or discourses. The main focus might be an indigenous community but this constructs its identity in relation to the outside world, for instance a neighboring county, constructing images of the outside world that might not be objectively corrected. This requires the


researcher, to some extent, to approach also important outside actors. In short, talking to multiple voices to get the story straight.

Gathering Data
We have already said a couple of times that our methodology involves a reflexive and flexible attitude rather than a collection of methods that guide you through a research project. Nonetheless, there are some methods and techniques that you will, and should always apply when doing a socialscientific case study. The first one is discourse analysis, which is actually somewhere in between method and methodology. In short, social reality is seen as consisting of many different discourses; professional discourses, academic discourses, anything that brings people together around a common theme or activity. Every discourse has a tendency to reaffirm itself, distinguishing itself from other discourses. But there is also a connection to the outside, while people are part of multiple discourses at the same time. The nature of discourse is dynamic. Discourses have a way of looking at the world, or rather of constructing the world, and while highlighting certain elements it is blind to other elements. Within discourse analysis all “units” of communication (e.g. speech, letters, articles, movies) within one discourse, and between a discourse and the outside world, are called texts. Texts are studied as regards their relationship with the discourse. In this way they can reveal characteristics of the discourse, and show what keeps the discourse alive and what threatens the discourse. Whereas discourse analysis is a relatively abstract method for data analysis, two main techniques for data gathering are left. Interviewing and observation are both concrete, practical and necessary ways of doing case study. For observation there is not any special guideline differently in American Indian context than in any other cultural context. Our position, only, is that observation is essential for shaping an image of the subject, as long as observation is balanced by commentary of local people or information discovered in interviewing and the analysis of texts (discourse analysis). Because interviewing is somewhat more far-reaching in that enter a relationship with the community, we want to present some considerations. Some would say that dealing with American Indians is much different from dealing with Americans (e.g. Swenson, 2006). You could have an appointment with an American Indian but you might find yourself talking about all kinds of topics that are not on your agenda, like some people went hunting, or someone put up a bungalow on the lakeshore. The pressure western people supposedly practice around business – let’s get back to business – is not always found in American Indian company. If in this company you suggest to get to the point, this will not be appreciated, and your results will probably be very minimal, for no American Indian would like to work with you. Supposedly this is part of the culture of American Indians, but we don’t have many examples to verify it. Our experiences with interviewing American Indians were quite good. A general problem with interviewing is that you get what you ask for. If you are looking for very specific information, you run the risk of not getting to know the person you talk to, and to miss opportunities for unexpected topics to turn up. Especially in this “cross-cultural” situation we would opt for a way of interviewing that is more like doing dialogue than doing a question-answer talk. As mentioned before, some or many American Indians want to have an idea about who they are dealing with, which, in our view, they are certainly entitled to. This can only be achieved in an open


interview, meaning you sometime have only a topic and two questions prepared, only for your reference. A reoccurring question is how to behave in relation to American Indians. This is understandable because sometimes the cultural difference is big. On the other hand, you should not get worried from studying cross-cultural research guidelines. If you try to stick too much to those guidelines you might make a strange, impersonal impression on your company, who really actually wants to know who you are, and not if you have learned the rules. Therefore, our position is that you don’t have to do everything perfectly well according to the book, but you should know, or learn in time, about some critical stuff. Many American-Indians are able to switch between cultures (bi-culturalism), and they know how Americans behave, and how they should behave when meeting with Americans. Some of them are even more American than Indian. To say it in terms of the cultural archive, different selections of knowledge can be made at every point in time, within every possible paradigm. We translate this into explicit methodology. Albeit the many structured methods of research scientists usually present, the actual making of scientific knowledge is full of “irrationalities” – connecting concepts from different fields, different layers, categories that are not compatible with each other; within a dynamic, reflexive, creative process. A multitude of implicit and explicit associations form in the head of the scientist. Rather than systematically performing research, creativily he makes connections between many different layers of thought, scientific paradigms, social situations, popular discourse, and academic theories, that are in themselves not compatible to each other. Also, rather than suggesting a problem can be out plotted in such a number of categories, in reality connections are made between logically and analytically incompatible categories. It is often only afterwards that scientific knowledge is presented in accordance to some “rational” model of inquiry and analysis. Our methodology, however, wants to acknowledge the “irrationality” of good scientific work. Naturally, presenting ones knowledge requires some kind of structure but the story of its coming into being is often somewhat more dynamic. In our view, arriving at new knowledge through unstructured, unexpected, and irrational ways, is nothing to be ashamed about. One should not create the impression that it was all about method but one should prefer a reflexive approach. This means that any method or framework designed ex-ante should be abandoned when actual findings in the research ask for new ways of looking. This reflexivity is one of the most important characteristics of postmodern planning research. Reflexivity is also seen in phronesis; it is essential in any approach to research of social reality. Unfortunately for modernists, reflexivity cannot be called a method, neither would we make a method out of it. Phronesis (Flyvbjerg, 2004) and reflexivity (Duineveld, 2007) are central to our perception of social science – and of postmodern planning research. Moreover, the suggestion of working relatively method-less is not a suggestion to do irresponsible science. Rather, it is a way of saying that responsibility has nothing to do with sticking to a method.

Acknowledging the problematic of social reality, the importance of power relations – and looking at the position of science, historically and methodologically – we adopt an attitude towards studying planning practices, best characterized as postmodern planning research. In this case study we visited two Indian reservations in the State of Minnesota, for which we undertook a methodological exploration of planning methodology in relation to decolonizing methodology and academic


indigenous discourse. The result is a postmodern planning research methodology that is informed by the indigenous discourse on history, science, and history of science. We thereby acknowledge the importance of indigenous perspectives. One cannot create a prescription on how to study American Indian communities. This article is a mixture of methodological considerations and contextual research suggestions. Part of the story is about our experiences in two specific reservations, part of it is a general framework of postmodern planning research. The approach we took was by no means prescribed, emerging gradually when the project progressed. It has been, therefore, highly context-dependent or contextual. This requires flexibility, which is also the lesson of this case study. Generalization, in general, is not a good idea. It is not bad to have a kind of conceptual framework (in this case: planning – sovereignty – identity) but one should always be prepared to adjust this framework if the case study demands so. Specific methods and techniques evolve from the case study underway. Moreover, this article should be taken as an inspiration for doing research in indigenous contexts; one should not look for a recepy. It is by hiding behind method and formality that one can impossibly make a difference. Some reoccurring themes have been introduced – sovereignty and identity – of which we think they are or can be of key importance, to be taken into consideration in most American Indian contexts. Sovereignty, according to Anderson (1996) is the key to American Indians lives. Sovereignty is something legal, but in everyday practice it has a very rhetorical function too. It stands in strong relationship with identity, although identity is not a term easily coined. Identity refers to continuing efforts of American Indians to distinguish from the dominant American society, sometimes leading to ‘identity crises’, for American Indians are necessarily becoming more American at the same time. Our methodology is phronetic, not in the sense of following Flyvbjerg’s (2004) framework of phronetic planning research, but in its broader sense of considering the subjective side of social reality as a world of value-rationality and power/knowledge. Doing research in a phronetic way entails the awareness of ones position as outsider and researcher, and the acknowledgement that one cannot be value-neutral. The alternative is an amoral attitude that involves a necessary reflexivity, attention to different perspectives, and will to consult multiple voices. The postmodern planning researchers is foremost a human being, and only secondly he is a scientist.

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