Bringing Power to Planning Research
Sep 29, 2009 12:54 PM
by Govert Schuller
Just found (and immersed myself into) the work of a social scientist, Bent Flyvbjerg, with both a pragmatic hands-on attitude and a grounding in post-modern philosophy of power.
His research is quite impactful in the the field of organizational planning, especially urban development, and on a more theoretical level. His 'best-seller' is "Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How it Can Succeed Again."
His relevance to us is twofold:
1) His research might help to understand some of the processes going on with the development of the roads and high-ways possibly on and around Adyar, and based on that understanding, to be more effective in having our voice heard.
2) His research is eminently applicable to the TS and that on any level. He beliefs in the values of democratic participation and transparency, but sees the need of an analysis of power as it is actually yielded and the relations it engenders. One of his main concerns is the relation between rationality and power regardless of the often fine sounding norms and ideals an organization might trumpet.
He caught my attention because of the term 'phronetic planning research,' which is how he calls his method. Pronesis is one of Aristotle's 'intellectual virtues,' meaning prudence, or applied wisdom (Sophia: with Sophia being knowledge about the eternal laws of our being and Phronesis being the skill to live virtuously in an ever changing context), or savoir vivre, or situational, circumspective, deliberative, interpretative, authentic, temporal care of our Dasein (be-ing-t/here).
The last string of terms comes from Heidegger, who did an in-depth, sustained phenomenological deconstruction of Aristotole's philosophy including the virtue of phronesis. According to some Division B of Heidegger's opus magnum "Being and Time" is one long phenomenological 'un-packing' of human phronetic action seen as situational, circumspective, deliberative, interpretative, authentic, temporal care of our Dasein.
The first article is about how he got engaged in his field of research and is very enlightening, especially regarding his methodology.
The second article is a longer, more abstract venture into a philosophical and pragmatic underpinning of his methodology.
Bringing Power to Planning Research: One Researcher's Praxis Story
By Bent Flyvbjerg, Aalborg University, Denmark
This article provides an answer to what has been called the biggest problem in theorizing and
understanding planning, namely the ambivalence about power found among planning
researchers, theorists, and students. The author narrates how he came to work with issues of
power. He then gives an example of how the methodology he developed for power studies,
called "phronetic planning research," may be employed in practice. Phronetic planning
research follows the tradition of power studies running from Machiavelli and Nietzsche to
Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu. It focuses on four value-rational questions: (1) Where
are we going with planning? (2) Who gains and who loses, and by which mechanisms of
power? (3) Is this development desirable? (4) What should be done? These questions are
exemplified for a specific instance of Scandinavian urban planning. The author finds that the
questions, and their answers, make a difference to planning in practice. They make planning
Phronetic Planning Research: Theoretical and Methodological Reflections
By Bent Flyvbjerg, Aalborg University, Denmark
ABSTRACT This article presents the theoretical and methodological considerations behind a
research method which the author calls 'phronetic planning research'. Such research sets out to
answer four questions of power and values for specific instances of planning: (1) Where are we
going with planning? (2) Who gains and who loses, and by which mechanisms of power? (3) Is
this development desirable? (4) What, if anything, should we do about it? A central task of
phronetic planning research is to provide concrete examples and detailed narratives of the ways
in which power and values work in planning and with what consequences to whom, and to
suggest how relations of power and values could be changed to work with other consequences.
Insofar as planning situations become clear, they are clarified by detailed stories of who is doing
what to whom. Clarifications of that kind are a principal concern for phronetic planning research
and provide the main link to praxis.
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