THE LANGUAGE OF PLANNING: A Look at the Uses of Critical and Feminist Theory

Lisa Servon
1993 Berlceloy Planning Journal I   unpublished
The point of engaging in political struggles. .. is to alter power relations.-Paul Rabinow Planning theory is an ill-defined body of literature that is supposed to guide planning practice. The object of this paper is to challenge the appropriateness of traditional planning theory, to expose the places where it grows thin, and to begin the question-asking process that can lead to change. John Friedmann (1987: 318) writes recently of a •crisis in planning," marked by an apparent failure of
more » ... t failure of scientific and technical reason. In planning, recogn ition of the inadequacy of the •rational" branch of theory arises from the recogn ition that planning is messy business, that values vie with facts in a decision-making arena domi­ nated by politics rather than rational objectivity. Acknowledging the political nature of planning entails asking questions about power, about the fa ult lines along which decisions get made and through which the allocation of resources takes place. Critical theory, which involves challenging generally accepted insti­ tutions, power structures, and ways of analyzing the world, has re­ cently garnered support in planning circles as a tool that might help to correct this imbalance. John Forester, the leading advocate of critical practice in planning today, has formulated a strategy of communicative action for planners to improve their own practice: By recogn izing planning as normatively role-structured communication action which distorts, covers up, or reveals to the public the prospects and possibilities they face, a critical theory of planning aids us practically and ethically as wel l (Forester 1980: 283).