Pragmatic Communicative Action Theory
Journal of planning education and research
Downloaded from In a recent essay, Susan Fainstein (2005) argues for planning theory to more directly address the issue of the "just" city. In making her case, she criticizes CA theory as a process-oriented planning theory that mistakenly focuses attention on superficial talk rather than more consequential structures of power. Several years ago, this journal sponsored a symposium critiquing the communicative turn in planning theory, ideas that Fainstein directly draws on in her essay. In the
... posium introduction, Huxley and Yiftachel (2000) compared the ideas of CA analysts against the ideas of critical realists such as themselves. CA planning analysts study what professional planners do (Forester 1989; Healey 1997; Stein and Harper 2003) , while critical realists study how planning actually gets done (Fainstein 2001 , Flyvberg 1998 , Huxley 1997 , Yiftachel 1995 . Huxley and Yiftachel pose six propositions: Exaggerated CA falsely claims paradigm status for normative ideals (proposition 1). Universalist CA inadvertently justifies the imposition of Western rationality onto other cultures (proposition 2). The combination of epistemological idealism (proposition 1) and theoretical provincialism (proposition 2) fosters four related theoretical shortcomings: Normative CA gives an exclusively normative account of planning and thereby fails to explain planning as it really exists (proposition 3). Emphasizing ideals and strategies for improved communication does not help us comprehend how planning actually takes place. Understanding requires a more critical analytical and explanatory account of the wide range of institutions and practices shaping urban development. Narrow CA inspires research that focuses exclusively on planning as communication conducted mainly by professional planners and so overlooks plans and planning undertaken by other more powerful institutions and people (proposition 4). Provincial CA exaggerates the importance of professional planning as a guide for urban development and assumes an undeserved theoretical stature justifying the study of what these professionals do (proposition 5). Urban theory drawing on the social sciences provides a more realistic and accurate framework for understanding the causes and reasons for urban development. Naïve CA treats planning as a public policy process that functions independently of larger and more powerful institutional influences, most importantly, the powerful role of the state (proposition 6). Abstract Communicative action (CA) theory need not displace the critical insights of social scientists, geographers, and other urban scholars about the processes of social, economic, and political change that shape urban settlements. CA analysts believe we settle differences in research findings and interpretations by studying the consequences these differences produce instead of claiming philosophical trump. In the first part of this article, I summarize and critique the argument that CA theory is unrealistic explaining of how CA analysts care more about relevant consequences than causal certainty. In the second part of the article, taking some conceptual advice from social theorist Jurgen Habermas, I show how CA analysis can combine structural and intentional concepts to revise and integrate the apparent antagonism between comprehensiveness and compromise for planning practice. I conclude that a pragmatic CA provides a useful and critical theory for planning practice that remains open to future challenge and debate.