Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Rethinking Planning Culture: A New Institutionalist Approach

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Rethinking Planning Culture: A New Institutionalist Approach

Article excerpt

Scholars of planning have long grappled with the dilemma of how to explain variation among places' traditions, modes or styles of planning practice and the legal and institutional frameworks that govern spatial development and implement planning policies. In a related effort, historians have explored the international diffusion of planning ideas and practices, the study of which has gained contemporary relevance in the context of European integration and globalisation. At the core of these enterprises is an attempt to understand change - to specify how and why planning practices are changing and why distinct patterns of planning practice have evolved in different places and at different times. Recent work has embraced the concept of 'planning culture' as the basis for explanation, yet this work has lacked focus. This article argues that historical institutionalism as developed in the social sciences provides a more precise explanatory framework for comparative planning research.

Keywords: planning culture, new Institutionalism, historical Institutionalism, planning history, compara- tive planning systems

Scholars of planning have long grappled with the dilemma of how to characterise differences among places' traditions, modes or styles of planning practice and the legal and institutional frameworks that govern spatial development and implement planning policies (Larsson, 2006; Masser and Williams, 1986; Newman and Thornley, 1996). In a related effort, historians of planning have explored the international diffu- sion of planning ideas and practices (Healey and Upton, 2010; Home, 1997; Ward, 2000). Once of largely historical interest, studies of cross-national influence and exchange have gained contemporary relevance in the context of European integra- tion and globalisation (Tewdwr-Jones and Williams, 2001). At the core of these enter- prises is an attempt to understand change - to specify how and why planning practices have changed and are still changing today and why distinct patterns of change have occurred in different places and at different times. Recent work on these topics has embraced culture as the basis for explanation (Knieling and Othengrafen, 2009; Sanyal, 2005), yet for the most part this work has been vague and unfocused. Quite different social phenomena have been conflated under the rubric of 'planning culture' with the effect of undermining its analytic traction.

In this article I argue that the new institutionalist paradigm - particularly the genre of historical institutionalism as developed in political science, sociology and political economy - can provide a more precise explanatory framework for compara- tive research on planning systems and practices. The new institutionalism refers to a diverse family of approaches to understanding stability change and causal processes in social and economic systems. Historical institutionalism emerged in political science and political sociology in the 1970s as a rejection of several themes that had dominated the social sciences since the early 1950s: the atomistic rationalism and society-centrism of behaviouralism (Campbell et ah, i960), the system-level generali- sations of structural-functionalists (Almond and Powell, 1966; Parsons and Smelser, 1956), the pluralist presumptions of system self-equilibration and therefore stability (Dahl, 1961) and the ethnocentrism of linear stage theories of modernisation and development (see Gilman, 2007). While divergent in their methods and interests, new institutionalists conceptualise institutions neither as epiphenomenal to economic structure or culture, nor as passive background conditions or arenas in which social relations occur. Rather, institutions are seen as causal variables that structure the opportunities and constraints faced by individual and collective actors and therefore favour some outcomes or patterns of activity over others.

The article begins by describing the emergence of cultural analysis as a means of explaining the international diffusion of planning ideas and as the basis for comparing national planning frameworks and processes. …

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