Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Professionalism and Planning in Britain

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Professionalism and Planning in Britain

Article excerpt

The idea of 'the profession' has been vigorously debated and contested in the past half century and the 1980s, in particular, witnessed an assault stemming from disparate origins, on professionalism and the claims by particular occupations to 'exclusive cognitive authority'. However, this assault did not presage the end of professionalism as many predicted and, indeed, there are signs that the academic community is rediscovering the virtues of professional values in an age when consumerism and managerialism have become dominant ideologies. Our purpose in this paper is to locate town planning within this wider debate concerning professionalism. It begins, therefore, by establishing a conceptual framework derived from a review of approaches to the study of the professions and professionalism. This is followed by an examination, in relation to these different approaches, of the literature concerning the profession of planning in Britain with the aim of illuminating some of the particular characteristics, tensions and issues that have been significant in its development. Our purpose is not to establish whether planning is or is not a profession but to identify what is distinctive about it, what issues are currently salient and what they imply for its future, and what are the implications of the analysis for the directions of academic research.

The profession of planning is at a turning point. Writing in 1999 Malcolm Grant argued that the UK's professional association, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) 'faces an enormous challenge if it is to hold its position in the new world of professional competition, let alone advance the cause of its present and continuing members' (Grant, 1999, 25). In the period since then the Institute has embarked upon a programme of 'evolutionary radical change' (RTPI, 2001) which is being accompanied by major changes to its governance and a fundamental review of its role in the education and training of new recruits to the profession as well as its established members (RTPI, 2003). A major overhaul of the statutory basis of the planning system (DTLR, 2001; ODPM, 2002; 2003) has also been completed and has resulted in major legislative change in the form of the Planning and Compensation Act 2004.

It is timely, therefore, to reflect on the status of the planning profession and the way it is responding to change. Our purpose is to examine spatial planning within the broader debate concerning professionalism. The recent past has witnessed renewed academic interest in professional values in a period when consumerism and managerialism have become dominant ideologies. The paper seeks to reassess the profession of planning in the context of this wider literature. The paper is divided into three parts. The first provides a conceptual framework by reviewing approaches to the study of the professions and professionalism. The second examines in relation to these different approaches some of the literature concerning the profession of planning in Britain with the purpose of illuminating some of the particular characteristics, tensions and issues which have been distinctive in its development. The third and final section summarises the salient points emerging from the discussion and identifies priorities for future research.

The concept of a 'profession'

The concept of a 'profession' is a fluid and ambiguous one (Grant, 1999). In a general sense, for example, it refers to any occupation which requires expertise acquired by specialised training. In a more limited and traditional sense, it refers to those occupations which have powers of self regulation. This self regulation provides occupational control by means of which specialised knowledge is traded for 'social capital' (Torstendahl, 1990, 2) or One order of scarce resources (expertise created through standardised training and testing at the higher levels of the formal education system)' is translated 'into another (market opportunities, work privileges, social status or bureaucratic rank)' (Larson, 1990, 30). …

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