Supporting Mindful Planners in a Mindless System: Limitations to the Emotional Turn in Planning Practice

By Osborne, Natalie; Grant-Smith, Deanna | The Town Planning Review, November 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Supporting Mindful Planners in a Mindless System: Limitations to the Emotional Turn in Planning Practice


Osborne, Natalie, Grant-Smith, Deanna, The Town Planning Review


Introduction

Since the turn against positivism in the twentieth century, scholars - including many planning scholars (for example, Davoudi, 2012; Friedmann, 2011; Sandercock, 1998a, Sandercock and Forsyth, 2005) - have critiqued the notions of objectivity and rationality at the heart of the positivist paradigm, arguing that other forms of knowing (lived, tacit, situated, embodied) are valuable and that pure objectivity and rationality are rarely, if ever, achieved. In this context emotion is understood as an ever-present but often unacknowledged influence on praxis. The 'communicative turn' in planning specifically challenged the positioning of planning professionals as neutral, technical experts engaged in rational and objective decision-making processes (Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones, 2002; Healey, 2009; Rydin, 2007; Sandercock, 1998a; Saarikoski, 2002) and aimed to open participation to broader perspectives. Coupled with the growth in interpretivist approaches, which consider social and cultural dimensions of place (Davoudi, 2012) and the pragmatic stream of planning thought, which emphasises the situatedness, intuitive and emotional dimensions of planning practice (Healey, 2009; Hoch, 1984), planning has become, 'less and less about technical matters' (Friedmann, 1998, 250).

While this less technocratic approach has provided some opportunities for participants and practitioners to expand their knowledge of the positions and values of others (Healey, 1996) and created space for planners to recognise emotions, the accommodation of emotive and aesthetic forms of reasoning has arguably had a more limited influence on mainstream planning practice and decision-making. A commitment to the ideal of the rational, technical and objective expert (Throgmorton, 2003) has arguably influenced planners' willingness to actively engage with emotion, as it is perceived to decentre or diminish their professional standing or judgement (Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones, 2002). As such emotion may be 'overlooked by planners' (Buitelaar, 2009, 1062) as 'an unwelcome intrusion into a supposedly rational process' (Cass and Walker, 2009, 62) in which planners 'conceptualise themselves as professionals not emotionally engaged with the work' they do (Ferreira, 2013, 703). This is despite many planning scholars emphasising the emotional content of planning issues and the fact that engaging with emotion (particularly of applicants and opponents) is a key part of the daily work of practitioners (Baum, 1999; Fischer, 2009; Tewdwr-Jones, 2002). Emotion - both as a source of knowledge and as an influence on the decision-making and actions of planners - remains marginalised in mainstream practice and a 'wicked' problem that practitioners struggle to address (Vining, 1992).

A number of these issues were explored by Antonio Ferreira (2013) in a recent paper in this journal, in which he exposed the 'uncomfortable truth' (703) of the emotional nature of planning. Ferreira called for a more nuanced understanding of the importance and centrality of emotion in planning and the development of approaches to assist planners in dealing with emotion. Focussing on the emotions of the individual planner, Ferreira applied mindfulness theory as a practical means of equipping planners with the skills and capacity to deal with emotions at work. Other planning scholars have also problematised the framing of the rational, objective expert planner by exploring the importance of emotions, experience, thinking and judgement in planning practice (Hillier, 1995; Jones, 2013; Tewdwr-Jones, 2002) and emphasising the importance of planners becoming better equipped (through education and/or skills development) to work with emotions in planning practice (Fischer, 2009; Forester, 1987).

Building on Ferreira's call to (re)acknowledge emotions in planning practice, we examine the structural (rather than individual) factors that shape the ways emotion is included within both planning practice and decision-making. …

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