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


Despite widespread acknowledgment within planning scholarship that emotion - both present in knowledge and a form of knowledge - is integral to lived experience and the judgement of planners, it is often sidelined within planning practice. The extent to which mainstream planning has been able or willing to accommodate emotions remains constrained and the emotions of planners and the public remain an unacknowledged but pervasive presence. Antonio Ferreira recently highlighted in this journal the importance of attending to emotions at the level of the individual planner through the concept of mindfulness. We argue this approach must be complemented by an acknowledgement of the structural and institutional limitations of including emotions in planning practice. Drawing from the emotional geographies literature to describe a social-spatial conceptualisation of emotion, we highlight ontological and practical tensions associated with the achievement of the 'emotional turn' and advance a more purposeful engagement with emotion in mainstream planning practice.

Keywords: emotion, emotional geographies, planning, policymaking, ontologies, silencing, other ways of knowing

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. …

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