Insurgencies, Citizenship, & Planning Part 2: Planning literature

From "Insurgency" to "Insurgent Planning"?

From “Insurgency” to “Insurgent Planning”?


There is a tangible link between people and places. Planners must go beyond municipal politics and ground planning into actual social movements/struggles for social identity and/or rights. The constant redefinition of “citizenship”- and thus the “values” considered relevant by them- occurs via such social movements, so “insurgencies” are necessary accommodations in planning practice.

The earlier post spoke about the idea that planning for equity necessitates the need to talk about the role of the people who make up the community/collective being planned for. That post grew tremendously long when I included the relevant planning literature references, so I figured it might be worthwhile to separate the pop-culture references from the literature-heavy ones. For those with a heftier interest in the literature, continue reading.


The Role of the People

While public participation is incorporated into all planning strategies to varying degrees, it is advocacy planning, equity planning, radical planning, and insurgent planning that progressively build towards the justification of a powerful role for the citizenry in planning.

There are two connotations: one, the illustration that tangible planning outcomes are achievable under such ‘participation-centric’ planning strategies, and two, there is justification for the occasional need for citizenry to take centre-stage in decision-making, and not just be ‘participants’.


The ‘Evolution’ of Participation-Centric Planning

There is some pivotal literature on these four types of planning strategies:

Paul Davidoff (1965) talks about the advocacy planner having to do what traditional planners do, with the added responsibility of executing the following tasks: planners must look into all the value systems representing various factions of the public, and make the public aware of these inherent conflicts-of-interest that might require selecting between value systems on a case-by-case basis. They thus act as educators and generalists, and as advocates of the underrepresented value systems.

Norman Krumholz (1982) showed how these three roles can be undertaken by planners, but went a step further to talk about these roles being important in light of achieving equity and solving the issues that are sourced in inequity- inequity in income and otherwise. So Davidoff’s version of advocacy planning serves to delineate the roles of educator, generalist, and advocate that planners must don, and Krumholz gives the goal of “equitable urban development” for which these roles should be executed.

Victoria Beard (2003) reveals that although radical planning is “disruptive” and “oppositional”, it is sourced in community-based planning, and should thus be considered just as mainstream as the other planning theories and are not bracketed merely as ‘revolutionary’. John Friedmann (2011) gave radical planning theory importance in light of its role in expanding political consciousness and collective self-reliance, and legitimized its existence in day-to-day planning by illustrating how, for instance the funding of ‘radical’ agendas can be fulfilled in increments, or how planners can ‘mediate’ the pushing of small projects that are part of ‘radical’ agendas.

James Holston (1995) talks about the anarchical and ever-changing social tapestry in cities that makes it difficult to adopt the “single solution” bent of modernism. Since there is no single collective whose interests the planners are supposed to work to achieve, there is no utopia. The modernist CIAM principles have an inherent flaw in terms of its intangibility: there is tension between what exists in reality and what is imagined by modernists for the future, but these imagined version(s) do not rest on anything tangible but rather “absent clauses”. Plus, this intangibility illustrates that the “new social order” that is being imagined is a subjective one, so establishing it is a matter of forcing subjective opinions (likely of those in power) onto others, and there is nothing utopian about that. However, without abandoning the “modernists’ activist commitments…[towards] the construction of the state”, Holston suggests taking this evolving collective’s evolving values into consideration using the “spaces of insurgent citizenship”. In a way I suppose he fuses the ‘activist’ sentiment of modernist planners with the postmodern focus on the heterogeneous citizenry/collective to legitimize insurgent planning.


Tangible Outcomes from Social Upheaval?

Beard’s concept of radical planning emerging from “covert planning” for social transformation was drawn from a “longitudinal study” of informal settlements along the Code River, Yogyakarta. She used three cases showcasing the development of a health care clinic, a pavement project, and then a library project by residents in the informal settlements along the Code River to explain how the foundation for radical planning evolved under an authoritarian regime.

The first step was that of participation in the top-down centrist planning scheme, with the establishment of the Mother and Child Health Care Clinic. Next came community-based planning, reflected in the self-identification of needs leading to the self-facilitated establishment of a clinic for the elderly. Then, covert planning in the pavement project; and lastly, the element of radical planning shone through in the move by the local youth group to assert a land tenure claim by building and maintaining a library in the informal settlements as a source of organization and neighbourhood autonomy, after their calls for land tenure fell on the deaf ears of the regime.

This delivered an important lesson: that ‘regular’ community-based planning could also be a source of– not just a remnant of– a radical social transformation. That a sense of “collective agency” is something that is established progressively so that it gains strength in terms of both knowledge and experience to the point that larger claim(s) can be demanded. Incorporating these lessons from planning practice into planning theory serves to legitimize the use/acceptance of these strategies in future planning practice too.


Legitimizing Insurgencies. Citizens take Centre-stage.

Holston talks about how “decontextualisation, defamiliarisation, and dehistoricisation” is inherent in the use of intangible principles like those of CIAM, leading to a worsening of the conditions sought to be avoided by planners. The example given was that of how traffic circulation was sought to remove barriers between people, but instead, as a result of “interiorisation”, privatisation of social relations occurred, so the goal of egalitarianism was lost. These unintended consequences occurred because of the architecture/planning focus as opposed to the more tangible society/people focus. Holston says it is arrogant and false to ignore the “conflict, indeterminacy, and ambiguity” characteristic of actual social life and the unintended consequences of actions. In recognizing the multiplicity inherent in society, and its ever-changing form, planners must retract from their obsession “with the design of objects and with the execution of plans and policies”, and work instead with “an ethnographic conception of the social and its spaces of insurgence”.


In the next post, I explore some interesting literature on incorporating insurgencies with planning prerogatives in the Global South.


4 thoughts on “Insurgencies, Citizenship, & Planning Part 2: Planning literature

  1. Shruti,
    Thanks for sharing this. You did an excellent job of articulating many of the thoughts floating inside my head! However, I think that your analysis is missing something….and perhaps you are going to include it elsewhere. If citizen participation is so important (which I think that it is), why are we leaving planning to the state? Should NGOs play a bigger role? Should NGOs plan? Do you view your work with water in India as a type of planning outside of the state.

    I guess that this post isn’t reallly about that, it is just on how people are involved, but those are my thoughts from reading.

    • Juliana,

      I wish I had a more comprehensive answer to your query, but perhaps that shall be a post for later. Here’s the gist of it:

      1. Literature such as that mentioned in this post reveals that planning occurs at multiple levels, and that sometimes such non-State planning finds legitimacy in planning theory (and perhaps consequently in planning practice sometimes).

      2. Plans by State and non-State actors are different, and while I think planning should be a State duty, citizens should not “leave planning to the State” because it is just as much our prerogative. This launches a debate on citizenship and all that comes with it.

      With respect to NGOs, I am working on a few blog posts that I will leave behind as another comment on this chain once I’m done putting them up on the blog.

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