International Institute for Innovation in Governance


planning theory

Flat ontology and evolving governance

This paper explores the consequences of a flat ontology for planning theory and practice through the lens of Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT). It presents a perspective in which the ontological hierarchies assumed in planning and beyond are left behind, but also one that allows for understanding how hierarchies and binaries can emerge from and within governance and specifically planning. In this perspective planning is conceptualised as a web of interrelated social-material systems underpinning the coordination of policies and practices affecting spatial organization. Within this web, different planning perspectives and planning practices co-exist and co-evolve, partly in relation to the wider governance contexts of which they are part. We explore and deepen our understanding of the consequences of flat ontology by focusing on the interrelations between power and knowledge and the varied effects of materiality on planning and governance as materiality can play roles ranging from latent infrastructure to main triggers of change. We conclude our paper by assessing the consequences for the positionality of planning in society, stressing the need for more reflexive and adaptive forms of planning and governance, and reflection on what such forms of planning could look like. We argue that despite the abstract nature of discussions on ontology in and of planning, the conceptual shifts that result from thinking in terms of flat ontologies can significantly affect planning practices as it can inspire new ways of observing and organizing.

Keywords: Planning; Evolutionary Governance Theory; theory and practice; flat ontology

Beunen, R., Duineveld, M., Van Assche, K. (2021) Flat ontology and evolving governance: consequences for planning theory and practice . disP – The Planning Review 57 (2): 112-123.

Witchcraft, oracle, and magic in the kingdom of planning: A reflection on planning theory and practice

“This paper offers a response to a claim in Planning Theory that “there is no planning—only planning practices“.

“When a highly esteemed colleague as Prof Alexander looks back at his distinguished career and observes a stockpile of problems in the planning discipline, to the extent that both planning and planning theory seem to lose their unity and validity (Alexander, 2016), there is ample reason to listen”.

What exactly then is the problem? Is planning facing a deep crisis, and might it be on the verge of vanishing, as philosophy has left us, as the novel has been declared dead, together with God? Well, for many, God, philosophy and the novel are very much alive, and the proclamations of existential threat are usually marks of a transitional stage, not the end. Even the boogeyman of neo- liberalism did not kill planning, nor did the competition with other expert groups. What seems at stake here is the soul of planning in a very modernist understanding of the field; a field where modernist philosophies lingered on much longer than in neighboring disciplines and fields (Van Assche et al.,2014).

What, indeed, looks highly unlikely at the moment is a degree of cohesion in theory and practice which can only exist in a modernist phantasy of planners assisting governments to optimize spatial organization in a scientific, that is, unambiguous manner. In this myth the plan is endowed with magical powers of coordination, leading to its own implementation, and where power/knowledge dynamics suddenly stops after the planner enters the room.

This enduring bewitching by modernism one can easily discern in planning theory and praxis. One can see it in the continuous confusion of analytic and normative statements within and beyond academia, in the general lack of reflection on normativity, in the overly high expectations of theory, as somehow able to tell practitioners what to do. It is present in the courses on planning ethics, which pretend to know what correct behavior is, without even trying to engage with the variety of ethical theories. The witchcraft is at work among the adepts of collaborative planning, where many still expect to find a magical formula which reveals the ultimate balance between participation and representation, in procedures enabling the perfectability of space and society…..”

The full article can be downloaded here

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