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JPER’s Top Cited Articles: The Debate over Communicative Planning

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In addition to presenting new research of general planning interest appearing in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, this blog will also from time to time highlight particularly notable historical articles or themes from our archive.

JPER has existed since the early 1980s but 4 of the top 5 articles date from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s and focus on the theory behind collaboration and communication in planning. For reasons of chronological coherence we will not discuss the articles as a count-down, but instead highlight JPER’s most cited article, followed by the rest of the top four which are all thematically related to each other, and culminate in a critical response to the ideas of communicative planning theory (Huxley and Yiftachel 2000).

1) Innes, Judith. 1995. Planning Theory’s Emerging Paradigm: Communicative Action and Interactive Practice. Journal of Planning Education and Research 1995 14: 183.

Innes boldly begins her 1995 article: “The long-bemoaned gap between theory and practice in planning is closing as a new type of planning theorist is beginning to dominate the field.” By this she meant that theory was turning into the interpretation of practice, instead of stylized or normative visions of ideal versions of planning.

Today, planning education emphasizes the importance of participation, and warns against the excesses of the rational model of planning as practiced during the early years of urban redevelopment during the 1950s and 1960s.  Much of this theory grows out of the need for representation first expressed in advocacy planning (Davidoff 1965), and the communicative planning movement. Instead of a systematic or normative approach to planning goals, the idea of communicative rationality (Hemmons and Stiftel 1980)[1] had gained strength during the 1980s and early 1990s through works by Patsy Healey (University of Newcastle, UK) and John Forester (Cornell University, NY), among many others (e.g. Charlie Hoch, UI-Chicago). Innes argues that early planning scholars were positivists, but the generation of scholars in the 1980s and 1990s had learned about planning not by postulating goals and abstract problems, but through direct observation of practice (e.g. Forester’s case studies in Planning in the Face of Power).

This new generation did not view planning as free of interests and values. They interpreted planners as “actors in the world rather than as observers or neutral experts.” (Innes 1995). They were in many ways the natural evolution of critical planners such as John Friedmann, and often looked to European thinkers influenced by the Frankfurt School (e.g. Heidegger, Giddens, and Habermas), but also drew heavily on American pragmatists (Dewey and Pierce).

That Innes’ 1995 piece should be the most cited article in JPER is curious. It came from a symposium and it does not include empirical research, but what it does is very succinctly summarize the state of planning research and the author’s own experience in building theory about how influential knowledge is socially constructed, such that “[l]earning, deciding, and acting could not be distinguished.” (185). In short, Innes helped crystallize the primacy of information within the study of planning during the 1990s.

2) Booher, David & Innes, Judith. 2002. Network Power in Collaborative Planning. Journal of Planning Education and Research 21: 221-236.

Subsequent work by Innes with David Booher built on the role of communication and reflected the rise of thinkers such as Manuel Castells, whose work shed light on how information flows in networks distribute power in society. In their 2002 article, Booher and Innes present a theory of how power and collaboration in planning operate in the information age “…where power depends on the flow of ideas through networks.” (2002, 225) Building on their earlier work in participation, Booher and Innes saw that network power could be used to develop ideas within collaborative frameworks of collations of actors if three (3) conditions are met: 1) diversity of agents/stakeholders, 2) recognition of mutual interdependence between agents, and 3) authentic dialog.[2] (2002, 227) Here one clearly observes the link between communicative rationality and Booher and Innes’ formulation of a planning methodology for the networked society. They viewed planners as both nodes within and facilitators of self-organizing systems of network collaboration. 

3) Healy, Patsy. 1999. Institutionalist Analysis, Communicative Planning, and Shaping Places. Journal of Planning Education and Research 19(2): 111-121.

Like Innes, Healy tries to offer an alternative to the modernist thinking of 20th Century planning, but instead of drawing on communicative rationality Healy bases her vision on “the new institutionalism in social science[s]”, and calls for tools from that field to be used to create a place-conscious policy framework to the perceived democratic deficit in development (1999, 212). Addressing this challenge required understanding the role of active agency versus structural dynamics, and how these worked in the context of social institutions. This is a slightly different approach than Innes and Booher, but Healy also mentions the importance of “webs “of knowledge and relationships. These, Healy argues, provide a means for understanding the context of social dynamics, while communicative approaches represent a normative basis for planning. She hoped that understanding these new approaches would lead to more robust place-based planning efforts that transcended the traditionally narrow approach to master planning.

4) Huxley, Margo & Yiftachel, Oren. 2000. New Paradigm or Old Myopia? Unsettling the Communicative Turn in Planning Theory. Journal of Planning Education and Research 19(4): 333-342.

Huxley and Yiftachel wrote the leading piece in a wider symposium issue that focused on whether the “communicative turn” “privilege[d] communication at the expense of its wider social and economic contexts.” More specifically, Huxley and Yiftachel worried that the new paradigm failed to recognize that planning generally revolves around “regulations and resources of the state” and the power and actors that shape them. This argument is supported by a series of propositions

Proposition 1: Claims to dominance and/or consensus among planning theorists appear to be overstated

Proposition 2: Communicative planning theory does not dislodge planning’s claims to universal legitimacy

Proposition 3: Leading communicative planning scholars conflate theorization with normative prescription.

Proposition 4: Studies of planning procedures and micro processes confuse theory with method and means with ends.

Proposition 5: The theorization of planning requires stepping outside the planning discourse.

Proposition 6: The theorization of planning cannot ignore the state and the public production of space generally about how (is current practice conducted) and not about what (its effects are) or why (it is like it is).

For Huxley and Yiftachel, communicative planning theorists had overlooked the importance of both the technical practice of planning and political power structures. This article opposes procedural theory to critical theory concerning the roles and actions of planners, and critiques the “communicative turn” for using universal language that may not be applicable to all situations and contexts, and thus further overstating its relevance and impact. To wit, points 3, 4 & 5 broadly argue that communicative theory “generally [provides insights] about how (is current practice conducted) and not about what (its effects are) or why (it is like it is),” and overlooks that it is also proffering a normative approach to practice.

Huxley and Yiftachel (2000) thus question the idea of prioritizing the study of practice within planning theory and shed doubt on the argument that communicative planning is a true paradigm. In particular they critique the scant attention paid to “...theories derived from historical materialist, political economy traditions; or that approaches derived from critical cultural studies or Foucauldian inspirations...” (e.g. work by Huxley and Yiftachel, Bent Flyvbjerg, Philip Allmendinger, Susan Fainstein, Mickey Lauria, etc.).

Looking back on this series of articles, many of the themes have remained important in the last 18 years, such as the argument that information should be the base of any framework for “communicative action.”  Innes (1995) anointed the communicative turn in planning as the new dominant planning discourse and Healy (1996 & 1999) highlighted the need to frame this new approach within an institutionalist context.

In practice, communicative action in planning has involved emphasizing the role of community learning in public decision making, and recognizing the interaction of knowledge and power via Critical Theory. The search for emancipatory knowing and planning is still important in planning research, but Innes’ framework has largely been replaced with issues of planning and problem-solving around topics such as urban agriculture, equity, and transportation (see JPER most downloaded).

JPER recognizes that these four articles may not represent the most current debates in planning theory and practice. However, we think that they crystallize much of the context for current theory and research. Future posts will contain similar summaries of other highly downloaded articles both by topic and in more recent time periods. 

We invite readers to critique and respond to these works both from the context of practice and theory. Nearly 20 years after Innes' article, where do planners stand today in terms of these questions and debates? Are they still relevant or has the profession moved on to new issues and arguments? We look forward to your comments.

Post Author: Tom Douthat

Executive Editors: Dr. Nancey Green Leigh and Dr. Subhro Guhathakurta

Managing Editor: Luci Yamamoto (

[1] Hemmens, G. and Stiftel, B. 1980. ‘Sources for the Renewal of Planning Theory. Journal of the American Planning Association  46: 341–5.

[2] The water and estuary system CALFED is their most common example of such a system.


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