Rationale of the book



Rationale of the book

Active civic participation and stakeholder engagement have opened endless possibilities in city-making in the last decades. This promising turn in city planning and design is connected to communication and communicative rationality. The pivotal role of communication in solving the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (Ostrom, 2015) has come to underscore the importance of the ‘communicative turn’ in spatial planning and its ability to distribute the benefits and burdens of development. Most importantly, the ’communicative turn’ has provided opportunities to realize the democratic project through active civic participation in the pursuit of the right to the city.

But has it been successful? Our hypothesis, based on evidence collected as academics and practitioners, is that despite the promises of communicative planning theory, most planning practice around the world remains technocratic and exclusionary. There have certainly been revolutionary, ground-breaking experiences, but they remain mostly one-off and isolated experiences. This is underscored by the recent crisis in communicative rationality that has pervaded democracies everywhere.

This book addresses the most pressing challenge facing spatial planning today, i.e. to become a tool for democracy building and continuous civic education and participation for the right to the city. We base our ideas on the writings of Patsy Healey, for whom communicative planning goes beyond old paradigms of technocratic planning based on the knowledge of experts. Instead:

“ (…) It starts from the recognition that we are diverse people living in complex webs of economic and social relations, within which we develop potentially very varied ways of seeing the world, of identifying our interests and values, of reasoning about them, and of thinking about our relations with others”. (Healey, 1996, p.3)

Healey goes on by identifying the potential for conflict in searching for ways to redistribute the fruits of development and the use of limited resources and asserts that this “new wave of ideas” (now more than 30 years old) related to communicative rationality focuses rather on the way we get to discuss and decide those issues in the public realm, undertaking strategic consensus-building. Healey attributes the communicative turn in planning to powerful ideas about communication and communicative rationality, many of them stemming from Habermas. For Habermas, we are not…

“…autonomous subjects competitively pursuing our individual preferences but (…) our sense of ourselves and of our interests is constituted through our relations with others, through communicative practices. Our ideas about ourselves, our interests, and our values are socially constructed through our communication with others and the collaborative work this involves” (Healey, 1996, p.3).

Healey asserts that these ideas focus on ways of “reconstructing the meaning of a democratic practice” based on more inclusive practices of “inclusionary argumentation”. For Healey, this is equivalent to a form of …

public reasoning which accepts the contributions of all members of a political community and recognises the range of ways they have of know, valuing, and giving meaning. Inclusionary argumentation as a practice thus underpins conceptions of what is being called participatory democracy (Fischer, 1990; Held, 1987) (…).  Through such argumentation, a public realm is generated through which diverse issues and diverse ways of raising issues can be given attention. In such situations, as Habermas argues, the power of the ‘better argument’ confronts and transforms the power of the state and capital”.  (Healey, 1996, p.3) (our emphasis)

The generation (or re-generation) of a public realm through communicative rationality in planning practices speaks to the concept of PUBLICNESS, of public imagination and of collective undertakings to face the direst challenges of our time (inequality, exclusion, climate change, explosive urbanisation and the discredit of democracy, among others).Without a democratic public realm, we cannot achieve social, cultural, economic, or environmental sustainability. These ideas are, we think, at the root of insurgent planning practices which aim to reconstitute the public sphere, subverting established orders of exclusion and/or oppression and reinforcing democracy and inclusion through the exercise of the ‘Right to the City’ (Harvey, 2008).

Our idea of ‘insurgent planning practice’ comes from James Holston, for whom:

“Insurgent citizenships confront the entrenched [order] with alternative formulations of citizenship; in other words, that their conflicts are clashes of citizenship and not merely idiosyncratic or instrumental protest and violence”. (Holston, 2009, p.246).

In other words, insurgent citizenship seeks to reformulate established orders and to literally ‘conquer’ the space of the city, subverting relationships of exclusion and oppression through political action. In this sense, we see communicative planning as an emerging tool that acknowledges the need to promote inclusion and participation and to re-constitute a notion of publicness. For this reason, we are careful with the word “citizenship” itself. As for Holston, citizenship is used here to express belonging to the realm of public inclusionary argumentation and the “right to have rights”, rather than a sign of national belonging.

Likewise, insurgent planners are the ones who push the boundaries of technocratic planning practices in order to enable city dwellers to reassert their rights to the city and their “right to rights”.

We see insurgent planners as those who are pushing the boundaries of planning towards the reformulation of established orders of spatial production, and who are facilitating, articulating or reformulating the way by which city dwellers construe their own identities and make their cities.

This book explores the practices and experiences of insurgent planners educated for communication and democracy in a professional world usually hostile to radical ideas. Traditional planning has often worked to serve the interests of the most affluent and powerful, and our hypothesis is that planning departments around the world struggle to implement a democratic agenda of participation, civic engagement, and democracy-building in view of the prevalence of market concerns.

What characterizes an insurgent planner, pushing the boundaries of the profession, leading the way into new forms of planning and designing cities? How are young radical planners coping with traditional, technocratic planning as practiced in most places around the world? Does this person exist at all? And what do they do to advance an agenda of democratization and the implementation of the right to the city?



Belda‐Miquel, S, Peris Blanes, J. and Frediani, A. (2016). Institutionalization and depoliticization of the right to the city: Changing scenarios for radical social movements. International Journal of Urban and Regional Planning 40, 321-339.

Harvey, D. (2008). The Right to the City. New Left Review, (53), 23–40. https://doi.org/10.1080/13604819608713449

Healey, P. (1996). The communicative turn in planning theory and its implications for spatial strategy formation. Environment and Planning B, 23, 217–234.

James Holston. (2009). Insurgent Citizenship in an Era of Global Urban Peripheries. City & Society, 21(2), 245–267. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-744X.2009.01024.x.

Miraftab, F.  (2004). Making neoliberal governance: the disempowering work of empowerment. International Planning Studies 9(4), 239-259.

Miraftab, F. (2009). Insurgent planning: Situating radical planning in the global south. Planning Theory, 8(1), 32-50.

Miraftab, F. (2017) ‘Insurgent Practices and Decolonization of Future(s)’, in Gunder, M., Madanipour, A., and Watson, V. (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Planning Theory. Routledge, pp. 276–288. doi: 10.4324/9781315696072.ch22.

Ostrom, E. (2015). Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316423936