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Shifting Approaches to Planning Theory: Global North and South

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Abstract:  Planning theory has shifted over time in response to changes in broader social and philosophical theory as well as changes in the material world. Postmodernism and poststructuralism dislodged modernist, rational and technical approaches to planning. Consensualist decision-making theories of the 1980s took forms of communicative and collaborative planning, drawing on Habermasian concepts of power and society. These positions, along with refinements and critiques within the field, have been hegemonic in planning theory ever since. They are, in most cases, presented at a high level of abstraction, make little reference to the political and social contexts in which they are based, and hold an unspoken assumption that they are of universal value, i.e. valid everywhere. Not only does this suggest important research methodology errors but it also renders these theories of little use in those parts of the world which are contextually very different from theory origin—in most cases, the global North. A more recent ‘southern turn’ across a range of social science disciplines, and in planning theory, suggests the possibility of a foundational shift toward theories which acknowledge their situatedness in time and place, and which recognize that extensive global difference in cities and regions renders universalized theorising and narrow conceptual models (especially in planning theory, given its relevance for practice) as invalid. New southern theorising in planning is drawing on a range of ideas on societal conflict, informality, identity and ethnicity. Postcolonialism and coloniality have provided a useful frame for situating places historically and geographically in relation to the rest of the world. However, the newness of these explorations still warrants the labelling of this shift as a ‘southern theorizing project’ in planning rather than a suggestion that southern planning theory has emerged.

Keywords:  collaborative and communicative planning; global South; southern planning theory; universalized theory



© Vanessa Watson. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.