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Knowledge, Care, Legitimacy
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The past three decades have seen an international ‘turn to participation’ – letting those who will be affected by neighbourhood planning outcomes play an active role in decision-making – but there is widespread dissatisfaction with actual instances of citizen-state engagement.

This innovative analysis brings theory, research and practice together and gives insights into how and why citizen voices either become effective or get excluded. Using ethnographic data to illustrate a wide range of participatory and localist governance practices and social movements, the book concludes with recommendations to re-invigorate community involvement in planning.

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This chapter addresses some of the neglected things in neighbourhood planning: the experiential knowledge and care for place that previous chapters have shown often get excluded. It begins by describing some of the attempts that neighbourhood planners made to engage with these knowledges and cares, and the difficulties they encountered in articulating, capturing and translating them into evidence. It draws on the concepts of matters of concern (Latour, 2004b) and matters of care (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017) to develop a speculative reflection on ways in which these neglected things could more effectively be included. It reviews some examples of initiatives intended to incorporate such marginalised knowledges in planning and related processes, and considers how adapting a narrative approach to the production and presentation of evidence could facilitate this. It also considers the barriers and constraints to such innovation, and concludes that if it is to succeed on its own proclaimed terms, neighbourhood planning can and must do better at including the excluded things that matter to people.

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This chapter draws together the key themes from the previous chapters. It starts by summarising the arguments made throughout the course of the book. It then goes on to discuss the implications of that argument for the practice of, and research into, neighbourhood planning and participatory democracy more widely and the knowledge practices that they are based on. It explores how these findings can contribute to the Science and Technology Studies-inspired project of ‘re-making participation’ (Chilvers and Kearnes, 2016): making participatory democratic processes more transparent, accountable and responsive, by reconceiving how we understand the people, places and issues at stake.

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This chapter focuses on the production and use of evidence in neighbourhood planning, as one of the central knowledge practices through which the identities described in the previous chapter are enacted and come to dominate or be suppressed. It outlines the evidentiary requirements of neighbourhood planning in presenting local knowledge, and suggests why the kind of evidence produced to support a neighbourhood plan might be expected to be more expansive, inclusive and diverse than is traditional in planning. It documents two instances of evidence production, one from each case study, exploring how the neighbourhood planning groups interpreted what can count as evidence. It discusses the ways in which these enactments restrict the promised pluralisation of knowledge and ways of knowing in neighbourhood planning. It highlights conflicts between knowing localities as ‘abstract space’ and ‘lived place’. It concludes by reflecting on similarities and differences in the production and presentation of evidence in the other cases of participatory democracy considered.

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This chapter further problematises the description of neighbourhood planning as a transfer of power from state to communities. It explores the idea of power not as a property that can be possessed or given, but rather as an effect that is produced through particular practices. It shows that while neighbourhood planners have been able to have material effects and to shape their neighbourhoods in ways that would not otherwise have been possible, their ability to do so is both fragile and precarious. They remain reliant on various types of certified expertise and the professionals that embody them, and as such are subject to displacement by those professionals from their notional position at the heart of the neighbourhood planning process. The chapter concludes by considering similar processes of reliance upon, and displacement by, external expertise and authority in the other cases of participatory democracy.

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This chapter outlines the overall themes and content of the book. It introduces the places and the neighbourhood planning groups on which the case studies presented in the book are based, and the main issues motivating them. It describes the international turn to participation in which reforms to the English planning system are embedded, defining participatory democracy widely to include both ‘invited’ and ‘invented’ spaces. It provides some context and background to the other sites of participatory democracy that the book engages with: environmental justice movements, participatory rural development, and community organising in informal settlements. It concludes by providing an overview of the rest of the book.

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This chapter sets out the theoretical underpinnings of the book, grounded in Science and Technology Studies (STS). It explores how this approach can bring a new and nuanced perspective to the issues at the heart of neighbourhood planning and participation more widely. It explores some of the concepts that are central to an STS analysis and relates them specifically to neighbourhood planning. These include treating all knowledge as situated rather than transcendent (situated knowledges), the effects of socio-technical imaginaries, considering objects of study as assemblages, the performativity of practices (the ways in which practices produce what they purport to merely describe), the co-production of knowledge and social order, the multiplicity of apparently singular phenomena, and the ‘ontological politics’ – the contestation of what is relevant and important in the world – which results. It concludes with a discussion of the recent turn to care as an object of study and methodology in STS. In relating these concepts to neighbourhood planning it problematises some of the key notions invoked by the discourse and practices of neighbourhood planning and participatory democracy more widely, facilitating alternative ways of understanding both the ways in which we represent the world, and the world itself.

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This chapter turns to the empirical case studies to explore one of the central questions in participatory democracy – in the absence of the formal representative authority bestowed by elections, what legitimises the actions of citizens or groups that make (or are implied to have) some claim to represent others, or to become citizen–state intermediaries? It challenges the framing of neighbourhood planning as a straightforward transfer of power from state to communities in a series of steps. It then advances the proposal that neighbourhood planners achieve their legitimacy by enacting a set of three distinct identity relations with their neighbourhoods. Each of these multiple identities provides access to different knowledge practices and forms of authority, and all are necessary to establish legitimacy. However, they are sometimes contradictory and come into conflict with each other. It concludes by considering whether and how the performance of these identities can be seen in other instances of participatory democracy.

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This chapter provides a concrete and practical grounding in neighbourhood planning. It sets out the rationales behind its introduction, focusing on the contrast between the principles of public involvement in planning and the practical experience of citizens engaging with the planning system. It describes the procedural requirements on communities producing neighbourhood plans, and situates neighbourhood planning in the context of other planning reforms introduced at the same time. It goes on to discuss the dilemmas and contradictions of participatory democracy, with a focus on how they play out in this particular initiative. This includes critiques that participation can constitute ‘post-political’ governmentality, which removes the possibility of political contestation and only empowers citizens to make choices which support externally imposed agendas; can reinforce rather than challenge existing power relations; and prioritise parochial interests. It then provides some counter-arguments to these critiques and evidence of neighbourhood planning impacts on the ground.

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This concluding chapter revisits the key characteristics of participatory research and links them with wellbeing and social justice in order to give the reader a framework within which to create positive social change with communities.

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