Shaping planner’s ideal: Lacanian interpretation of planning education process and planner’s identity

Document Type : Research Paper


Traditional social science often fails when deployed to explain complex human action. In each specific social field of human endeavour, including planning, experienced actors draw on a range of conscious and unconscious performative knowledges to act with effect: the experts simply ‘know’ what to do. Some thinkers, suggests that to understand these complex human dispositions framing practice requires a detailed understanding of the particular, not the universal. Drawing on Aristotle's intellectual virtue of phronesis, Also, planners and social scientists refers to this as a phronetic social science model. This article suggests that Lacan's theoretical insights and conceptualizations pertaining to the split human subject, divided between symbolic consciousness and unconscious affect, can help to empower this phronetic model. The article argues that a Lacanian inspired phronetic model is particularly useful for understanding spatial planning and related urban policy discourses, for it provides insight as to how desire and resultant ideological fantasies shape our shared social reality and spaces of habitation in our globalized world.
Why is it so difficult to define concisely the meaning of ‘planning’ and many of its dominant concepts—public interest, new urbanism, sustainability or smart growth—when deployed in formulating urban policy? Lacan's discourse theory suggests an answer based on an understanding of our human subjectivity, a subjectivity that implicitly seeks to overlook contradiction and ambiguity in our desire to fulfill human aspirations for a harmonious and secure world. This article will use Lacanian theory to examine the beliefs of the planning profession, how they are shaped and then implemented in our urban environments. In particular, Lacan's central theoretical premise of the Four Discourses will be explained and related to planning policy formulation. That is, how planners' acquire and internalise the discipline's diffuse sets of values, beliefs, knowledges and traditions, prior to then imposing them as urban policies on society.
Can you succinctly and clearly define what planning and many of its guiding principles —such as the public good, sustainability, or even market forces— actually mean? For many of us, this is difficult to accomplish. Lacan provides an explanation for this challenge based on his theorizing about human subjectivity— how we acquire the identifications that constitute ourselves as planners. The article will deploy Lacan’s explanatory power for understanding how the professional identities of planners and the central ideas constituting the planning discipline are interrelated. Particularly, Lacan’s theoretical model of the four discourses will be used to explore planning education and how aspiring planners acquire and internalize the discipline’s often-diffuse sets of traditions, beliefs, knowledges, and values.
in fact, This article examines Lacan’s psychoanalytically derived social theory as to its appropriateness for understanding aspects of planning practice. Lacan theorized not only about language and culture, but also about that which resides outside of symbolization and underlies human desire, to provide an understanding of human subjectivity, identity and motivation. We discuss how a Lacanian critical social theoretical approach could be pertinent to analysis of the complex mixture of hybrid processes – technical, collaborative and political – that comprise planning development assessment.


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