Analysis and Typology of Institutionalist Approach in Urban Planning

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Architecture and Urban Studies Faculty of Shahid Beheshti Unioversity, PhD in Economic Development and Regional Planning from UCL, UK.

2 Instructor at Isfahan University of Arts


In recent years, a new wave of emphasis has been emerged on the role of institutional factors in construction of social action in economics, political sciences, organizational sociology, and management. This institutional turn in policy-making and its reflections on planning emphasize that any planning effort is embedded in a unique institutional setting -which has evolved by a certain historical and geographical background- and this setting is making paving the way for new institutional context. Institutionalism is originally an economic approach, which as an exogenous theory has found a prominent role in many fields such as management, political sciences, sociology, etc. Since 1990s, this approach has been discussed in urban and regional planning under "institutional turn" rubric. Since then, this approach has been one of the most discussed topics in urban and regional planning alongside planning theories based on participation (communicative planning theory, consensus-building theory in planning, participative planning theory, etc.). In fact, two main topics of recent academic debate in planning can be distinguished: participation in planning, institutions in planning. The importance of institutionalism in planning comes from the fact that planning is itself an institution; an institution which needs to explore the contextual and institutional settings for identification of issues and problems and making a decision on how to solve/alleviate those problems and issues. Moreover, the implementation of planning prescriptions needs institutional (and organizational) mechanisms. Although institutionalism has been discussed in Political sciences, sociology and especially economics literature of Iran, analysis of planning articles in Iran academia shows that there has been little attention to this influential field of thought in urban and regional planning which has become one of the main topics of discussion in 21st century planning theory. So there is a gap in this sense that should be filled. Therefore, the present article is aimed to do so. Therefore, the present article starts by reviewing the literature, extracting ideas and thoughts of prominent urban and regional academics about the relation of institutionalism and planning by using descriptive analytical method, to introduce a comprehensive typology of ideas about this increasing relationship. The resulting typology, classifies the institutional approach to planning in three categories: non-critical institutionalist planners (institutions in planning), critical institutionalist planners (institutional design/intervention) and transactional institutionalist planners (transaction cost theory of planning). These three categories can be classified according to institutionalist approaches as follows (respectively): sociological institutionalism, historical institutionalism, rational-choice institutionalism. Finally, they can be categorized in pragmatist, post-positivist and positivist paradigms respectively. Each of these institutionalist approaches to planning encompass difference prescriptions in considering institutions in planning thought and action. This article is not aimed to judge which approach is better or more useful. There is the belief that each of these approaches can be useful in different circumstances. The judgment about usefulness of any of these three approaches should be done based on the problems faces, resources in hand and above all, contextual and institutional characteristics of the place that planning intends to change.


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