Reflexivity and post-colonial critique: Toward an ethics of accountability in planning praxis

Planning Theory, 9(3) 181–199, 2010.  In her important essay ‘Praxis in the time of empire’, Ananya Roy (2006) calls for planning theory to confront imperialism and colonialism as the constitutive ‘present history’ of planning and to substitute a liberal ‘responsibility for’ others with a postcolonial ‘accountability to’ them. This article takes up Roy’s appeal with reference to the disciplines of anthropology, critical development studies and feminist studies. It argues that in order to move beyond the limits of ‘liberal benevolence’, planners need an ethics of accountability that recognizes the conditions of postcoloniality, to be sure, but that can also foreground the relational subjectivities of planners and beneficiaries more generally with an eye to broaching the normative terrain of ‘what is to be done?’. Through a review of literature at the juncture of planning and critical development studies, and reflections on the author’s own cross-disciplinary travels, the article identifies four theoretical concepts that planning needs to recognize and engage in order to strengthen both its critical and normative orientations: the structures of imperialism, agency and resistance among the ‘beneficiaries’ of planning action, the subjectivity of planers and the conditions of collective action. The article argues that, cumulatively, these concepts can inform an ethics of accountability that encompasses both postcolonial critique and a ‘reflexive relationality’.

Critical development studies and the praxis of planning

CITY, Vol. 13  (2–3), 2009.  In this paper, Rankin seeks to  develop normative orientations in planning theory by drawing on theoretical resources in the cognate field of critical development studies. The professional practices which both critical development studies and planning theory take as their object of study share a duplicitous relationship to processes of capitalist accumulation and liberal notions of benevolent trusteeship. Yet, critical development studies has clearly done a better job of tracing the entanglements of projects of improvement with projects of empire. When such theorizations about development are brought to bear on the more subtle object of urban planning, here too the flagrancies of liberal benevolence can be exposed and challenged. The paper is organized into three sections: (a) the relationship of planning to imperialism and globalization, (b) resistance and the cultural politics of agency, and (c) the contributions of transnational feminism to a praxis of solidarity and collaboration.

Commercial Change in Toronto’s West-Central Neighbourhoods

Research Paper 214, September 2008, viii, 72 pp. This study explores how commercial change contributes to wider processes of exclusion and gentrification, as well as the resources available to counter this trend. The researchers studied three commercial strips in Toronto’s downtown West-Central neighbourhoods (West Queen West, Roncesvalles Village, and Bloordale Village), representing different characteristics and stages of commercial gentrification. The report focuses on themes such as ownership structure in relation to local investment; the politics of strip “branding,” and the role of immigrant-owned businesses in building social cohesion; the role of Business Improvement Areas in promoting local development and fragmenting the urban landscape; and the challenges and opportunities for business finance. The report concludes with some recommendations for policy and community organizing.