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Producing bypassing citizens - The role of deliberative technologies in urban planning

Helena Leino
Tampere University
Helena Leino
Tampere University
Open Panel

Abstract

My empirical research deals with participatory practices in urban planning. Within the last 15 years it has become important for cities to open up the planning process to diverse experiments involving public in many ways, for instance through thematic groups, workshops and city walks. This development has raised challenging questions; how to deal with the heterogeneous public view and to create genuine interaction in a form that is relevant to a particular context, to the particular policy problem and for the participants? Public participation has been expected to deliver a lot of promises, such as improved quality of decisions and acceptance for commonly binding decisions. These expectations share the epistemic argument for participatory, deliberative democracy in governance, which means that it is superior to representative arrangements because it increases diversity and interaction among people (Wagenaar, 2007). The increasing popularity in applying diverse participatory methods evokes the question of the role of technology in the process of democratic and collective will formation. According to Isabelle Stengers (2010) from the standpoint of technology, there are no longer spokespersons, only stakeholders with no obligations. In Finland the roles given to urban dwellers have positioned them as witnesses of the planning process rather than active citizens. Is the situation as critical as Stengers sees it, technology being something that just happens to us? From this viewpoint it seems that we are dealing no longer with politics but governance. Thus, the key question is: how to turn the consequences of technology into a political problem?