15 ACTIVISM: Mobilisation in the midst of diverse interests
Olivier Sykes (University of Liverpool, UK)
Johanna Pirrus (University of Tartu, Estonia)

Since the creation of modern planning systems, changing political and social expectations and the experiences of planning in action have led to new reflections on the notion of the public interest. The notion of whether it is possible to define a single, or monolithic, public interest, and questions about whether planning and planners served it came to the fore from the middle decades of the 20th. century. The ideas of advocacy planning developed by Paul Davidoff in the 1960s, for example, suggested that planners should become more active in supporting substantive planning solutions rather than pose as technicians ostensibly able to serve a single public interest by balancing diverse interests through the application of instrumental rationalism. Alongside such reflection on the role of planners, diverse groups representing a wide range of place and interest-based communities around the environment, social and economic justice, racial equality, gender issues, health, and heritage conservation to name but a few, increasingly sought to make their voices heard in planning processes. Such movements and notions of advocacy, radical, and later communicative planning, also raised issues about the increasingly diverse professional roles, identities, and biographies of planners. It being possible, for example, for individual planners to find themselves performing different roles, sometimes simultaneously, as public sector planners, citizen activists, or advocates for certain private interests. Planners, for example, often become involved as activists in environmental, social, heritage neighbourhood related planning issues. The continuing pace of global urbanization, particularly in the diverse ‘global south’, also opens-up global and regional perspectives on activism, as planners engage with phenomena such as informality and insurgent urban practices, in contexts where addressing material urban conditions often requires active and co-produced solutions.

Informed by the themes and contexts outlined above, this track welcomes theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions addressing the role of activism in planning, including, but not limited to the following aspects:

  • the public interest and activism
  • activism and intervention in public space
  • activism in and through public service
  • grassroots activism, self-organization, and civil society
  • activism and professional identities
  • activism and urban spatial and social justice
  • activism in the face of the climate and biodiversity emergencies and diverse environmental challenges
  • global and regional perspectives on activism in planning

Keywords:  activism, public interest, public service, civil society, public space, spatial and social justice, environmental challenges, professional identities