The Rational Protocol

by Doug Norman . 0 Comments

Theory in an applied profession? Planning theory arose in academia during the post-WWII planning boom. As planning departments grew, social science methods replaced design-centered curriculum. The scientific method and knowledge trumped both design aesthetics and progressive moral imperatives. With increasing specialization, designers weren’t prepared for the legal, economic, and logistical complexities of planning work.

The professional protocol, in drawing on the presuppositions of the rational planning model, either banishes the the politics of uncertainty entirely or  translates these political relationships into methodological presuppositions and procedures… Practitioners adopt the rational model as a rhetorical device to legitimize their professional persona as an expert. (Hoch 51)

Hoch argues that, while this may make sense for bureaucratic planners, it’s debilitating for planners not vested with bureaucratic authority. The rational protocol constructs the planner as an apolitical  expert doing good science and makes their relationship to power an precarious one.  For example, “Man with a Mission” Tom’s commitment to the protocol and the objectivity of professional expertise blinded him to the political compromises he needed to keep his job. “Dangling Practitioner” Martin rejected courting a local power player–which he viewed as damaging to his professional integrity–in promoting a rational cooperative development plan between his organization and the city and was “left dangling between the powers of craft and the powers of coercion” (Hoch 69). Craft, coercion, and consent define the power relationships within which planners practice and they treat them as discreet or unrelated at their own peril. Successful planners embrace the interconnected complexity of these powers.

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