Differences and Connections: Beyond Universal Theories in Planning, Urban, and Heritage Studies

Differences and Connections: Beyond Universal Theories in Planning, Urban, and Heritage Studies image

Differences and Connections:

Beyond Universal Theories in Planning, Urban, and Heritage Studies

IX YA conference, 2015. Palermo. March 23-26, 2015.

Co-organised by the Department of Architecture at the University of Palermo and the Critical Heritage Studies at the University of Gothenburg.

Keynote speakers: Patsy Healey, Cornelius Holtorf, Jean Hillier, Laura Saija, Leonie Sandercock.

Track chairs: Phil Allmendinger, John Friedmann, Jonathan Metzger, Marco Picone.

During the last few decades, cities have been facing momentous changes, in-between globalisation forces, global urbanisation, migration and mobility, hegemonic powers, democratisation paths, insurgent claims. Several attempts have been made for making sense of the transformations for spatial planning and urban governance, and elaborated theories have been produced, such as critical debates about neoliberal trends or new institutionalisms.

In recent times, critiques of mainstream theories and their ambition for building universal understandings have been offered from various perspectives. In planning theory and research, the concept of planning cultures (Sanyal, 2005; Knieling, Othengrafen, 2009; Getimis, 2012) and the methodological approach of phronetic research (Flyvbjerg, 2004) have stressed the importance of local contextual characterisations for production of theory. In geographic studies, the risk for building generalisations grounded on the study of few global cities has been highlighted (Amin, Graham, 1997; Robinson, 2011; Baptista, 2013). In critical heritage studies, outstanding universal values and global approaches to conservation technologies that have framed the way heritage is valued and conserved worldwide – especially by UNESCO and its World Heritage Convention (1972) – have been heavily criticised for being Western-centric, exclusionary in nature, and lack context sensitivity (Smith, 2006; Ashworth, 2011; Harrison, 2013).

 These approaches share an underlying concern with the risk that an a-critical use of concepts generated by a global outlook may force or distort the very understanding of local processes and trends. Hence the need for renovate efforts towards comparative studies and a theoretical building more attuned to regional and local characteristics. This has not only theoretical implications, but policy-relevant ones as well, as may be exemplified by recent trends for spatial planning in Europe, where historic divides, at the economic, political, cultural, and even mental level, have been able to shape processes of convergence/divergence, especially in an era deeply marked by an economic crisis – think to the ‘PIIGS’ label used to refer to countries affected by crises of sovereign debts.


The conference invites inter-/multi-disciplinary contributions that present empirical research and/or theoretical discussions and building that explore the ways universal theories in Planning, Urban and Heritage Studies have shaped planning approaches worldwide as well as advance discussions on how to go beyond such universality by exploring dimensions of differences and connections in-between different (geographic, theoretical, institutional, mental) contexts in the European and global arena of cities.

Please note that the conference is free of charge for Young Academics.

Connections: exploring contemporary planning theory and practice with Patsy Healey

The conference will also host the presentation of the Festschrift for Patsy Healey edited by Jean Hillier and Jonathan Metzger. The creation of a joint event will create the room for a lively debate between the ‘young’ participants to the conference and one of the most emblematic figures of contemporary planning. The conference theme resonates with that of the book, Connections, which ‘symbolises relationality, possibly the most outstanding element linking Patsy’s ideas’ (in the editors’ words).