1984 volume 11(1) pages 103 – 126

Cite as:
Taylor N, 1984, "A critique of materialist critiques of procedural planning theory" Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 11(1) 103 – 126

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A critique of materialist critiques of procedural planning theory

N Taylor

Received 21 July 1983; in revised form 1 December 1983

Abstract. In this article, I take issue with some recent 'materialist' critiques of procedural planning theory (PPT). I describe what PPT is and, also, what it is not and does not pretend to be. In particular, I stress that PPT puts forward a conceptual theory of (functionally) rational planning, and not an empirical or a substantive normative theory of planning. It is the failure of many recent 'materialist' critics of PPT to appreciate the distinction between conceptual or analytical theory on the one hand, and empirical or synthetic theory on the other, which characterises and mars their criticisms. For, if we recognise these distinctions, then the charges that PPT is 'abstract', 'contentless', 'vacuous', and 'idealist' simply collapse.

PPT has otherwise been criticised for being 'trivially true', and for somehow serving an ideological function by 'legitimising' the capitalist state and social relations. I show, however, that neither of these criticisms is tenable either. The materialist critiques of PPT therefore fail. Though it is not my main purpose in this paper to examine 'alternative' empirical and/or materialist theories of planning, I do recognise the need for such theory and, in the penultimate section of this paper, I briefly examine the theory put forward by A J Scott and S T Roweis. I express a number of doubts about their theory and suggest, in particular, that this theory may itself be essentially conceptual and a priori, the very things which Scott and Roweis (and some other materialists) say a scientific theory of planning should not be.

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