The dean on the raft.

A critical plea for the combination of Ted Schatzki’s and Jean Hillier’s socio-spatial approaches.

Michael Jonas Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

In the broad spectrum of debate on spatial theory (e.g. Jessop et al. 2008, Massey 2005, Mol and Law 1994), Ted Schatzki’s praxeological site ontology and Jean Hillier’s methodology for strategic planning are clearly well-elaborated approaches that make sophisticated contributions regarding social spatiality[1]. Both Schatzki and Hillier have built their argumentation on philosophical ground without neglecting the usability of their approaches for the study and analysis of empirical socio-spatial phenomena and processes. Hillier’s article “Strategic Navigation : A Multiplanar Methodology for Strategic Spatial Planning” (2015) and Schatzki’s article “The Spaces of Practices and Large Social Phenomena” (2015) are illustrative examples of their respective argumentations. However, to avoid treating these as isolated phenomena, a wide range of publications by both authors, in which they have developed and enlarged their approaches over time (Gunder and Hillier 2007, Hillier 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, Schatzki 1996, 2002, 2003, 2010a), are also taken into consideration.

Against the background of these introductory remarks, my contribution aims to discuss the strengths and shortcomings of both approaches and to suggest a specific combination of the two, which might enrich their potential for analyzing socio-spatial phenomena. At first glance, it might seem that doing so will be neither complicated nor difficult if I focus on the common aspects in the two approaches. Each of them places importance on concepts taken from an order-theoretical perspective. Both Schatzki and Hillier stress the agency of the individuals and other entities involved, although in different ways. Their approaches both highlight that sociality and social processes in general should not be treated as “being”, but should be conceptualized as ways of “becoming” (Hillier 2007, Schatzki 2002). Schatzki and Hillier also both use empirical cases to illustrate the usability of their theoretical argumentations. Schatzki refers in particular to cases involving the Shaker community (see Schatzki 2002, p. 25ff), day trading on the NASDAQ Stock Market (see Schatzki 2002, p. 157ff), horse farming in the Bluegrass region in Kentucky (see Schatzki 2010a, 2010b), rock music (see Schatzki 2014) or a university scenario including the dean, his/her office and the other individuals and non-human entities involved (see Schatzki 2015). Comparable case studies used by Hillier focus on the analysis of the “ghost ships” in Hartlepool (England) (see Hillier 2009), the transition town movement (Ireland/England) (see Scott Cato and Hillier 2011), an art installation of 100 cast iron men exhibited on an English beach (see Hillier 2011b), urban planning processes in Auckland (New Zealand) (see Gunder and Hillier 2007) and other cases (see Hillier 2002).

However, a second glance reveals many differences between the two approaches, which should be taken into account in a comparative discussion. Whereas the concept of a social practice is one of the key terms in Schatzki’s site ontology and is explicitly reserved to grasp a specific nexus of doings and sayings as a non-individualistic entity (cf. Littig 2013), in Hillier’s approach the concept of a practice (Hillier 2010) is more broadly defined and means “praxis”, that is “the whole of human action (in contrast to ‘theory’ and mere thinking)” (Reckwitz 2002, p. 249). As a consequence, it is clear that before we can address the issue of whether and how both approaches can be combined, we first need to examine their commonalities and differences.

Timespaces, practices, arrangements and the sites of the social.

In his 2010 book The Timespace of Human Activity, Schatzki suggests an approach, which is intended to explain that both the temporality and the spatiality of sociality can be grasped by discussing them as inherently linked features of human activity. While he develops an elaborate approach to Social Practices in his book of the same name (Schatzki 1996) and enlarges this with an order theory extension and a contextual theory foundation in The Site of the Social (Schatzki 2002), Schatzki’s recent work theorizes “the indeterminate temporalspatial activity events, as simultaneously effect-features and determining contexts of which practices, social phenomena and the course of history at large occur” (Schatzki 2010a, p. xii). According to this argument, the multi-layeredness of social activity and sociality can only be expressed through a variety of perspectives, namely from a practices-orientated view, an order theory perspective, and a view which focuses on the temporal-spatial character of human activity.

In contrast to so-called objective definitions and perspectives of space and time, which conceptualize space as three-dimensional space independent of human perceptions or understandings and treat time as succession (before/after orderings), Schatzki is interested in the philosophical tradition which discusses time and space as inherent parts of human activity. Following aspects of Heidegger’s ontology, he conceptualizes human existence as experimental acting. This refers on the one hand to the fact that people live through how they proceed in the world. On the other, it means that an individual’s experience occurs within the ken of his/her activity. This activity is not only performed in the objective times and spaces of societal relations, it is anchored in the temporality of human existence and relates, as such, to three dimensions of temporality : the past, the present and the future. However, contrary to objective time concepts, these dimensions do not occur successively, they occur all at once or simultaneously. Schatzki argues further that “an important feature of temporality as a feature of human activity is its relation to teleology” (Schatzki 2010a, p. 28). By this he means an orientation towards all kinds of ends. Against the background of this additional argument, “the temporality of activity is, thus acting amid entities towards an end from what motivates” (ibid., p. 29). In this sense, an acting individual “falls into the world stretching out between that forward which is coming and that from which she is departing” (ibid.).

In contrast to an objective account of space as a property of the world that exists independently of human comprehension and action, Schatzki argues further that activity has its own spatiality, which consists of an experienced world-around in which individuals are involved. This spatiality might be understood as a spatiality of involvement consisting of the “uses people make of equipment [which are tied, MJ] to the projects, ends, motions that determine people’s activity” (ibid., p. 31) and the elimination or overcoming of distance, whereby distance means the nears and fars of equipment relative to the activities of an individual. Thus, individuals proceed through places and paths “in the sense of acting at and being attuned to them” (ibid., p. 35). It is obvious from the above that Schatzki grasps spatiality, like temporality, as a teleological phenomenon. Both, he notes, “reflect one and the same teleological structure of human activity” (ibid., p. 38), are inherently connected and can, consequently, be merged into the term timespace. Thus, the timespace of human activity is defined as “acting toward ends from what motivates at arrays of places and paths anchored at entities” (ibid., p. 38).

Although activity timespace is the property of an individual, this does not imply that it is monadic. Quite the contrary, activity timespace is, in Schatzki’s view, essentially social, because it is, for instance, subject to common norms, but also to other aspects of sociality. This subjection “arises from their participating in, or relating to, some set of common phenomena by virtue of which they stand in and go through the same ‘spaces’” (ibid., p. 50). By this he means that human (and non-human) action is contextualized by social practices and arrangements in a specific sense. Elaborating the idea of socio-material spaces in which human individuals are involved (with their activity timespaces), an arrangement is understood as a connection between entities — i.e. human beings, artefacts, living organisms of all kinds and objects — in which they are related to each other, occupy positions and manifest meanings (and also identities) (Schatzki 2002, p. 20). The significance of something in an arrangement depends on how its function is understood there. According to Schatzki, this understanding cannot be created by the arrangement itself. Instead, arrangements are contextualized and established in practices that express or show the social character of activity timespaces.

Schatzki defines a practice as a nexus of activities and an organized sequence of actions (Schatzki 1996, 2002, p. 59ff). With respect to the activity dimension, he assumes firstly that practices must be enacted through appropriate doings and sayings to have an effect in their societal context. Accordingly, the focus is directed in part at the discursive, non-discursive, physical and linguistic activities, which human actors carry out when they engage in a practice. Secondly, Schatzki views a practice as an organized network of activities. This covers complex entities in which activities are connected in different combinations and to different extents through practical understandings, a set of rules, and a teleoaffective structure. The concept of practical understandings refers to certain abilities that are inherent in the acts which constitute a practice. Additionally, a practice is constituted via rules, i.e. explicit formulations, principles, injunctions, regulations, rule-of-thumb approximations or warnings (Schatzki 2006, p. 1864) that either allow or prohibit the performance of specific activities. Schatzki also introduces the concept of a teleoaffective structure as the third component of a practice in which a range of normatively charged and hierarchically ordered goals, projects and tasks are combined in varying degrees with normatively charged emotions or moods (Schatzki 2002, p. 80). Teleoaffective structures regulate which activities in a practice are seen as correct or acceptable.

On the basis of these concepts, practices can be understood as contexts in which social orders are established. How, then, does Schatzki answer the question of how practices establish social orders by creating their contextualization ? Since he does not assume that social life can be explained through the efficaciousness of abstract structures, but insists that relationships and the essence of entities of arrangements are constituted by their activities, the answer to this question can only be that activities presuppose the appropriate practices. In this interpretation, the action is the moment of the practice. Thus, social orders are generally established by and through bundled practices. The relationships, the meanings, and the positions of the components of social orders are connected with the doings and sayings that are contained in practice bundles. All these practices should not be understood as a static image, since their organizing features (practical understandings, rules and teleoaffective structures) and the doings and sayings are subject to permanent change. When discussing a bundle of social practices it becomes obvious that the practices themselves do not only occur as aggregated phenomena together with their orders. Instead, Schatzki presupposes a number of bundles of practices together with their orders (cf. Stock 2015), which are connected with each other, impact on each other and constitute as so-called constellations of bundles (Schatzki 2015) the site(s) of the social. This leads to the question of how and in what ways social practices express or show the social character of activity timespaces (see above).

In fact, because practices are actualized by the doings and sayings of the individuals involved, it is clear that their timespaces are “circumscribed by the teleoaffective structures of practices” (Schatzki 2010a, p. 52) as well as by their rules and understandings. Accordingly, these organizational aspects encompass “existential futures that are enjoined of or acceptable for the participants […], as well as prescribed and acceptable places, paths, and regions” (ibid.). According to Schatzki, there are obviously various forms of connectedness in one particular practice. “The activity timespaces of participants in a given practice are partly common, partly shared, and partly personal” (ibid.), a point that is clarified in his contribution to this Traversal (see Schatzki 2015). The discussed mixture of common, shared and orchestrated timespaces constitute a specific interwoven character and form nets of interwoven timespaces, which — together with the socio-spatial arrangements and the respective practice bundles involved — are central and inherent features of the site of the social.

Strategic planning, power and components of assemblages and dispositifs.

In contrast to this social site ontology developed as a more or less broad socio-philosophical approach of understanding sociality, Hillier’s multiplanar theory of spatial planning is more specific and comes with the claim that it can be used directly in planning processes. Whereas Schatzki integrates empirical examples primarily for illustration purposes, Hillier’s analysis of empirical cases produces more than just interesting stories : its objective is to demonstrate the practical benefits for spatial planning processes that would be obtained if planners and other actors involved were to use this approach in their daily work. Against this background, it is not surprising that her recent article (Hillier 2015) starts with a metaphor describing the praxis of spatial planning as a situational context in which a raft in the middle of the ocean is paddled and navigated by several people and other entities.

Using this navigation metaphor, which was introduced by Michel Foucault under the French term pilotage (Foucault 1982a), allows Hillier to highlight the notion that socio-spatial processes like strategic spatial planning — and sociality in general — are both contingent as well as fluid and, as a consequence, analysis and current interventions will always have to cope with this uncertainty, contingency and instability. Strategic planning can be defined “as strategic navigation along the lines of the investigation of ‘virtualities’ unseen in the present” (Hillier 2015). By this definition, the praxis of planning entails “a broad trajectory of possible scenarios, developed and debated democratically, inclusively and deliberatively, to ‘rehearse’ possible futures and their perceived advantages and disadvantages to actants (humans and non-humans) in localised and non-localised event-relations and event-spaces” (ibid.). Hillier stresses the necessity here of using Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s (1987) distinction between a plane of immanence and a plane of organization, which are inhabited by human beings at the same time. While the former is characterized through processes of becoming, open-ended trajectories, multiplicities, unstructuration, flux, fluidity and “power to”, the latter consists of states of being, closed goals, power hierarchies, fixed plans, structuration, inertia and domination (Hillier 2009, 2011a). If this were not the case, neither the analysis nor the praxis of planning would be able to work out the necessary scenarios of future development (as parts of the plane of immanence). As a consequence, the praxis of spatial planning would, for instance, fail, as can be observed in a wide range of traditional planning processes that focus primarily on the continuity of the present or the pathways of the past to combine actual short-time projects (as parts of the plane of organization) with the mentioned, but often neglected, future scenarios. However, before we can take a closer look at Hillier’s suggestions on how to realize this kind of navigation between these two planes, we must first establish and convince ourselves of the theoretical core concepts of her approach.

Similar to the social site approach described above, Hillier’s approach is based on an order theory argumentation. Complements of Schatzki’s arrangement concept in Hillier’s approach are Deleuze’s agencement (or assemblage) concept and Foucault’s concept of a dispositif, whereby the former one is grasped as “a network of generally non-directional, disparate groups of actors” (Hillier 2011a, p. 508) and the latter as “a complex mixture of institutions, mechanism and logics” (ibid., p. 510). Following John Ploger (2008), Hillier argues that assemblages and dispositifs show large family resemblances (Wittgenstein 1958, *67) making it possible to combine their central elements and use them like synonyms. By this argumentation, a dispositif, in Foucault’s original definition, is “a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions” (Foucault 1980, p. 194) with “a dominant strategic function” (ibid., p. 195). Referring to Deleuze (1988), Ploger (2008) argues that dispositifs should be grasped as generative, meaning-stimulating forces that disperse in space through discourses and regulatory installations. They are “situational ensembles of forces of becoming” (Ploger 2008, p. 59), which “in certain relational configurations develop the power to regulate, govern and/or empower specific entities” (Hillier 2011a, p. 511). This raises the question of the concept of power used here. In her book Shadows of Power (Hillier 2002) in particular, Hillier elaborates this by comparing Foucault’s concept with those of other authors. She contends that acts of power are heterogeneous per se and that “Foucault’s conception of power without a subject inevitably sets aside the liberal model where power is a matter of one person/actor exercising control over and imposing their will on others” (Hillier 2002, p. 50). Power à la Foucault is relational, belongs to a productive network and is linked to knowledge (cf. Taylor 1984, Deleuze 1988). In Hillier’s view, knowledge must be treated as discursive : it has to be justified through or in games of truth in which claims are accepted or rejected as being valuable or true.

To enrich the dispositif concept, Hillier uses two basic elements of the assemblage concept and argues — in line with other assemblage theories (e.g. De Landa 2006) — that such orders should, on the one hand, be defined along a dimension entailing the variable roles which an assemblage’s components might play — “from a purely material role at one extreme […] to a purely expressive role at the other extreme” (De Landa 2006, p. 12). On the other hand, such orders are characterized by processes of territorialization and de-territorialization in which their components become involved (Loepfe and Wezemael 2014). Whereas processes of territorialization act “to sharpen borders and homogenise components” (Hillier 2011a, p. 512) and increase homogeneity both in spatial as well as non-spatial ways, their de-territorialization counterparts are understood as those “which either [destabilize, MJ] spatial boundaries or [increase, MJ] internal heterogeneity” (De Landa, 2006, p. 13). Against this background, Hillier describes her approach as a “Deleuzeguattarian cartography to identify the power of networks and trajectories through which actants have de/re/territorialized relational space” (Hillier 2007, p. 12) in spatial planning processes.

What does this mean and imply ? Combining the planes of immanence and organization in a process of strategic navigation presupposes starting with an analysis of the actual dispositifs at work with the help of the cartography developed by Deleuze and Guattari.

A cartographic method would first make a tracing. It would then put the tracing on a transformational map of potentialities, making diagrams of the relational forces that play in each case. It would finally outline a programme of what might take place. (Hillier 2011a, p. 508)

Consequently, this cartography comprises four components : the generative, the transformational, the diagrammatic and the machinic component, which Hillier explains clearly in her contribution to this Traversal (Hillier 2015). Against this background, strategic planning is grasped as strategic navigation, or, to use Hillier’s quoted metaphor (see above), as a situational process in which “several people are paddling a raft” (ibid.) somewhere in the middle of an ocean of actual socio-spatial events and future transformation possibilities. Referring to Richard Hames’s (2007) individualistic leadership approach, Hillier defines this kind of planning or navigating as a way of ethically finding various transformation paths into the future, whose enactments consider unknown terrain as well as new events and configurations (Hillier 2011a, p. 517). However, contrary to Hames’s leader-centered argumentation, she stresses that her approach might be understood as an “inclusive, democratic ‘what might happen if… ?’ approach, which allows disparate points of view to co-exist” (ibid., p. 523), preferring emergence, contingency and uncertainty over stability, steady states and certainty. It is not surprising that this planning approach of becoming remains in strong contradiction to all approaches in which planning is grasped as a process of fixing. Hillier’s strategic navigation approach might be understood as a fluid planning method (Nyseth 2012) in which the focus is consequently shifted from the analysis of present pasts to the outline of an unknown present future, representing a horizon that is unattainable (Luhmann 1976). In addition, and as a consequence of its embedding in Foucault’s as well as Deleuze’s and Guattari’s approaches, this method stresses the relevance of power processes in spatial planning, viewing power as an inherent ingredient of the relationships between the elements that constitute or form parts of a respective dispositif or agencement collectif d’énonciation — and not as an individual capacity or the individual exercising of this capacity.

Enlarging the social site approach with the concept of power.

The very broad understanding of the concept of power used in the following refers to the capacity of all kinds of entities in nature and society, including humans, to act and to bring about significant outcomes (see Lukes 2005, p. 73ff.). The above discussion of central aspects in the architectures of both approaches should have made it clear that, unlike in Hillier’s approach, the concept of power does not play a significant role in Schatzki’s argumentation. Power and power relations, which are treated as inherent features of socio-spatial processes and phenomena in Hillier’s approach, would seem to be irrelevant in Schatzki’s approach, both on a theoretical as well as on an empirical level, although he does claim that power is a temporal-spatial phenomenon and consists of interwoven timespaces (Schatzki 2010a, p. 88). This is a little surprising, because the discussion of various concepts of power introduced by social theorists like Max Weber (1980), Anthony Giddens (1979) or Michel Foucault (1982b) — and proffered in the second chapter of The Timespace of Human Activity (Schatzki 2010a) — clearly shows that Schatzki is more than familiar with this topic. However, his only aim seems to be to prove that power is a temporal-spatial phenomenon and, as such, should not be accorded any special attention. Schatzki seems to assume that sociality in general is characterized far more by harmonization, which he describes as “the seamless interlocking of different people’s activities in the same or connected settings” (ibid., p. 92), and not, or only to a small degree, by disharmony and conflict, thus rendering questions of power effects and asymmetries obsolete or unnecessary. A further potential consequence of essentially ignoring the relevance of power is that the possibility of latent conflicts is overlooked (Lukes 2005).

In fact, following Schatzki’s clear assumption of the insignificance of power processes and effects, it is plausible to describe large socio-spatial phenomena like a university, its departments and its dean’s office as complex meshes of practices and arrangements with concentrated sets of direct or relatively direct relations as well as the timespaces of the individuals involved (Schatzki 2015). Indeed, Schatzki stresses that these timespaces “that imbue social entities such as departments, colleges, and universities and the doings and sayings that make up the practices that compose these entities” (ibid.) are prefigured from the respective practices. However, simply remarking that the timespaces are circumscribed and established through the normative organization of these practices and of the material world does not constitute a convincing alternative to an elaborated analysis of power effects. Without considering this normative organization and the power relations that configure the indicated configurations, the analytical potential inherent in this approach is lost. Schatzki seems to be partly aware of this problem and does mention the need for a consequent inclusion of the concept of power in the closing paragraphs of The Site of the Social (Schatzki 2002, p. 267) should his approach be used in the analysis of political processes and outcomes. However, although he does not question the fact that political issues and processes are inherently tied to various forms of power, it is a little surprising that he reserves this concept for the analysis of political processes — almost as if the actualization of other socio-spatial phenomena like a university consists per se of nonhierarchical and powerless processes.

According power an appropriate role in this approach allows a deepening of the discussion of the understanding of this concept. Power as a part or an aspect of Foucault’s dispositif concept is often treated not only as relational but also as “power over” or domination. In this view, it is an inherent part of the context or relational web of individuals involved, but not as “a matter of one person (group) exercising sovereign control over another, where some give orders and others obey, where some impose their wills on the others” (Taylor 1984, p. 166). This understanding underlines the idea that “any act requires a background language of practices and institutions to make sense” (ibid., p. 171), a notion which is consistent with Schatzki’s basic assumption of the primary status of practices. However, when treated as a kind of medium or matter that is ungrounded in human action yet connected to the (dominating) effects of dispositifs, this conception of power, as should be clear from the above, is for the most part incompatible with Schatzki’s agency-oriented socio-spatial practice theory.

Useful suggestions for an alternative concept can be found in Steven Lukes’s extended second edition of his book Power : A Radical View (2005). Lukes confines the concept of power exclusively to the analysis of “power over” or domination that refers to relations and situations in which someone or something is “in the power of another” (ibid., p. 73). Yet he acknowledges that the concept of asymmetric power (“power over” or potestas) is a sub-concept of the concept of “power to” (potentia) signifying “the power of things in nature, including persons” (ibid.), to act and to exist. In order to develop the notion of the former from a conceptualization of the latter, he first defines power (very broadly) “in terms of agent’s abilities to bring about significant effects specifically by furthering their own interest and/or affecting the interests of others, whether positively or negatively” (ibid., p. 65), which might or might not be exercised (ibid., p. 63). Arguing against individualistic approaches, in which power is understood in terms of A’s ability to make B do something he/she otherwise would not, Lukes follows the aim of developing a so-called radical view of power. From his perspective, this entails not only an analysis of the ability of groups or individuals to exercise power through decision making as well as by limiting alternatives available to others, but also an understanding of the ways individuals or collective actors affect others in a manner contrary to their interests (an aspect referred to as the third dimension of power). This conceptualization allows him to focus on “power over”, i.e. “the ability to have another or others in your power, by constraining their choices, thereby securing their compliance” (ibid., p. 74), while also noting that this compliance might be unwilling or willing (ibid., p. 84). Distinguishing domination from other forms of potestas like beneficent power (e.g. paternalism), he defines the former as the “ability to constrain the choices of others, coercing them or securing their compliance, by impeding them from living as their own nature and judgment dictate” (ibid., p. 85).

Whether it makes sense to follow Lukes completely and focus primarily on domination or on “power over”, thereby ignoring the various forms and ways power (in a broad sense) influences socio-spatial processes like spatial planning (or others), is more than questionable. Integrating Lukes’s broad definition of power (potentia) (see above) expands the horizon to also include the various ways in which actors are able to do something as well as the different ways of influencing others without manipulating them (e.g. through inducement, encouragement or persuasion, cf. Lukes 2005, p. 36). This also allows us to discuss “power over” and “power to” as “indissolubly linked” (Law 1991, p. 168) phenomena, which are both inherent aspects of the individuals involved as well as of the relations between them. Following this argumentation, power, or more precisely the exercising or non-exercising of power, can only be understood “within a context ; and this is the obverse of the point that the contexts only in turn can be understood in relation to the kind of power that constitutes them” (Taylor 1984, p. 171).

Thus, integrating power into Schatzki’s social site approach implies that it not only exists in its various forms in human timespaces (see above) but is also an inherent ingredient of the respective arrangements. However, integrating the concept of power into the analysis of the socio-spatial orders, their relations and their entities is only one side of the coin. It also has to be combined with the analysis of the afore-mentioned normative organization of the practices involved. Doing so makes it possible to combine power with the normativity of practices and their organizational aspects — an argument that Schatzki elaborates in Social Practices but does not develop further in his subsequent publications. Following Schatzki, the normativity of a practice refers firstly to oughtness or rightness :

The understandings, rules and teleoaffective structure […] specify how actions (including speech acts) ought to be carried out, understood, prompted, and responded to ; what specifically and unequivocally should be done or said (when, where …) ; and which ends should be pursued, which projects, tasks, and actions carried out for that end, and which emotions possessed – when, that is, one is engaged in a practice. (Schatzki 1996, p. 101)

In its second meaning, the normativity of a practice refers to its acceptability, i.e. in the sense that a “practice’s organization establishes not only that certain actions are correct (in certain situations), but also that other actions are acceptable, even if they are not how one should proceed” (ibid., p. 102).

Elaborating aspects of power on the basis of the normativity of a practice implies a specification of the set of rules and the teleoaffective structure as well as the extent of their effects when individuals engage in the respective practice. A situational context in which urban planners, actors from various other institutions in a city’s politico-economic order and external consultants were engaged in a specific constellation of an urban redevelopment practice/order bundle in which a new economic policy was developed, justified, legitimized and implemented serves as a good illustration here (cf. Jonas 2014a). Contrary, for instance, to a preference for endogenous economic growth, a focus on a radical transformation of the existing economic order and the development of new high-tech clusters formed the leitmotifs in this particular practice bundle. The activities of the individuals engaged in these practices were dominated to a large extent by irreconcilable differences, such as old versus new, slow versus fast, traditional versus future-oriented, but also stagnation versus growth — each with a preference for the latter of the two options. Likewise, we can also suppose that the rules behind these practices might be specified in the way that activities were done in this bundle and were centered on the primacy of “expertocratic” dominance, based on the principle of asymmetric distribution of labor, the policy of attaching more weight to external consultancy than to local expertise and the implicit instruction that local knowledge should be fed into the analysis in an open and transparent manner, whereas the “expertocratic” steps of matching, quantifying, interpreting and predicting were reserved for a consulting firm whose consultants were frequently not even physically present. It is more than obvious that these organizational aspects of the respective practice bundle favor specific actors (e.g. the consultants) and penalize others (e.g. experts in the local context) in their doings and sayings. It should also be evident that these organizational aspects of power allow some topics and ends to be fostered by individuals engaging in this bundle to the detriment of others. This does not mean that harmonization should be neglected. Instead, it requires a focus in which the organizational parts of practices or practice bundles and their configurational relations are analyzed in a broad spectrum of societal aspects. This spectrum reaches from harmonization at one end to domination and coercion on the other. While one end of this spectrum marks forms and ways of exercising “power to” with positive effects, the other end consists of forms or ways in which “power over” is exercised, with some actors being exploited or dominated for the benefit of other specific individuals or group of actors.

Enlarging the multiplanar theory of spatial planning with the concept of practices.

With the help of this enlargement of Schatzki’s praxeological approach, I will now address the question of whether the transmission of the discussed conception of practices enriches the possibilities of analysis of Hillier’s strategic planning theory. To answer this question, we have to return to how power is conceived by Hillier and how it is related to dispositifs, which have strategic functions and are responses to critical historical situations and processes. As said, power, in general, is grasped as a non-individual aspect which forms an inherent part of the elements and relations that constitute dispositifs, i.e. the discourses, architectures or practices involved, but not the individual actors (see above). In this sense, power here primarily seems to mean “power over” or domination. Additionally, it seems to be a kind of power that acts independently from the individuals involved and imposes on them ‘against a background of desires, interests, purposes’ (Taylor 1984, p. 172) that they have.

Given the above, we can now look at the questions Hillier (2011a, 2015) suggests be asked if social scientists or individuals involved in planning processes want to follow her approach. Adapting Hames’s strategic planning approach (Hames 2007), she develops adequate queries for each cartographic component. When read from start to finish, these document her obvious opinion that it is not only possible to analyze power dispositifs at work, but also to intervene and engage in them as well as to manipulate and change their present and future outcomes. While these questions (e.g. “What were the dynamics of force relations between actants ?” or “What relationships matter most ?”) relate to the analysis of the generative component and as such are still consistent with an understanding that treats power as a non-individual forceful ingredient of dispositif specific relations (see above), Hillier increasingly stresses the autonomous abilities of individuals involved in planning processes. This can be seen by examining the questions she assigns to the other three components, which assume that actors have or are able to exercise capacities to develop and enact multiplanar plans and projects in processes of pilotage (e.g. “What are the gaps in our current thinking and knowing ?”, “How can strategic plans be prepared so that the local planning authority is responsive and adaptive ?”, or “Are we ignoring any force relations… ?”). In contrast to a dispositif analysis that focuses for instance on the forming processes of imperatives and desires addressing the postmodern subject (Reckwitz 2015), Hillier switches to an activity-oriented perspective.

On the basis of this argumentation, it would seem to be more than useful to drop this understanding of the dispositif concept if one is interested in arguing for an approach that stresses room for maneuver and scopes of action. However, this does not automatically imply a simultaneous abandoning of the assemblage concept. On the contrary, to avoid the mistake of neglecting both relational and contextual aspects, it is advisable to check the degree of family resemblances not only between this view of the dispositif concept and the concept of agencements suggested by Deleuze and Guattari, but also between these and the arrangement concept recommended by Schatzki. Doing so leads us to the conclusion that there are more resemblances between the assemblage concept, defined by Hillier as “a network of generally non-directional, disparate groups of actors” (Hillier 2011a, p. 508), and Schatzki’s arrangements, understood comparably as networks of human actors and non-human entities (see above).

However, when combining or integrating Deleuze’s and Guattari’s “pragmatism plus” (ibid.) with Schatzki’s praxeological approach, the elements of the cartographic methodology must obviously be treated not as components or small, self-contained parts of a larger entity (the cartography), but as practices and their doings and sayings. Thus, the (generative, transformational, diagrammatic and machinic) components can be conceptualized as various practices of tracing, mapping, diagramming and enacting — an idea which is very close to some of Hillier’s own formulations. She describes the generative component, for instance, as “the tracing of concrete mixed semiotics and pointing towards the potentiality of what might emerge” (ibid., p. 508). As such, these practices partly overlap with each other and constitute or might constitute the praxis of strategic planning if all actors in the respective arrangements are engaged (in them). In this way, the practices of strategic planning and the elements and relations of arrangements involved form the sites of the strategic planning praxis, which prefigure the activity timespaces and the doings and sayings of the individuals involved in various powerful ways.

If we understand Hillier’s strategic planning approach as the idea to combine more visionary, open, long-term and participation-oriented forms and ways of forming and shaping socio-material spaces with more pragmatic, closed, shorter-term and non-participation-oriented urban or rural planning projects with the aim of fostering a more democratic planning praxis, the understandings, rules and leitmotifs of both the competing or conflicting and harmonizing practices involved as well as the respective compositions and relationships of the assemblages have to be identified. Although this implies discussions on the question of whether we, as social scientists, should limit our efforts in analyzing social processes and their outcomes (Schatzki’s perspective) or whether we should intervene, for instance, in the praxis of urban or rural planning (Hillier’s perspective), we can follow, for the sake of the argumentation, Hillier’s suggestions that we treat scientific praxis as “radical experimentation” (Hillier 2011a, p. 2) and slip into the roles of strategic planners, who are ideal-typological protagonists of a radical democratic planning praxis.

Table 1 : The practice bundle of strategic planning. Source : Michael Jonas’s interpretation of Jean Hillier’s writings.

Table 1 : The practice bundle of strategic planning. Source : Michael Jonas’s interpretation of Jean Hillier’s writings.

The practice of tracing, for instance, would then be focused primarily on the analysis of the currently dominant practices/arrangement bundle, working out the practices in which relevant actors have been involved in their engagements in socio-spatial power-based networks of public and private organizations or institutions, political parties, architectures and buildings, laws, materiality of all kinds and so on. Its teleoaffective structure could be characterized as a normative as well as an affectual orientation towards an analysis of the current power-based state of affairs by preferring present pasts. It includes rules of all kinds to be systematic, to include all relevant entities, their activities and relations, to work out respective power relations and abilities as well as to identify field-specific practices. Last but not least, it encompasses specific abilities, e.g. how to look retrospectively, analyze, explore, constrain, question, or position oneself (see Table 1).

Treating the components of the cartography as a cartography practice bundle avoids the adoption of an individualistic perspective and ignores the existence of any dominant societal structure that governs planning processes. In addition, it would seem quite plausible to characterize and label both these practices and the corresponding activity timespaces as specific kinds of reflective praxis “of periodically stepping back to ponder the meaning” (Raelin 2001, p. 11) of what has recently transpired. Here we can profit from the account related by Dvora Yanow and Haridimos Tsoukas (2009), who argue that there is not just one, but several kinds of reflective activities, which can be viewed

on a continuum, ranging from the most intensive disturbance … which instantiates a separation […] between two spheres of activity, to deliberate coping and involved deliberation occasioned by mild and persistent temporary breakdown, in which, reflection and practice [praxis, MJ] are intermingled. The former consists of the temporally-spatially separated activity of reflecting on practice; in the latter, one reflects in — in the midst of — practicing. (Yanow and Tsoukas 2009, p. 22)

It also enables the positioning of the respective activity timespaces and their practices in the praxis of urban and rural planning, which is obviously the product not just of Hillier’s democratically oriented strategic planners, but also of specific interest groups, private companies, consultancies and politicians, who are generally often not interested in a democratic organization of planning processes (Gunder and Hillier 2007, Jonas 2014b) but are engaged, for instance, in expertocratic and neoliberal planning practices, in which aspects of opening-up are neglected and processes of closure are dominant (Loepfe and Wezemael 2014).

Against this background, Hillier and her colleague Michael Gunder suggest that a more symmetric and democratic view of spatial planning praxis (or indeed human activity in general) requires a reflexive understanding of responsibility (Gunder and Hillier 2007). Adapting their activity-oriented argumentation into the suggested combination of the two approaches discussed in this article would imply that such an understanding of reflexivity should be treated not only as an individual phenomenon but also as an inherent ingredient of the practice bundle and its organizational aspects. As a consequence, this practice bundle and its teleoaffective structures in particular involve an understanding of responsibility that treats responsibility as an inherently societal phenomenon. This implies that to act responsibly while individuals are engaged in the respective practice bundle means “to recognise our constitutive relationships with other humans and non-humans around the world” (Gunder and Hillier 2007, p. 73) and to treat responsibility not as an individual, but as a shared and distributed phenomenon arising from the ways and degrees in which different actors are involved in societal processes (Young 2008). Additionally, the leitmotifs of this practice bundle include a preference for a radical relational form of political and spatial planning praxis which accepts responsibility for its participation in the world (Law 2006) and which “emphasise responsibility as care for others (human and non-human) as a fundamental feature of being human” (Gunder and Hillier 2007, p. 89). This concept of responsibility stands for instance in strong contradiction to Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law’ (Kant [1785] 1993, p. 3), which assumes that acting responsibly means orientating towards the maxim of pure reason and neglecting the consequences of one’s own activities as well as an orientation towards one’s own experiences (Adorno 2010). Instead, the afore-mentioned practice bundle would involve an understanding in which responsibility

is not a “thing” but a continuously unfolding and emerging process ; that the ethical politics of responsibility take many forms, from the normative blameworthiness of responsibility for, to the performance measurement accountability of responsibility to and the practical responsibility of duty and rule following. (Gunder and Hillier 2007, p. 87ff)


As I have argued, Hillier’s and Schatzki’s approaches show not only large family resemblances. Combined in the way that has been suggested in this article, they are also able to bridge different holes that form parts of both approaches and which curtail their capacities to understand and to analyze socio-spatial phenomena. As a consequence, Schatzki’s approach might be more convincing for the analysis of socio-spatial phenomena if it were enlarged with a well-elaborated concept of power (cf. Jonas and Littig 2015). This conceptualization should not only entail power effects of individual activities but also respective effects of practice/order bundle constellations forming the social site(s). Treating the components of Hillier’s cartographic approach as practices not only allows both approaches to be combined on a conceptual level, it also enables us to clarify how her approach might be enacted in strategic planning praxis and with which restrictions these enactments usually are or will be confronted. In a specific sense, Hillier’s cartographic approach might be understood as a contribution to “the art of fashioning surveyable overviews and abbreviations” (Schatzki 2015) of large (socio-spatial) phenomena in the field of planning. However, as it is argued in this article, Hillier’s praxis-oriented multiplanar approach of spatial planning can be interpreted as a “plea for a new planning ethos” (Loepfe and Wezemael 2014), whose enactment would require not only the actualization of opening-up processes but also the transformation of respective arrangements, which hinder democratic planning processes in existing societal configurations.


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[1] I would like to thank Angela Dickinson, Martina Liska, Matthias Löpfe and the editors for help and constructive critic.


Dans cet article, je plaide pour la combinaison des approches de Theodore Schatzki et de Jean Hillier. La première partie identifie et discute les aspects centraux de l’approche des emplacements sociaux de Schatzki et de l’approche de la planification stratégique de Hillier. Ensuite, j’argumente que l’approche de Schatzki serait plus convaincante et intéressante pour la recherche en géographie si elle intégrait des aspects de pouvoir, qui sont, eux, centraux dans l’approche de Hillier. Suivant la perspective appelée « radicale » du pouvoir de Lukes (2005), plusieurs concepts sont discutés et intégrés dans celui des arrangements socio-spatiaux et des niveaux d’échelle des pratiques. Partant de là, je suggère que la théorie à plans multiples de la planification spatiale peut être élargie grâce à la conception des pratiques de Schatzki, ceci à condition d’abandonner le sens spécifique du concept de « dispositif » de Foucault, incompatible avec l’argumentation centrée autour de l’activité que favorise Hillier. Contrairement à une perspective foucaldienne stricte dans laquelle les phénomènes spatio-temporels sont appréhendés en tant que dispositifs de pouvoir et les activités individuelles négligées, la combinaison des approches de Schatzki et de Hillier permet de concevoir une théorie qui comprenne la socialité et la planification spatiale comme un processus bottom-up qui émerge de l’activité des entités et des sites contextualisants dans la forme d’agencements socio-spatiaux et de pratiques planificatrices. Enfin, je résume les avantages de la combinaison des aspects centraux des deux approches.

Pour faire référence à cet article

Michael Jonas, "The dean on the raft.",, , 12.03.2015