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Justifying the Elephant in the Growth Machine: Urban and Planning Theory Understood Through Convention Theory

Meg Holden (2024)

In Rainer Diaz-Bone & Guillemette de Larquier (eds.), Handbook of economics and sociology of conventions. Cham: Springer, Online first

Abstract. This contribution introduces the tenets and approach of convention theory in terms of its potential, use, and appeal in the overlapping fields of urban and planning studies. The conceptual framing and interpretive method of convention theory are discussed as they have been applied to urban and planning research, and in terms of the value the theory offers when compared with certain other theories in use in the field, namely, advocacy planning, communicative action, the critique of neoliberalism, and the urban growth machine. Key thematic interpretive aspects of convention theory are discussed, demonstrating its potential to present case studies of urban disputes, rich with the detail of diverse perspectives and arguments, recognition of critical capacities of actors to intervene in dynamics of inequality and power asymmetries, and an analytical eye toward compromise as a more likely resolution than pure victory of certain ideas or values over others. The potential is illustrated through a prototypical case of a contentious public hearing at City Hall about a proposed urban redevelopment project. The chapter concludes by considering three shortcomings that can be encountered when using convention theory in urban and planning research.

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