LEARN | A visceral and palpable shift

Posted on 14/03/2012

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For the past few days I have been immersed in a Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement (DDPE) masterclass, with Lyn Carson and Jan Elliott leading an energetic group of about 30 ‘practitioners’ in the field. I understand the terms ‘practice’ and ‘field’ from my involvements in art, planning and design. Practitioner tends to be a term that pulls at the inured settings of professions and professionals. Field, also, seems to carve out territories, like farms, where particular practitioners or professionals have some kind of remit to graze, plough, cultivate etc.

Professional identity, in an ontological sense, and professional association are difficult things. It can be difficult, sometimes, to differentiate between a community of practice and a guild. By guild, I mean the kind of exclusive association that John Mant explores and his observation that a guild can often act like a silo. I remind people, often, that I don’t study planning to be an urban planner but rather to understand the system or context in which planning happens and to recognise that cities are a seat of power and an agglomeration of interests. My professional identity, as such, lies elsewhere. This kind of self-definition doesn’t always gel as a purposefully interdisciplinary practitioner working across fields and drawing on multiple practices. Here, it feels like reinvention, reinvigoration and multiplying.

In the DDPE masterclass, I was reminded of the centrality of the citizen. How could I, as an advocate of rights, forget (or displace or overlook or ignore) this? Another participant was immersed in postgraduate studies about political science, which also raises questions of context and power. It’s always about power. How could I overlook that planning, as a policy and governance process, should be directed at creating the polis and the urbs, as well as affirming the civitas or democratic dimensions of urban life? Terms like ‘community engagement’ don’t always communication that imperative.

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