This is the online first version published on 2023-08-17. Read the most recent version.

Institutional Gaps in Agonistic and Communicative Planning Theories. Critical Implications of the ‘Systemic Turn’ in Deliberative Democracy Theory




Conflict, Consensus, Democratic institution, Hegemonic discourse, Situational deliberation


The paper critically reviews communicative and agonistic planning theories from the viewpoint of a systemic turn in deliberative democracy theory. While the approach reveals complementarities between the theories, it also argues that each theory is vulnerable to criticism because of an ‘institutional gap’. The theories are found to complement each other in addressing planning conflicts at different dimensions. Communicative planning theory deals with conflicts between different stakeholders’ interests in planning processes. Agonistic planning theory, in turn, concentrates on conflicts from a more ontological dimension, related to the (implicit) conflict between hegemonic and marginalized discourses and related identity-forming processes of inclusion and exclusion in planning policies and governance. The institutional gap of communicative planning theory is argued to reside in its focus on situational deliberation that largely ignores the institutional dimension of rules and norms of democratic conduct. Agonistic pluralism, in turn, does engage with the dimension of democratic institutions, but in an overly critical manner, making it difficult for agonistic planning theory to address the dynamic interplay between institutional reconfiguration and policy stabilization in planning. This is argued to be the institutional gap of agonistic planning theory. The paper calls for further work in the field of planning theory to incorporate a systemic approach to deliberative democracy and thereby tap into the dialectics of institutional and situational dimensions of planning.


Download data is not yet available.


Allmendinger, P.; Haughton, G. (2013): The Evolution and Trajectories of English Spatial Governance: ‘Neoliberal’ Episodes in Planning. In: Planning Practice and Research 28, 1, 6–26.

Ansell, C.; Gash, A. (2008): Collaborative governance in theory and practice. In: Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 18, 4, 543–571.

Bäcklund, P.; Mäntysalo, R. (2010): Agonism and institutional ambiguity: Ideas on democracy and the role of participation in the development of planning theory and practice – the case of Finland. In: Planning Theory 9, 4, 333–350.

Bengs, C. (2005): Planning theory for the naive? In: European Journal of Spatial Development 3, 7, 1–12.

Bond, S. (2011): Negotiating a ‘democratic ethos’: moving beyond the agonistic-communicative divide. In: Planning Theory 10, 2, 161–186.

Booher, D.E.; Innes, J.E. (2002): Network Power in Collaborative Planning. In: Journal of Planning Education and Research 21, 3, 221–236.

Chambers, S. (1995): Feminist discourse/practical discourse. In: Meehan, J. (ed.): Feminists Read Habermas. Gendering the Subject of Discourse. New York, 163–179.

Elstub, S. (2010): The third generation of deliberative democracy. In: Political Studies Review 8, 3, 291–307.

Fainstein, N.; Fainstein, S.S. (2013): Restoring Just Outcomes to Planning Concerns. In: Carmon, N.; Fainstein, S.S. (eds.): Policy, Planning and People: Promoting Justice in Urban Development. Philadelphia, 43–64.

Forester, J. (1989): Planning in the face of power. Berkeley.

Forester, J. (1993): Critical theory, public policy, and planning practice. Albany.

Forester, J. (1999): The deliberative practitioner. Encouraging participatory planning processes. Cambridge.

Forester, J. (2009): Dealing with differences. Dramas of mediating public disputes. New York.

Forester, J. (2013): On the theory and practice of critical pragmatism: Deliberative practice and creative negotiations. In: Planning Theory 12, 1, 5–22.

Granqvist, K.; Humer, A.; Mäntysalo, R. (2021): Tensions in city-regional spatial planning: the challenge of interpreting layered institutional rules. In: Regional Studies 55, 5, 844–856.

Gunder, M. (2003): Passionate planning for the others’ desire: An agonistic response to the dark side of planning. In: Progress in Planning 60, 3, 235–319.‑0

Gunder, M. (2010): Planning as the Ideology of (Neoliberal) Space. In: Planning Theory 9, 4, 298–314.

Gutmann, A.; Thompson, D. (1996): Democracy and Disagreement. Why Moral Conflict Cannot Be Avoided in Politics, and What Should Be Done about It. Cambridge.

Habermas, J. (1984): The Theory of Communicative Action. Volume 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Boston.

Habermas, J. (1987): The Theory of Communicative Action. Volume 2: Lifeworld and System. Cambridge.

Habermas, J. (1996): Between Facts and Norms. Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy. Cambridge.

Healey, P. (1992): Planning through debate. The communicative turn in planning theory. In: Town Planning Review 63, 2, 143–162.

Healey, P. (1997): Collaborative planning: Shaping places in fragmented societies. London.

Healey P (1999) Institutionalist Analysis, Communicative Planning, and Shaping Places. In: Journal of Planning Education and Research 19, 2, 111–121.

Healey, P. (2003): Collaborative Planning in Perspective. In: Planning Theory 2, 2, 101–123.

Healey, P. (2004): Creativity and Urban Governance. In: Policy Studies 25, 2, 87–102.

Healey, P. (2006): Transforming governance: Challenges of institutional adaptation and a new politics of space. In: European Planning Studies 14, 3, 299–320.

Healey, P. (2009): In search of the “strategic” in spatial strategy making. In: Planning Theory and Practice 10, 4, 439–457.

Heinilä, A,; Pölönen, I.; Belinskij, A. (2021): Yhteistoiminnallisuus ympäristöoikeudellisissa suunnittelumenettelyissä. In: Ympäristöpolitiikan ja - oikeuden vuosikirja XIV, 49–116.

Hendriks, C.M. (2009): Deliberative governance in the context of power. In: Policy and Society 28, 3, 173–184.

Hillier, J. (2002): Shadows of power. An Allegory of Prudence in Land-Use Planning. London.

Hillier, J. (2003): Agon’izing over consensus: Why Habermasian ideals cannot be ‘real’. In: Planning Theory 2, 1, 37–59.

Huxley, M. (2000): The Limits to Communicative Planning. In: Journal of Planning Education and Research 19, 4, 369–377.

Hytönen, J. (2016): The Problematic Relationship of Communicative Planning Theory and the Finnish Legal Culture. In: Planning Theory 15, 3, 223–238.

Innes, J.E. (2004): Consensus Building: Clarifications for the Critics. In: Planning Theory 3, 1, 5–20.

Innes, J.E.; Booher, D.E. (1999): Consensus Building and Complex Adaptive Systems. A Framework for Evaluating Collaborative Planning. In: Journal of the American Planning Association 65, 4, 412–423.

Innes, J.E.; Booher, D. (2010): Planning with complexity. An Introduction to Collaborative Rationality for Public Policy. London.

Kühn, M. (2021): Agonistic planning theory revisited: The planner’s role in dealing with conflict. In: Planning Theory 20, 2, 143–156.

Mansbridge, J. (1983): Beyond Adversary Democracy. Chicago.

Mansbridge, J.; Bohman, J.; Chambers, S.; Estlund, D.; Føllesdal, A.; Fung, A.; Lafont, C.; Manin, B.; Martí, J.L. (2010): The Place of Self-Interest and the Role of Power in Deliberative Democracy. In: The Journal of Political Philosophy 18, 1, 64–100.

Mansbridge, J.; Bohman, J.; Chambers, S.; Christiano, T.; Fung, A.; Parkinson, J.; Thompson, D.F.; Warren, M.E. (2012): A systemic approach to deliberative democracy. In: Parkinson, J.; Mansbridge, J. (eds.): Deliberative Systems. Deliberative Democracy at the Large Scale. Cambridge, 1–26.

Mäntysalo, R. (2002): Dilemmas in critical planning theory. In: Town Planning Review 73, 4, 417–436.

Mäntysalo, R.; Balducci, A.; Kangasoja, J. (2011): Planning as agonistic communication in a trading zone. Re-examining Lindblom’s partisan mutual adjustment. In: Planning Theory 10, 3, 257–272.

Mäntysalo, R.; Jarenko, K. (2014): Communicative Planning Theory Following Deliberative Democracy Theory: Critical Pragmatism and the Trading Zone Concept. In: International Journal of E‑Planning Research 3, 1, 38–50.

March, A. (2016): The democratic plan: Analysis and diagnosis. London.

Markell, P. (1997): Contesting consensus: Rereading Habermas on the public sphere. In: Constellations 3, 3, 377-400.

Mattila, H. (2016): Can collaborative planning go beyond locally focused notions of the “public interest”? The potential of Habermas’ concept of “generalizable interest” in pluralist and trans-scalar planning discourses. In: Planning Theory 15, 4, 344–365.

Mattila, H. (2020): Habermas revisited: Resurrecting the contested roots of communicative planning theory. In: Progress in Planning 141, 100431.

Mattila, H.; Heinilä, A. (2022): Soft spaces, soft planning, soft law: Examining the institutionalisation of city-regional planning in Finland. In: Land Use Policy 119, 106156.

McGuirk, P.M. (2001): Situating Communicative Planning Theory: Context, Power, and Knowledge. In: Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 33, 2, 195–217.

Metzger, J. (2018): Postpolitics and Planning. In: Gunder, M.; Madanipour, A.; Watson, V. (eds.): The Routledge Handbook of Planning Theory. London, 180–193.

Moore, A. (2017): Critical Elitism: Deliberation, Democracy, and the Problem of Expertise. Cambridge.

Moroni, S. (2010): An evolutionary theory of institutions and a dynamic approach to reform. In: Planning Theory 9, 4, 275–297.

Moroni, S. (2019): Constitutional and post-constitutional problems: Reconsidering the issues of public interest, agonistic pluralism and private property in planning. In: Planning Theory 18, 1, 5–23.

Mouat, C.; Legacy, C.; March, A. (2013): The Problem is the Solution: Testing Agonistic Theory’s Potential to Recast Intractable Planning Disputes. In: Urban Policy and Research 31, 2, 150–166.

Mouffe, C. (2000): The Democratic Paradox. London.

Mouffe, C. (2005): On the Political. Thinking in Action. London.

Mouffe, C. (2013): Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically. London.

Pløger, J. (2004): Strife: Urban planning and agonism. In: Planning Theory 3, 1, 71–92.

Pløger, J. (2018): Conflict and Agonism. In: Gunder, M.; Madanipour, A.; Watson, V. (eds.): The Routledge Handbook of Planning Theory. London, 264–275.

Purcell, M. (2006): Urban democracy and the local trap. In: Urban Studies 43, 11, 1921–1941.

Purcell, M. (2009): Resisting Neoliberalization: Communicative Planning or Counter-Hegemonic Movements? In: Planning Theory 8, 2, 140–165.

Puustinen, S.; Mäntysalo, R.; Hytönen, J.; Jarenko, K. (2017): The “deliberative bureaucrat”: deliberative democracy and institutional trust in the jurisdiction of the Finnish planner. In: Planning Theory and Practice 18, 1, 71–88.

Sager, T. (1994): Communicative Planning Theory. Aldershot.

Sager, T. (2013): Reviving critical planning theory. Dealing with pressure, neo-liberalism, and responsibility in communicative planning. London.

Salet, W. (2018a): Public Norms and Aspirations. The Turn to Institutions in Action. London.

Salet, W. (ed.) (2018b): The Routledge Handbook of Institutions and Planning in Action. London.

Salet, W. (2019): The making of the public. In: Planning Theory 18, 2, 260–264.

Schmidt, V.A. (2008): Discursive institutionalism: The explanatory power of ideas and discourse. In: Annual Review of Political Science 11, 303–326.

Shepherd, E. (2018): Continuity and change in the institution of town and country planning: Modelling the role of ideology. In: Planning Theory 17, 4, 494–513.

Shepherd, E. (2021): Ideology and Institutional Change: The Case of the English National Planning Policy Framework. In: Planning Theory and Practice 22, 4, 519–536.

Tewdwr-Jones, M.; Allmendinger, P. (1998): Deconstructing Communicative Rationality: A Critique of Habermasian Collaborative Planning. In: Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 30, 11, 1975–1989.

Warren, M.E. (1999): Democracy theory and trust. In: Warren, M.E. (ed.): Democracy and trust. Cambridge, 310–345.

White, S.K.; Farr, E.R. (2012): “No-saying” in Habermas. In: Political Theory 40, 1, 32–57.






Research Article

How to Cite

Mäntysalo R, Mattila H, Hirvola A. Institutional Gaps in Agonistic and Communicative Planning Theories. Critical Implications of the ‘Systemic Turn’ in Deliberative Democracy Theory. RuR [Internet]. 2023 Aug. 17 [cited 2024 Jul. 15];81(5). Available from: