New Lecture: Power/knowledge in planning and design processes

An important reflexive approach to planning has been introduced by Bjent Flyvbjerg. In his book ‘Rationality and power’ he, as a modern day Machiavelli, studied how power ‘really’ works in the Danish town of Aalborg, in northern Jutland. His study stretched over years. Flyvbjerg studied The Aalborg project aimed at ‘integrating environmental and social concerns into city politics and planning’. The Aalborg project tried among other things, to solve the problem of the increasing impact of cars on the old city centre. Following Foucault who considered power not as something one possesses, but as a web of relations, he studied how power is exercised, to understand what ‘governmental rationalities are at work when those who govern govern’. After 200 pages of detailed descriptions of the Aalborg project, quoting from interviews, archives, and key informants, he concludes with 10 propositions. The most important one being the reversal of Bacon’s dictum ‘knowledge is power’. Instead Flyvbjerg, much in line with Foucault, Nietzsche and Machiavelli, proclaims: power defines reality. In the ensuing propositions he debunks the idea of context-independent rationality and clearly outlines the strategic and conflicting roles and forms of rationality in the exercise of power.

Key words: Knowledge/power | governance | relational theory | Foucault |


Duineveld, M., Van Assche, K., & Beunen, R. (2013). Making things irreversible. Object stabilization in urban planning and design. Geoforum, 46, 16-24.

Flyvbjerg, B. (1998). Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2002). Bringing power to planning research. One researcher’s praxis story.Journal of Planning Education and Research, 21, 353-366.

Foucault, M. (1998). The will to knowledge. The history of sexuality: 1. London: Penguin Books.

Van Assche, K., Duineveld, M., & Beunen, R. (2014). Power and contingency in planning.Environment and Planning A, 46(10), 2385-2400.