The Limits of Social Mobilization in Planning

Victor Bruzzone, 2017
Vol. 23 No. 6 ISSN 1702-3548


This paper tests the limits of social mobilization in planning by considering its ethical and practical boundaries. In the first section I explore two theorists of social mobilization in planning, John Friedmann and Mark Purcell. I argue that both rely on the claim that there is something morally problematic about decision-making in planning that is not exercised directly and democratically. Moreover, they both argue for the morally superiority of direct democratic control in planning. In the second section I consider two arguments for why we might accept the view that social mobilization is morally preferable to other forms of decision-making in planning. The first is by arguing that indirect centralized power structures alienate people from their original state of autonomous control. The second is by arguing that social mobilization will lead to the morally best outcomes. Ultimately I conclude that neither argument works well and that there are not conclusive reasons to argue that there is something morally better about social mobilization as a decision-making structure in planning compared to other forms of decision-making that don’t rely on direct democratic control. In the third section I consider subjectivity in social mobilization. That is, I argue that social mobilization implies a certain view of subjectivity as able to consistently resist social and political passivity, and universalize a kind of perpetual struggle for autonomy. Then, in the fourth section I analyze subjectivity in social mobilization through the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Based on Merleau-Ponty, I argue that subjectivity as implied by social mobilization is not plausible. Instead of viewing passivity as the enemy of justice, phenomenology reveals passivity to be a necessary and fundamental structure of subjectivity.