Planning as Persuasive Storytelling: The Rhetorical Construction of Chicago's Electric Future.

Author:Atkinson, Glen

This book by Professor Throgmorton represents an ambitious research agenda that clearly took many years to bring to fruition. He demonstrates an impressive understanding of regional planning theory and practice and applies this knowledge to a series of electric rate cases in Chicago. His means of application required him to attend dozens of regulatory hearings and political meetings, in addition to reading technical and journalistic reports, over the course of several years. Throgmorton even became a shareholder of Commonwealth Edison in order to understand the case from the shareholders' point of view. This is not the work of a scholar who finds some data and manipulates it through a software program for quick results to maximize publications.

The first chapter reviews the principles of modernist planning and the reasons why that type of planning is inappropriate for many situations. Modernist planning is rational planning, but such constructs are in the eye of the expert, rather than the affected citizens. The modernist planner must disengage himself from the community and seek sanctuary for clear thinking. This planner assumes that values and preferences can be discovered by the planner simply through rational thought. It is then assumed that if the citizens had all of the information that the experts had, they would reach the same conclusions about the system as the experts. Obviously, modernist planning works best when there are not great divergences in values, but breaks down when the community of participants are not homogeneous. It is in the interest of the experts and the elites to exclude people who hold uncommon views from the process, and this exclusion can be accomplished by speaking in technical jargon as electric utility and planning staff members do to each other. We might note that this is consistent with the capture theory of utility regulation.

In Chapter 2, Throgmorton presents his view that post-modernist planning relies on rhetorical storytelling instead of technical forecasting. When there are diverse sets within the population who want to affect the outcome, "normal discourse" between professionals breaks down. Planners then need to construct stories about alternative futures that are believable to the participants. The plan must be pitched to the various audiences. Stories have an author and an audience, and they both create the story. This makes scientists uncomfortable because scientists like to believe that they...

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