Archive for category Urban
Title : Rationality and Power
Author : Bent Flyvbjerg and Steven Sampson
Publisher/Year : University of Chicago Press/1998
ISBN : 978-0226254517
Reviewer : Yudo Anggoro, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
This book, “Rationality and Power”, is a great narrative in understanding power and rationality in planning process, especially in the case of city of Aalborg in Denmark. In order to get better understanding of the concepts, Bent Flyvbjerg – the author- traces back the concept of rationality and power since the enlightenment era. It was the era of Nietzsche and Kant, where rationally was seen as a well-defined yet context-independent concept. This is also the main thesis of this book, that rationality is not constant over time and space, and the context of rationality is power.
The Alborg project was an award-winning project recommended by the OECD for international adoption on how to integrate environmental and social concerns in city politics and planning, including how to deal with the car in the city. This project involved various actors, from the government, international agencies, media, corporations, and political parties. This was an inter-organizational and interdisciplinary project, in which to become a perfect example of “wicked” problems faced by planners to ensure the accomplishment of the project. I would like to highlight that the success of this project’s task force depends on three factors; structural, organizational, and individual. Among of these factors, the individual factor was the most influential factor. The mayor of Alborg, who represented the individual factor, was influential, charismatic, having vision and values, and holding powerful position. The mayor was the source of political support and power of this project. He guided the decision of this project, and therefore, the rationality of this project laid on the power of the mayor. In this case, power defines rationality, and power defines reality.
But we must also understand the setback of this reality. I agree with Kant who says that the possession of power unavoidably spoils the free use of reason, and more power appears to spoil reason even more. As Nietzsche clearly puts it; the greater the power, the less the rationality. I view that power and rationality are in a contradictory state. Once we get the power, we lose our rationality and increase our ignorance. Then, my question, how can we have power while still keeping our rationality? How can we be sure that while we are in powerful position we still can make decision rationally? Can our values preserve our rationality?
Another interesting notion on this book is whether citizen participation is needed or not. The public participation on this project also raised debates on rationality and power. The Chamber of Industry and Commerce argued that what is good for business is good for Alborg, therefore public should follow their decision. On the other side, public encountered with the argument that this project would also affect their community; therefore they had the right to voice their concerns and gave some feedbacks on this project. The solution, of course, to find consensus between these two views, and consensus was hardly met. The Chamber of Industry and Commerce felt that they had more power, so that they insisted not to invite public participation. The greater the power, the less the rationality.
I found this book is useful and interesting to enlighten me the concept and argument between power and rationality. From this book, we may understand that power and rationality has raised debates and controversies for centuries. The Alborg project in Denmark is really helpful to illustrate the relation between power and rationality.