Who Cares? Arnstein’s Ladder, the Emotional Paradox of Public Engagement, and (Re)imagining Planning as Caring
White, Stacey Swearingen
Taylor & Francis
Scholarly/refereed, author accepted manuscript
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Problem, research strategy, and findings: What should planners do when members of the public “care loudly” at them? Planning scholars have recently called for more attention to the emotional dimensions of our profession. In the context of reflecting on Arnstein’s “A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” we identify the emotional paradox of public engagement. This paradox arises because our emotions often motivate us to plan so that all people in our communities can flourish rather than suffer, but our instincts, reinforced by our education, training, and professional norms, may lead us to try to control or avoid emotions altogether in the actual work of planning. Our research strategy involves critically analyzing the language of Arnstein’s article for its emotional content. We systematically review contemporary sources of guidance and training for planners (including from the APA, the AICP, and the Planning Accreditation Board) to determine whether and how the emotional dimensions of planning are addressed. We synthesize insights on contending with emotion from the psychology and neuroscience literatures and also synthesize practice-oriented resources for leveraging emotional and social intelligence to overcome the emotional paradox. We find that Arnstein’s article evocatively reveals the emotional paradox. Our review of the contemporary knowledge, training, and skills available from major planning organizations demonstrates contemporary pervasiveness of the paradox. Research from psychology and neuroscience demonstrates, from a basic scientific standpoint, that trying to maintain the paradox is impossible, which helps to explain common pitfalls that planners fall into when doing their work. Takeaway for practice: Planners should reflect deeply on how they engage emotions in their work and how their approach constrains and enables their effectiveness. Deepening emotional, social, and cultural intelligence holds considerable potential for meeting our field’s aspirational goals of fostering more compassionate and inclusive communities.
Ward Lyles & Stacey Swearingen White (2019) Who Cares?, Journal of the American Planning Association, 85:3, 287-300, DOI: 10.1080/01944363.2019.1612268
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