"Let us be led by the residents": Swedish dialogue experts' stories about power, justification and ambivalenceWestin, Martin ; Mutter, Amelia; Calderon, Camilo; Hellquist, Alexander
This paper focuses on the practices of an emerging group of practitioners in Swedish urban governance: dialogue experts. As dialogical ideals have been mainstreamed in planning policies, civil servants and governance consultants have been increasingly commissioned to engage in dialogue with citizens within public deliberation, planning consultations or citizens budgeting. Even though these practitioners influence the whys, whats and hows of urban development, their practices remain curiously under-explored in Nordic urban studies. Dialogue experts experience the practical dilemma of being experts in a practice that has developed as a reaction to expert-rule and top-down power. We inquire into this dilemma together with a group of dialogue experts who work within an urban development scheme in the district of Gottsunda in Uppsala, Sweden. We ask: how do dialogue experts make sense of their use of power in dialogues with citizens? We explore whether analysing dialogue practice through the concepts of power and justification might explain the practical dilemmas confronted by dialogue experts. By engaging in joint inquiry with the practitioners in a series of focus groups, we learn that the practitioners are inclined to critique power relations that exclude marginalised voices from urban planning but find it more difficult to justify their own use of power in pursuit of a more inclusive governance system. The dialogue experts employ two types of justification for their use of power: an advocative justification, which revolves around aspirations to change the planning system to include marginalised voices, and a more conventional bureaucratic justification, by which they merely execute the will of elected politicians and follow established planning procedures. Even so, the practitioners remain ambivalent about their use of power. Hence, we demonstrate how power theory and joint inquiry between practitioners and researchers can shed new light on the practical dilemmas in dialogue practice.
Keywordsdialogue practitioners; justification; power; urban governance; urban planning; planners
Published inNordic Journal of Urban Studies
2021, volume: 1, number: 2, pages: 113-130
UKÄ Subject classification
Public Administration Studies
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