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Department of Spatial Planning
Developing planning sciences

Theoretical foundations of planning sciences

“Focusing on the problem of how knowledge might be linked to action, planning shares in the tradition of both academic scholarship and political practice. Yet it is fully at home in neither.“ (Friedmann 1987, 11)


The very question of whether spatial planning constitutes a science, or even a discipline, is controversial. This is not a purely scientific-intellectual exercise; rather, this question reveals an insufficient theoretical foundation of spatial planning. If one considers the (planning) sciences in general as the knowledge base of the profession in which planning actions are reflected, analyzed, discussed, and modified, this lack of theoretical foundation leads to a variety of problems - for researchers in planning science and for planners in planning practice. The lack of a clear, explicit understanding of spatial planning, its foundations and core theoretical aspects leads to insufficient clarification of arguments in the scientific debate itself and, in the worst case, to a fundamental lack of understanding. Currently, planning practice hardly benefits from contemporary planning theories, as they either resemble ideal-typical reflections on planning processes or provide justified criticism of prevailing planning theories without contributing to everyday practice. But what knowledge bases are considered "planning perspectives"? What is specific to planning and what added value can planning bring to professional issues?

In many respects, the department faces the challenge of further developing spatial planning in an academic-scientific tradition. In the form of international working groups and debates on planning science, we bring together planning scientists, deepen individual aspects of discussions on the theory of science, and reflect and expand aspects of planning science with insights from the philosophy of science. Furthermore, we deal with planning theories in the field of tension of social theoretical currents and action-related orientations, in which we contribute to the formulation of planning knowledge and relate it in particular to social change processes as a whole.

The consideration of planning as a political practice and the importance of planning-scientific reflection of these practices are thematized by the department especially as a gap between theory and practice - according "mind the gap". In doing so, it is important to us to include and further develop the strong reference to action and the close link to the professional profile of the planner in the theoretical reflections. Special focus is put on the potential transdisciplinary character of planning sciences and its integration into further research approaches.