Contested futures: Decoding the emergence and evolution of diverse interests in multi-scale networks of planning



multi-scale planning, actor network theory, multi-actor network, regional planning




The relation between different governing levels of urban and regional planning is complex. The perceived lack of interaction between the different levels (such as transnational, national, regional, city-regional, municipal) may lead to contested interests and value differences that are not explicitly acknowledged in the practice of planning. In the Nordic context, the relationships between the national, regional and local levels are an important niche to explore (Schmitt & Smas, 2018) due to their formal role in translating transnational commitments (EU, Nordic and Baltic agreements) into regional, sub-regional and municipal practice.

In Finland, planning is characterized as being slow and bureaucratic. As a response, procedural changes have been introduced to strengthen the strategic integrative character of spatial planning (Hirvonen-Kantola and Mäntysalo, 2014) by decentralising responsibilities. Civil servants still traditionally act as the guardians of neutral and objective decision-­making, but their agency is strongly influenced by planning system and culture (Knieling and Othengrafen, 2015). This plurality of agency and interpretations creates ambiguity in multi-actor processes where interests are continuously contested.

These conflicting interests may, however, also be productive allowing the incoming of new ideas (Pløger, 2018: p. 265). Addressing this potential and using Finland as out touchstone, this research examines how the plural contested interests emergence and evolve in multi-scale (transnational, national, regional, city-regional, municipal) and multi-actor planning processes, and how they start influencing the actual outcomes of such processes. Actor-network theory (ANT) (Latour, 2007; Rydin & Tate, 2016) offers a powerful methodological framework for unpacking the complex interplay of contested interests in multi-actor contexts. Through the case, we examine the structure of the dynamic actor networks in relation to the dynamic interests when planning land use and transportation.

By decoding the heterogeneous interests and their power dynamics among the actors across diverse scales, the research provides nuanced understanding of how planning operates within complex multi-scale networks and how the diverging interests are adjusted to conditions set by the actor network. Through the analysis, the research contributes to the broader understanding of who are the actual game changers in multi-scale planning processes, and thus, how the contested interests emerge and evolve in fragmentary but persistent multi-scale integrative planning contexts amid uncertainty, urgency, agency and societal response, and how these dynamics influence the actual outcomes of such multi-scalar processes of planning.


Hirvonen-­ Kantola, S. and Mäntysalo, R. (2014) The recent development of Finnish planning system. In: Reimer, M., Getimis, P. and Blotevogel, H. (eds) Spatial Planning Systems and Practices in Europe: A Comparative Perspective on Continuity and Changes . London and New York: Routledge, pp. 42– 66.

Knieling, J. & Othengrafen, F. (2015) Planning Culture—A Concept to Explain the Evolution of Planning Policies and Processes in Europe?, European Planning Studies, 23:11, 2133-2147, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2015.1018404

Pløger, J. (2018) Conflict and agonism. In: Gunder, M., Madanipour, A. and Watson, V. (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Planning Theory . New York, Routledge, pp. 264– 275.

Rydin, Y., & Tate, L. (Eds.). (2016). Actor networks of planning: Exploring the influence of actor network theory. Routledge.

Schmitt, P. & Smas, L. (2018) Shifting Political Conditions for Spatial Planning in the Nordic Countries chapter 8 in Part III inPolitics and Conflict in Governance and Planning : Theory and Practice, edited by Ayda Eraydin, and Klaus Frey, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.