Co-production strategies with an agonistic tension: counter-hegemonic efforts for local development of a marginal rural area in Southern Italy


  • Angela Barbanente Politecnico di Bari
  • Laura Grassini


co-production, counter-hegemonic transformative planning, Southern Italy




Growing critiques have been raised towards communicative and consensus-oriented approaches to urban planning and policies, because of their over-representation of the most powerful and their insufficient capacity to challenge hegemonic dynamics (Purcell, 2009). At the same time, the value of conflict and antagonism has been highlighted, as a means to pursue social justice and transformative outcomes. Nevertheless, how conflicts with hegemonic positions may create new spaces for co-production of alternative development patterns and innovate urban planning and policy making is still an under debated issue (Legacy et al., 2019).

This paper deals with these issues through a reflexive analysis of a planning process for landscape rehabilitation and local development carried out in a rural area located in the extreme tip of the Italian heel: Southern Salento. This area has been increasingly affected by marginalization and abandonment, even more in recent years due to the disastrous spread of the Xylella epidemic, which has turned a large part of its traditional olive groves landscapes into ghostlike places. Existing policies for the recovery of the area, developed as part of national and EU cohesion policies, have largely employed consensus- and consultation-based forms of participation. These have led existing local conservative elites to greatly influence the development strategy, with the consequence of re-legitimising entrenched practices and failing to contrast social injustices exerted by extractive elites and institutions (Servillo et al., 2016).

In this context, a planning experiment for landscape rehabilitation and local development started in 2020, leading to an Integrated Project connected to the strategic scenarios of the Territorial Landscape Plan of the Apulia region. Those scenarios are aimed to protect and enhance the territorial identities of the region, as a basis for sustainable development, through the active mobilization of its inhabitants in the co-production of their living environments. This also implies the overthrow of the hegemony of the market logic, usually agreed upon by local elites, that had reduced inhabitants to mere consumers (Magnaghi, 2005).

The approach adopted by the Integrated Project was thus quite different from the consensus- and consultation-based forms of participation employed by existing policies: rather than public debates open to all alternative viewpoints, it selectively gave voice to disempowered actors and grassroots collective practices experimenting unconventional rural economies while trying to overcome ineffectiveness of existing policies and failures of market-driven development; rather than emphasizing the coordination and collaboration between all the different governance and institutional levels, where persistent clientelist and dependency politics may hinder the development of social relations, it relied on the involvement of key actors connected to those multi-tiered networks and coalitions specifically engaged in transformative experiments for local development. Development alternatives were thus not theoretically conceived of, but concretely experimented as a result of collective efforts and relational practices. Those alternatives actually straddle between past, present and future as they are rooted in a re-interpretation of the core identity features of the places, which come from the past but are continually re-shaped by collective efforts; at the same time, they are nurtured by experimental actions carried out in the present, as concrete utopias (Davoudi, 2023) and praxis-oriented visions of the future shaping new imaginaries in an agonistic tension against hegemonic narratives.

This paper accounts for the way in which the Integrated Project, as an experiment of co-production with an agonistic tension, was developed and may suggest innovation pathways for urban planning and policies engaged in counter-hegemonic struggles.

Author Biography

  • Laura Grassini

    Associate Professor 

    Politecnico di Bari - Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile, Ambientale, del Territorio, Edile e di Chimica (DICATECh)


Purcell M. (2009) ‘Resisting neoliberalization: Communicative planning or counter-hegemonic movements?’, Planning Theory, 8(2), pp. 140–165.

Legacy C., Metzger J., Steele W., Gualini E. (2019) ‘Beyond the post-political: Exploring the relational and situated dynamics of consensus and conflict in planning’, Planning Theory, 18(3), pp. 273-281.

Davoudi S. (2023) ‘Prefigurative planning: performing concrete utopias in the here and now’, European Planning Studies, 31(11), pp. 2277–2290.

Magnaghi A. (2005) The Urban Village: A Charter for Democracy and Self-sustainable Development. London and New York: Zed Books.

Servillo L., Russo A.P., Barbera F., Carrosio G. (2016) ‘Inner Peripheries: towards an EU place-based agenda on territorial peripherality’, Italian Journal of Planning Practices, VI(1), pp. 42-75.