Hernán López-Garay


Centro de Investigaciones en Sistemología Interpretativa
Universidad de Los Andes
Mérida - Venezuela

© Proyecto Cerebro Colectivo, Instituto Andino de Sistemas - IAS, Lima - Perú, 1999 - 2001.





The meaning of planning in our times is unfolded through the use of two opposite and contrasting meaning contexts dubbed Rational Instrumental Planning and Systemic-Interpretive Counter-Planning or C-planning. The investigation, carried out in terms of the principles and methodology of Interpretive-Systemology, suggests that the discourse on planning is characterized by an instrumental language and logic which puts the means over the ends at the center of the discourse. As we pursue further our exegesis this constitutive rationality of planning discourse is shown to be but a reflection of a wider and deeper social phenomena which permeates our society as a whole, structuring human life into an individualistic, fragmented, instrumental existence.


Planning is an all-pervading activity in modern industrial societies. Yet the meaning of planning and its profound relationship to the meaning of our present time has not been amply investigated.

In this paper we will undertake an interpretive (hermeneutic) investigation in order to reveal, through a systemic-interpretive critical exegesis (to be explained below), that planning reflects a structure of domination that permeates our epoch. In fact we will argue that planning is nothing but a typical manifestation of the Instrumental Rationality that "rules" our modern world.

We will carry out our critical hermeneutics as follows. First we will build a conceptual model which will be dubbed rational instrumental planning (RIC). This model will be used to examine current planning practice in order to see if it "fits" within the model. We do not mean to say we will carry an empirical and exhaustive survey of planning practice wearing, as it were, the lenses provided by RIC. Our approach will be impressionistic, inasmuch as we will invite the reader to search within his/her experience in planning and see whether RIC captures such experience. Prior to this exercise, and given that planning is an activity strongly related to human organizations, we will examine organizational life. This will provide us with a general context within which we can locate and make reference to planning discourse. In other words, in the background of our discourse we will always have planning in organizations present. Next, we will introduce RIC. In order to reveal the type of rationality that constitute planning and which aims at organizing human behavior in general, we will conduct first an "internal" critique, displaying its internal inconsistencies. After such critique we will conduct an "external" critique which aims to reveal a different platform or rationality from which to look at human action and to organize our existence.

Regarding the internal contradictions we will be concerned mainly with the fact that, although planning is animated by a desire to be fully rational in practice it leaves the "ends" aside as something subjective and works with them as "givens" (Flood & Ulrich, 1990). Our exegesis continues propelled by questions concerning why this is the case. For example, why does reflection on future action (something essential to planning) simply becomes reflection on the means? What presuppositions does planning keep concealed in its conceptual kernel?

Guided by such questioning, our external critique begins to reveal both, something about the nature of instrumental reason and a different rationality which is opposed to it in some ways. Because it opposes planning it has been labeled counter planning or C-planning. What the contrasting context will startlingly reveal is that planning is the product of a Weltanschauung and a way of thinking associated with it, which has created both our modern world and the conditions to make itself uncontested. Finally, and as a result of our critical exegesis, a second and deeper layer of domination will emerge in which this way of thinking, that we have called instrumental rationality subjugates other "rationalities" and in particular any form of practical rationality geared toward meaning and understanding. In our conclusion we will examine such domination and discuss the need to undermine it.




2.1. Introduction

Planning is a "phenomenon" of modern industrial societies. It is sold as a very sophisticated rational tool which helps to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of organized human action in general As such, planning cannot be thought independently from the organizational contexts which house and feed this modern rational tool. Therefore, let us start our exegesis of planning, examining the nature of organizational contexts. To simplify our work, let us see organizations as arenas for participation. The reason for this choice is the ever increasing interest in designing organizations as participative, learning communities, a trend that is gaining more and more adepts everyday (as a review of the literature on organization easily reveals).

2.2. Organizations as arenas for participation

There are many ways of looking at organized activity (Burrell & Morgan, 1979). Besides the reasons given above, we have chosen to see organizations as arenas for participation because this image condenses what we think constitutes two fundamental characteristics of any human organized activity. One is the notion that organizations are born and sustained through participation. The other notion relates to "arena." Figuratively speaking, an arena is a scene of conflict, and a sphere of action. Let us develop further this metaphor.

2.2.1 The notion of participation

To participate means "to take part in something." In the Greek world, participation was an essential part of democracy. Greeks’ democracy had as its principal objective the interests of the polis —i.e. the city-state, the community as a whole, the public good— and citizens’ participation was considered essential to achieve such a good, which was no different from the individual good. Participation consisted of making use of reason, i.e. debating rationally the main issues of the polis, its ends and the means to achieve them.

In modern times Greeks' democracy has been greatly distorted, both at societal and organizational levels. At societal level, citizen participation has been transformed into the empty ritualistic activity of casting a vote every five years (or so) to elect our representatives. The ritual is accompanied by a marketing game whereby citizens play the role of "consumers" of political prepackaged candidates and politicians play the role of "sellers" of a carefully marketed image.

At the organizational level the situation is not different. In fact, modern proponents of participation in the industrial sector, usually see workers and employees participation in decision making (in certain decision only) as desirable because it makes decisions (already planned by management) easier to implement. Participation in this context usually means "indoctrination" in some already predefined solution or project.

In non-profit making organizations, participation also tends to have a manipulative connotation. For instance, political organizations try to control neighborhood associations to increase their partisanship and use them as instruments to achieve their political goals (Ochoa, 1996).

Nevertheless, "organized activity" needs cooperation of all actors involved in the development of a common task. Certainly, when talking about human beings, we feel cooperation involves more than just the taking part (i.e. the participation) of a cogwheel in a machine. My "taking part in" some common activity has, in fact, two sides. One side is the surrender of my freedom. I become constrained by a set of agreed-by-all or imposed rules. The other side is the opening of possibilities, within the context of the group's constraints, regarding my own personal endeavors. Each side gives rise to different forms of participation and organized activity which we are going to explore now.


2.2.2. Instrumental and Cooperative participation: Two general forms of organized activity

Let us think about two different classes of interest driving participants in organized activity. If I conceive of my taking part in organized activity as instrumental to me, my driving interest within that organization is then to try and use other participants and common resources to further my own goals. My participation in this case can be rightly qualified as manipulative or egocentric. To my manipulative actions other participants may react to protect their own interests, if they see them as being threatened by my actions. They will have to "calculate" how to counteract my actions so as to maximize the furthering of their own goals. However, the "space" where such strategic games develop is not unlimited. There are constraints related to the group's primary task (i.e. an organization dedicated to produce shoes must make shoes!) that all participants must respect otherwise the organization's existence as such would be threatened. Participation driven by egocentric interests, then, seems to create an organizational context within which each participant, or groups of them, manipulate each other to pursue or protect their own interests.

What would happen, though, if we were driven by an interest in the organization’s goal as primal, like for instance when one is a member of a football club? I do my job the best I can because I want my team to win the game (and here we seem to have a notion of participation closer to that which animated the citizens of the polis).

If one views the group as primal, then participation becomes determined by two concerns. One concern is how to do one's part so as to help the group achieve its goals as a whole. The other concern is related to how to accomplish one's task without dealing with other participants as if they were my instruments to do my job well (otherwise we could fall prey again to some form of manipulative participation, this time "in the name of the group"!). To satisfy both concerns one's participation must become cooperative. I will proceed to distinguish this type of participation from manipulative by taking a closer look at one form of interaction which is fundamental to both. I am referring to communicative interaction. In both manipulative and cooperative participation participants have to communicate with each other in order to be able to coordinate the group's primary task. Nevertheless, in manipulative participation communication is not transparent. Distortion is introduced because of the strategic context created by the egocentric pursue of one’s own goals. On the contrary, in cooperative participation nobody is interested in hiding information or distorting it to influence others to act in certain ways favorable to their own goals. Participants want to favor the group's ends and have nothing to hide. They want to have as clear a picture as possible regarding the group's position as a whole and that of each participant in relation to the group's. In other words, in cooperative participation communication must be transparent so that each participant can continuously realign his position with reference to the group's, thus making his participation more significant to the group’s ends.

Now, because the context of communication in cooperative participation is sociocentric rather than egocentric, communication in the former tends to become discerning while in the latter deceptive, thus giving rise to relationships between participants in cooperative participation which are quite different from those of manipulative even though they may look similar. For instance, in both types of participation participants must seek a basic agreement regarding the group's ends, but the way they go about it and the reasons behind it are of a completely different nature in each case. They must reach agreements because the organization's or group's ends are far from being an objective thing that everybody must "see" and "value" similarly. Ends have different meanings for different people, i.e., people interpret them differently (López-Garay, 1986, ch.6-7). Therefore, if every participant has his own interpretation of what the group's ends are or should be, then the coordination of the primary task is highly impaired, given that each participant believes he is working for a common task when in fact each one, unknowingly, may be working for a completely different primary task.

However the process of reaching agreement on a common definition of the ends is in each case of a different class. Agreement, in a discerning context, cannot be the result of imposition or manipulative "influences," or negotiations because then cooperative participation would be transformed into manipulative. In point of fact agreement in a strategic organisational (or group) context is driven by the desire of each participant of "influencing" others to accept the interpretation which is most convenient to further his own interests. On the contrary, given the basic premise of cooperative participation (i.e., the group's interest is primal), agreement on a group's ends (or their "interpretations" as we will show later) must rest on common convictions. Suppose the alignment of interpretations were based on a threat or in negotiation and not on the free will of each participant to question and reject an interpretation that is not "convincing" (i.e., it does not make an appeal to basic values and convictions), then cooperative participation would be in danger of becoming manipulative.

Here, then, we have a fundamental difference between the two types of agreements. In manipulative participation the agreement process is driven by strategic considerations and "calculations." In cooperative the process is driven by a need to understand critically the group's ends.

Let us conclude our constructive exploration of the concept of participation by sketching some ideas to explain why in cooperative participation critical understanding is needed.

How can one reach agreement on some subject matter by means other than threat or manipulation? Certainly, one way is by argumentation which following Habermas (1984) we take to mean:

"...that type of speech in which participants thematize contested validity claims and attempt to vindicate or criticize them through arguments. An argument contains reasons or grounds that are connected in a systematic way with the validity claim of a problematic expression. The 'strength' of an argument is measured in a given context by the soundness of the reasons; that can be seen in, among other things, whether or not an argument is able to convince the participants in a discourse, that is, to motivate them to accept the validity claim in question." (p.18, my emphasis).


Accordingly, in the context of cooperative participation we can derive some hints as to how the process of agreement may evolve by way of argumentation. It could consist of three, not necessarily, sequential stages. Before describing them, let us remind ourselves of the basic context within which agreement is sought: Agreement may occur when participants feel that their interpretations of the group's ends disagree (i.e., their interpretations do not "sufficiently" and/or "convincingly" overlap), but they feel compelled to seek a "closer" and/or more convincing fit. Now, of course, even if they did not feel there is disagreement, the participants need to assume there is because it would not be helpful for the group as a whole to undertake a common task based on false grounds each one believing there is agreement on the group's ends when in fact there is not. Therefore, as a first stage, the participants should engage in a communicative interaction aimed at bringing to light their interpretations, so that their differences (felt or not) and assumed agreements can be openly examined. In a second stage, participants would seek agreement by means of argumentation, which requires thematizing their interpretive claims and attempting to criticize them by means of argument. Finally, in a third stage, an alignment of interpretations pivoted around the interpretation (which may be a synthesis of interpretations) with the best arguments may be sought.

In other words, one can say that in cooperative participation the process of agreement, through argumentation, seeks critical understanding, which in turn has no other purpose than to lay open and discuss the meaning of actions to be undertaken collectively. (This subject will be considered later). Let us now summarize what we have discussed in this section.

2.3 Summary

In this section we have sketched two ideal types (in Weber's sense, Weber, 1904) of organizations —cooperative and manipulative organizations— based on two different notions of participation. These organizational types, in turn, will serve as a basic ground on which we will conduct our exegesis on planning. In the next sections we will see how they give rise to forms of rationality dubbed Instrumental and Interpretive. Planning embodies the first and C-planning the second.


3.1 Introduction

Something essential to planning seems to be a form of acting which is always preceded by thinking. Planning is thus a "thinking before acting" activity. It is related to the old human problem of deciding on the right action. It involves considerations about which appropriate direction to move and the "why" and "how" of action. Therefore, planning is related to morality inasmuch as the latter has to do with deciding what to do —in terms of what is good and right for me to do in this or that situation. In our time this moral question has been transformed in a calculative process. Right is whatever I choose to do. What is important is how to achieve it. And in this regard reason, science, technology must help me to provide the "right" answers, that is, the most effective means to achieve what I want.

How has this become the case? How have we human beings become to see the world and act permeated by this instrumentalized view of the moral? Which is equivalent to asking: how has planning arisen? In modern industrialized societies by planning is meant a scientific decision-making tool for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of organizations and institutions. The organization of complex sets of interrelated activities to achieve a common purpose, such as the launching of a man to the moon or the construction and operation of a large scale chemical plant, has been the ground for the flourishing of this form of rationality, helping human beings to make careful consideration about how to set up and carry out large and complex projects. Planning, thus, may be seen as a typical product of industrialization.

In this section I will characterize such a product in terms of a model of rational, instrumental, future-oriented, reflection. The model has been developed in [López-Garay, 1986] and is composed of a worldview and a way of understanding human action and its conduct based on it. Here we will merely summarize its main features. All along, the model of organization as arenas for participation developed in the previous section will be in the background of our presentation.

3.2 The World-View of planning

Planning is based on a dualistic-atomistic, scientific, instrumental view of the world. Let us see the meaning of each of these terms and how they constitute a worldview, i.e. a way of understanding the world and our role in it (a weltanschauung).

3.2.1 Onto-Epistemological Principles

DUALISM.- Object and Subject are separate independent entities each with an existence of its own. Objects are also independent of each other with regard to their basic properties. Something similar we can say about subjects.

ATOMISM.- Objects can be considered as made of parts, and these in turn of parts, and so on, until we reach a set of parts that can be decomposed no longer. Something similar with respect to subjects (e.g. the ego, or mind, or reason; although as science progress further divisions can be found).

SCIENTIFIC RATIONALISM.- In order to obtain secure knowledge of the world, any inquiry must be fundamentally driven by the power of reason, both deductive and inductive, aided by empirical testing. To penetrate the world, reason will build conceptual systems of the object, by means of reduction (separation of the object from other objects), analysis (into parts, looking for the atoms, or essential part of the object), and synthesis (a general logical-deductive explanatory discourse about the object as a whole in terms of the parts and the relationships between them). To guarantee secure knowledge the conceptual system thus developed must be checked against logical and empirical errors. The latter implies a confrontation with nature to see whether or not it "fits" the system. The former requires a careful review of the deductive fabric from which the conceptual system is made.

3.2.2 Driving Interest: Instrumental

An instrument is that which helps us to achieve certain predefined ends in the most efficient and effective way. Reason driven by an instrumental interest becomes concerned with the means not with ends. The latter are beyond its scope inasmuch as they are presupposed as a matter of taste, something about which reason has nothing to say.

3.2.3 The Instrumental WorldView

Now let us talk about the worldview that these principles and interest constitute. In order to talk about it let us imagine that a world view is like a pair of spectacles. We will describe the world we "see" through them. The first appearance we observe through these lenses is the world cleaved into two distinctly separate parts, namely, me and the other (everything which is not me), both completely independent of each other. Considering that the other is an object "out there," then, potentially it could be a threat to me and my existence. Hence, it becomes imperative to me to know the other with the aim of controlling it, or at least reduce its potential danger to me and my ends. On the other hand, the other can also be, potentially, a resource, an instrument to help me achieve my ends. My struggle with the other is really then a struggle to know it so that I can control it and use it as an instrument. The most secure, accurate knowledge I can get of the other the better because then I can make good use of that knowledge to advance my own goals. Therefore, the question arises: how can I secure "good" knowledge about the world? Certainly, in our time the answer cannot be "through black magic or mere intuition". In our time, these have proved to be very unreliable sources of knowledge to control nature and other people, whereas scientific reason has proved to be very reliable. Just witness the tremendous success of scientific rationalism in helping man to tame the forces of nature and use them for his own benefit.

Still wearing this pair of glasses one can see man's history as a continuous development of better and better instruments (more efficient and effective) to control the other (be it nature or man) through the development of better and better ways of knowing. Machines, and human organizations as well, epitomize mankind's history of this struggle trying to control the other and thus make it useful.

3.3 Planning: A cybernetic system

Cybernetic machines being at the leading edge of "instrumental" development have, unavoidably, highly influenced the design of all other instruments. Planning being a decision-making tool has not escaped this influence. It has become a cybernetic "machine". It works as follows.

We need, first of all, to define the end to be achieved. Next, we decompose this end (or purpose) to be pursued into a system of interrelated tasks, each specified in terms of its role or function within that system.

Now, to implement this system of tasks, we need to obtain knowledge not only about how to perform each task, in the most effective and efficient way, but also knowledge about the environment where the system is going to be implemented. Here scientific method plays an important role to obtain valuable knowledge. In addition, we have to provide the mechanisms to monitor and control the implementation of these tasks. Finally, we need to set up a second level system to monitor and control all these activities. These two systems we call planning.

In sum, planning works as a two-level cybernetic system. At the first level the following actions are taken:

a. Given a present state and a desirable state, a system is designed to go from the present to the desired state, subject to various economic and technical constraints. The design of this system requires solid knowledge which is derived by means of scientific method. A second level system is also designed to keep a constant track of the first level system's state changes, making corrections as appropriate to keep the system in the planned course toward the desired state. Should the first level system exhibit drastic internal or external changes, the second level system must proceed to redesign it and re-implement it. Now, let us consider some of the criticisms that one can level against this view of planning. From these criticisms we will identify the seeds for a counterview or contrasting context of planning.



The multiple and even complex tasks that this two-level human action system has to carry out, requires the joint and coordinated participation of many actors. Notice the main effort of the planning system is focused on finding appropriate courses to reach a given end and keeping the first level system on track. Thus the planning system becomes nothing but a complex cybernetic instrument to achieve some given ends. But why are ends and values not also subject of the planning system?

Let us consider this question in a familiar environment to planning, namely, a private organization in a capitalist society. The owners of, say, an industrial organization have the right, within the typical legal framework of capitalist societies, to decide which ends they want to achieve and how they want to achieve them. This right is endorsed by the employees of the firm and any other person hired by it, when they sign the contract. The planner endorses it when hired to give "scientific advice" (-to the organizational owners or their representatives-). In return for pay, the planner provides a sophisticated cybernetic instrument to help make decision about and devise the company’s future actions.

Any one who is hired in an industrial organization is then paid to help set up, operate and control an instrument called "the organization. " They are not hired to question the ends which the organization serves. At the most they might be allowed to raise their voice when organizational policies could hurt employees physically or economically.

Is this lack of discussion of the ends in private organizations also typical of public ones? At first sight, the story might be a little different because "the owner" is the "citizen" and so they are entitled to participate, in so called democratic societies, in the definition of the ends and the means of such organizations. Certainly, participation might not be direct but at least there is the possibility of electing representatives. In other words, the "citizen" in a democratic society is entitled to examine and be able to influence decisions which affect institutional ends.

Now, the planner faces here a fundamental difficulty: planning is a tool to design means not ends. Furthermore, being a tool founded on rational principles, even if a planner wanted to use planning to ends planning, one wonders how this could be done, that is, how could we set up a rational discussion of values! Can values be justified rationally (Ulrich, 1983)? If the answer is no, then planning would have to admit that is a tool to the service of non-rational purposes or even irrational ones. Can a planner simply say "my job starts after the ends have been defined"? Which is tantamount to saying: "My tool is value free. It can serve equally well to the attainment of 'good' or 'bad' ends! Is this so?

Something does not ring right in this answer. We can imagine the face of astonishment of concerned citizens of our present scientific era, discovering that rational scientific planning and experts' knowledge can be put to the service of any values because science is not able to help determine which ends are right to pursue and which are not. They have been used to think of science as all mighty tool, capable of answering any question about anything.

But then, again, there is a positive side to this awakening. If science cannot give advice on ends-choosing, then it becomes of great importance to stimulate citizens’ participation in all those vital forums where the ends of society as a whole are decided. In effect, citizens are finding increasingly unsatisfactory the idea of being represented by others on these forums. Politicians have discredited with corruption and bad administration of public funds the democracy of representation. Therefore governments are beginning to promote ways of enabling citizens to take a more active role in public decision making. But again the question comes back: what can planning do about this situation?

One first step is to recognize that planning is mainly an instrument design means. But this is not enough. Planning must also understand its basic instrumental nature, its weltanschauung. This, in part is what we are trying to achieve with the present paper. A second step, is to begin to reflect on the fact that just because values cannot be justified rationally this does not mean that they cannot be argued about, and their implications for human action questioned in every particular setting. A third step is to understand the important role participation plays in any discussion about ends. Easier said than done!

As often happens in our lives, what we take for granted is very hard "to see." For instance, often we are not conscious of our cultural traits. Only when we visit a very different culture do they become apparent, by way of contrast. The task of the next section is to draw up such a contrasting context, and in so doing provide an answer as to how planning can become more aware of its weltanschauung and perhaps begin to find ways of dealing with ends and values.


5.1 Introduction

The core idea of the contrasting context presented below —a conceptual model we call C-planning (for counter planning)— is that of providing a perspective from which reflection on the ends becomes paramount to the activity of reflecting on future action. As in the previous section, here we will present only a summary of this contrasting model. Again, the foundations and extensive developments can be found in (López-Garay, 1986).

5.2 The world view of Systemic-Interpretive Planning or C-planning

The corresponding principles and driving interest of this view are:

5.2.1 Onto-Epistemological Principle

TRASCENDENTAL HOLISM.- In order to counter the dominant instrumental nature of planning discourse we must oppose its dualistic ontological principle which assumes a world of independent subjects and objects. The principles of transcendental holism provide a non-dualistic stand. Accordingly, wholes are transcendental, i.e., their unity cannot be explained in terms of components and interrelated parts. In (Fuenmayor, 1991 a, b,c) the principle of transcendental holism states that the world is not a set of objects "out there" waiting to be discovered by some observer. Things are distinctions drawn from the undifferentiated ground which is the world. Every distinction is made in terms of a context of past experience, or sediment and hence it is an interpretation (to interpret something is to put that something in a context). To know something is then to try and make explicit the sediment or "ground" upon which that something is given.

Things are then possibilities and to make them an object of knowledge, without distorting its unity or holistic nature, requires to uncover the ground upon which they make presence. To do so is to comprehend as opposed to explain them scientifically (which requires to separate them from their ground and reduce them to their supposed basic components).

5.2 2 Driving Interest: Practicalism

The driving interest of counter-planning is not instrumental but practical in Habermas' sense (Habermas 1984). By a practical interest we mean the type of interest which drives a form of intersubjective communication in which the actions of the agents involved are oriented toward understanding and not strategic manipulation (ibid. pp.285-6). Understanding means disclosing the stand upon which each of us see the world and attach meaning to it.

Let us take a closer look at what this meaning-clarification process entails. Actors propelled by a practical interest are moved by a desire to clarify each other's perceptions with regard to a given situation in which they are all involved. In the context of C-planning, "reaching understanding" does not mean seeking accomodation of one’s interest and ends. It means, rather, to reach clarity about one's perspective and that of others by debate.

From another angle, understanding may be seen as a self and mutual awakening process. "Clarity" is reached when I am aware not only of others' positions and constraints but also of my own perspective. The former is only partial understanding or false consciousness.

C-planning, then, as opposed to planning, is interested in advancing the cause of understanding. Therefore, within an organizational context C-planning would seek to induce processes aimed at supporting such awakening of consciousness by the use of debate, i.e. arguments.


5.2.3 The Systemic-Interpretive View

Let us now wear the glasses constituted by the aforementioned principles and interest and try to describe the world as seen through them. The image that condenses the interpretive view is closer to the interpretation of a text than to the design of an instrument. There is no urge to control but to understand. Things are not things-in-themselves but interpretations. Consequently, organized human action is not seen merely as cybernetic system to achieve some given end but as a collectivity of human beings making interpretations and guiding their actions accordingly. More to the point, if we use the words text, write and read, metaphorically to describe human action, we could build the following TEXT-image of human organized activity and of means-ends discussion in accordance with the principles of transcendental holism.

The word text comes from the Latin "textus" which means tissue, a fine woven fabric. Now, text is usually associated with discourse which in turn is a series of connected interwoven utterances in some language about something. But in a wider sense the fabric could be made of acts in general not only speech-related acts, and the language through which the acts are expressed could vary from mother tongue to material transformations. Then the weaving could be associated with the writing of texts. Writing thus conceived would be the process by which a text comes into existence.

According to this metaphor a human "organization" could be seen as a text being continuously written and rewritten. Each actor is a co-producer of the organizational text. As a writer the actor writes about some subject matter and his/her writing evolves as he/she writes. Also, since each actor is participating in a collective task his/her writing is not totally free from influences by other writers with whom he/she has to communicate and to whom he/she exerts his/her own influences as well.

Standing on each writer's perspective this mutual influence may be understood on two levels. At one level the actor writes and in so doing influences the text of others who in turn with their writing influence his/her writing too. At another level one actor’s writing makes sense only in the context of other actors’ writings. Each writer's text poses to others a problem of interpretation. This means to make a reference to the fabric being collectively woven.

Inasmuch as writers orient their "writing" and "reading" by the macrotext the problem of promoting non-distorted reflection on the meaning of future-oriented action is strongly related to the macrotexts, which in sum are nothing but interpretations of human organized activity carried out by each writer. To lay open the meaning of future-oriented action is necessary then to open up this interpretive variety. These are precisely the concerns of Systemic-Interpretive C-planning, as driven by practicalism and the principle transcendental holism.

5.3 C-Planning as a systemic-interpretive process

5.3.1 Introduction

In the context of the previous discussion, C-planning is concerned with the ends and how to approach some sort of a rational discussion of them. In our previous discussion we have seen that this problem is embedded in a context where different interpretations about the ends is to be expected in any organization. Therefore, any attempt to deal in at least some systematic way with this problem has to take into account the interpretive variety within which ends arise. Consequently, C-planning begins by recognizing the interpretive nature of human action and looks for ways of uncovering the rich variety of interpretations which the "readers-writers" of a collective endeavor generates through their interactions. How does C-planning deal with interpretive variety and the debate on ends?

5.3.2 Laying open different interpretations of collective future action

One answer to this question is: "by the use of contrasting contexts of meaning": 'A black figure in a white background is highly noticeable.' By the same token, a C-planning process has to fabricate contrasting ends-means interpretations and use them as "backgrounds," i.e., as "contrasting contexts of meaning" to trigger actors' reflections on their own interpretations.

In C-planning the contrasting contexts of meaning are formally arranged in terms of:

a. A definition of the ends.

b. A formal conceptual and axiological framework explaining and supporting the conception behind the definition of the ends.

c. A system of means logically derived from a. and b.

The actors are then confronted with these contrasting contexts. The emerging interpretations are articulated in the above format. In this way they can be not only compared but also easily questioned and debated by any actor until he/she obtains a clear understanding of each others' interpretations including his own. This is something that has to be done since the whole process is driven by a desire to clarify the meanings of future actions and actually carry out some action!

5.3.3 Reaching understanding on a collective interpretation of future action

Once the clarification process is exhausted (or in parallel with it since one may have to iterate) the question remains as to which interpretation to choose to guide collective action.

Surely such interpretation cannot be imposed or negotiated by a participant or groups of them, since the whole process of actively participating in a discussion of ends (through C-planning) is to be driven by a "practical" and not a strategic or instrumental interest. So, how can we reach agreement on different interpretations? The problem of choice of ends, the problem of reaching agreement on which interpretation ought to be chosen, is a problem that cannot be handled purely on deductive grounds. Why?

A formal answer to this question plunges us into the deep waters of the problem of practical reason, that is, the problem of grounding on reason any answer to the question of what ought to be done. Can we rely on reason to guide us on deciding what ought to be done —once we laid open different interpretations of ends? Must we simply depend on our feelings, faith and inclinations? This complex problem has been studied by several authors, among others Kant (1786), Weber(1968) Habermas(1972, 1973). Our intention is not to make extensive reviews of the works of these authors. We have not the space to do so. What we want to do, rather, is to set the stage for a discussion on the problem of reaching agreement concerning value choices. We plan to set this stage by sketching some ideas, albeit inspired by these writers, and show their relevance both to our own ideas and to the problem of reaching agreement on value judgements in general.

Can reason, generate on its own a set of universal values? If the answer is "yes", then the next question is how we could reach agreement on a given interpretation. A simple answer is: by comparing with the standards and choosing the interpretation which seems to be "closer" to them. A Kantian approach, as exemplified in Kant's Critique of Practical Reason shows that the answer to the first question belongs to the realm of practical not pure reason. Based on the doctrine of transcendental freedom Kant derives synthetic a-priori principles of action which are like "universal laws" of morality from which "right" action can be decided.

In contradistinction to Kant, Habermas seems to say that the problem with Kant’s universal laws of morality is that they cannot be abstracted from the social, cultural and historical context in which they are embedded. It is then through intersubjective discourse that mutually binding norms of valuation may be established so that the validity of value judgements can be decided. How can value judgements be discursively validated? What guarantee do we have of the cogency or consistency of these validations? Does it make any difference if instead of an intersubjective discourse we just decide what ought to be done by flipping a coin or voting and counting votes in pro or con? The answer has to do with Habermas' ideal model of intersubjective discourse and its core idea of "the force of the better argument."

The force of the better argument means that through arguments value matters may be discussed, and those values accepted which are backed up by better arguments. Let us explain. For example, if my judgement that X is better than Y is called into question I must supply reasons to back it up, such as"... well everybody agrees than Z is better than Y and X is better than Z, hence... In other words, I must try to convince others, by reasons alone, that my value judgement is right. Habermas gets deep into developing in his model the conditions which an intersubjective discourse must comply in order to assure the validity of the results. One of the conditions is the cogency of argumentation.

The cogency of argumentation is linked, first of all, to the structure of an argument. With reference to figure 1 below, we can describe the model of argumentation as follows (Habermas, 1984, p.18; Ulrich 1983, p.137, citing Toulmin). Suppose I make an assertion or judgement (C) based on observations or data (D). If my assertion is challenged, i.e., if the connection between (C) and (D) is questioned, I must exhibit a warrant (W) (e.g. a general rule or premise from which my assertion may be justified). In turn, if (W) is questioned I must give reasons (B), backing up (W), with the intention of trying to convince participants, by way of (B), of accepting (W) as plausible. More precisely, we define an argument as cogent if the connection between (B) and (W) is logically possible and if participants are convinced of accepting (W) through (B).

Ideally, then, through this process of cogent argumentation, a consensus, based on the force of the best argument, not on power or deception, may be built around a value judgement.


D= Data I C= Conclusion I W= Warrant I B= Backing


Figure 1: The Structure of Argumentation (based on a citation of Toulmin made by Ulrich, 1983)

In terms of the conceptual framework for C-planning developed above, (W) and (B) would be nothing but reasons emerging from the context of meaning -the background- within which the participant interprets as (C) his phenomena (D). Accordingly, intersubjective discourse could be seen as a process aimed at bringing to the surface the participants' interpretations. When my interpretation is challenged by another contrasting interpretation, I am forced to look for reasons (i.e. arguments) to defend it and in so doing I have the possibility of becoming aware of the context of meaning on which my interpretation is based and where my reasons have their source. Such self-reflection may be called critical, since it seeks to surface the platform where one’s thinking and appreciation of the world is based.

To conclude our short review of Habermas' model of intersubjective discourse and its relationship to C-planning, we can say that if participants are motivated by a practical interest, the force of the better argument will be the real driving force in an intersubjective discourse. Consensus is built around those arguments which are "better" (in the context of the particular debate).

However, the matter does not finish here because even if we are able to disclose different interpretations it may very well happen that we reach a situation where two interpretations gather equal support i.e., both offer equally good arguments in their defense. Moreover, when we think of the conditions which according to Habermas' ideal model of intersubjective discourse must hold in a situation for participants to achieve "valid" results, we realize that its applicability is troublesome (for instance one of this conditions is not to deceive the interlocutor. In real life applications, often this is impossible to control).

So far we do not seem to find a clear path to the present sections' task on how to reach agreement on a given interpretation. Let us make a final trial by bringing to the forefront some extra ideas. After criticizing Habermas' ideal model of intersubjective discourse as impossible to satisfy the practical conditions in real life (e.g., it requires of participants the ability to formulate their queries, interests, and needs in cogent arguments, something which not many people are able to do), Ulrich (1983) undertakes the task of modifying Habermas' model of practical discourse to make it "truly practical":

"As important as Habermas' ideal model of practical discourse is theoretically, practically it cannot play the role of a mediating force between reason and practice, for it is itself located entirely within the boundaries of reason." (ibid. p.163)

Through a lengthy and very sophisticated argumentation, based on Kant's work, Ulrich, if I understand him correctly, finally gets to the idea of "the polemical employment of arguments" as an important tool to make Habermas' model "practical." The idea is based on Kant's polemical employment of reason. Arguments employed polemically can become a powerful tool for those participating in a planning process (and who will be affected by the decisions of this process), says Ulrich, because they can challenge others' interpretations, particularly those of the experts (e.g. planners) without their having to be experts or skillful at argumentation:

"The crucial point in Kant's polemical employment of reason is that it entails no positive validity claims and hence requires neither theoretical knowledge nor any other kind of special expertise or 'competence.' A polemical argument is advanced merely in hypothetical fashion, to show the dogmatic character of the opponent's (the 'expert's') pretension of knowledge. For this merely critical purpose, it is quite unnecessary to prove or even to pretend that a polemical statement may not be false or merely subjective. What matters is only that no one can demonstrate the objective impossibility (and hence. Irrelevance) of a polemical statement any more than its proponent can demonstrate its objective necessity." (ibid. p.305, my emphasis)

We find the polemical use of arguments similar in essence to our idea of the use of contrasting contexts of meaning. Their purpose is precisely that of challenging the dogmatic character of any interpretation. We always look at the world from a perspective which obviously is bound to be absent from that which is distinguished or perceived. If this is so, our looking is always dogmatic, except when is self-reflective, i.e., when it turns upon itself. Thereby, the idea of a contrasting context is to help participants to become aware of their own standpoints. In this sense Ulrich's critical heuristics of social planning and C-planning would fully coincide in their critical self-reflective character.

However, coming back to the task of grounding consensus on solid soil we still have no definitive answer. Neither Ulrich's "polemical use of argument" nor our use of "contrasting contexts of meaning" can secure us an actual consensus (e.g. a "draw" situation still has no resolution). Ulrich's conclusion with regard to this problem, based on his extensive review of Habermas' and Kant's work is that "...there can be not objective (theoretical) but only a critical solution to the problem of justifying practical propositions." (ibid. p.313). By a critical solution he means a solution that makes transparent to all due participants of a planning process (i.e., "involved" and "affected") the normative presuppositions and consequences of their validity claims. Not a solution that secures actual consensus. The latter may not be reached.

So, our reader may be wondering how to make the final choice on the interpretation which will guide and give meaning to future action. So, if the intersubjective process of critical self-reflection is conducted following the guidelines sketched above and yet consensus is not reached, and if the circumstances demand action, participants have to stop the process and choose! How? Well here we seem finally bounded to rely on some fundamental ethical principles —that is if we do not want to settled this situation by flipping a coin!— and use them as guidelines to make our choice. If we appeal to the Kantian imperative, then we cannot give a "pure" rational justification for choosing such a principle. All we can do is to rely on the force of the arguments based on practical reason to convince us of why we should use such a principle.

From the point of view of instrumental planning such a statement looks outrageous because then the final decision will have to be based on non-pure rational grounds. But what do we have here? All of a sudden the reason operating behind instrumental planning has jumped back into our discourse and now seems to be challenging the rationality of counter-planning. Our exegesis has encountered then a more fundamental domination in planning discourse, namely; the domination of instrumental rationality over practical rationality. Our discourse on planning does not seem to be able to escape from it. Why? What is the meaning of it all?



Let us recapitulate. We have just finished the presentation of a contrasting context for planning, labeled C-planning. The purpose of this contrasting context has been to help us put in relief some outstanding features of planning discourse, mainly its instrumental character. This character is inherited through its worldview and makes planning a discourse which is mainly focused on the means, i.e., on how to manipulate and control things effectively and efficiently to accomplish some given ends.

The question arises, however, as to why this is the case, i.e., why the thinking about future action has become polarized around the means, leaving the ends and the meaning of action out of the discourse. Our contrasting context has helped us to see that as long as planning discourse remains attached to a dualistic, instrumental positivistic worldview, then it is bound to operate with the rationality which is proper to such a view. Why? What is it in that worldview which generates the conditions that make possible the appearance of such a rationality?

Reviewing carefully the two worldviews presented above, we realize that it is the domain they constitute, rather than being some specific element in them, what gives rise to such a rationality. However, another question arises at this point: is planning the only phenomenon in modern industrial societies which embodies instrumental rationality or is it part of a wider social phenomena? Since Weber(1968) we have come to realize that such a rationality permeates the whole of the industrial world: our organizations, our institutions, our education, our economies, etc., in sum the entire spectrum of social and cultural activity is dominated by such rationality. Most importantly, even our thinking is dominated by it. And the process of extension of its power to control every single human activity shows no sign of stopping, in spite of the negative consequences that such domination has had in man's natural and social world. On the contrary, "Ratio Technica" as we might also call it, makes itself stronger through a positive feedback, self-sealing process whereby the socio-cultural products which it helps to create return to reinforce it and preserve it in many different and subtle ways.

One of these reinforcing ways is precisely planning. So, in one sense, we can say that the exegesis of planning discourse conducted in previous sections reveals planning both as a powerful tool of instrumental rationality and as a symptom of a deeper domination, that of "ratio technica" over practical reason. The question arises then as to whether we consider it necessary to look for ways of breaking such domination and what could be the role of planning in such an endeavor?

With regard to the first question we could rephrase it thus: Destroy or Tame it? In the following we will argue in favor of taming it and putting it to the service of practical reason. In respect of the second question and looking from the perspective of the latter type of reason, we would like to suggest that planning must shift its emphasis from a primary concern with effectiveness and efficiency of organizational machines to a concern with understanding, learning, and emancipation.

Let us tackle the "destroy it versus tame it" question first. To think that we can wipe out "ratio technica" from the face of the earth is not only absurd but undesirable. It is absurd because this rationality is not a thing that can be taken and crushed against the floor. Instrumental rationality is a mode of being of modern man. It is a way of looking at the world and acting accordingly. Such a mode of being is so much engrained in our thoughts and actions that to wipe it out one would have to wipe out man with it. Notwithstanding this, and by a paradoxical turn explainable by the very same dynamics that produces and is produced by instrumental rationality, we may not be very far from being wiped out by a nuclear holocaust or grave and irreversible ecological damages to mother earth. That is to say, instrumental rationality is itself its deadliest enemy! And here we have a double-bind situation. To tackle instrumental rationality we have to attack our own civilization, and if we do not tackle the problem our civilization may be wiped out.

One way of breaking out of this vicious circle is by seeking to tame it rather than destroy it. There are many positive results achieved by "ratio technica" which have greatly benefited humankind. In a world controlled not only by technological or economical values but by powerful ethical principles such as "man is an end in himself," instrumental reason may find its right place.

Inasmuch as practical reason seeks understanding and critical reflection, something which is in line with the above Kantian imperative, instrumental reason's right place could be under the aegis and control of practical reason. And here planning has a potential contribution to make, which takes us straight into the second question posed above. If we think that most of our modern world is the outcome of planning and design, then we can appreciate its potential as a leverage point for changing the role of instrumental reason. It could work like this. First planning's emphasis should shift from instrumental to liberating (which is equivalent to putting planning under the control of practical reason). To achieve this shift the planning process should be geared towards promoting understanding and critical reflection so as to stimulate self-learning and individual growth, which is what we call here liberation. Technical and economic issues should become secondary to these goals. As regards the products of the planning process, they should become primarily instruments to achieve liberation.

In sum, the exegesis of planning discourse advanced in this paper has revealed a structure of domination that requires urgently a Copernican turn. Planning, as we have seen, has been a key point through which such a domination has been exercised but, as we have pointed out, it may also be a key point of leverage to achieve such a turn.


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