A three-dimensional view of public participation in Scottish land-use planning: Empowerment or social control?

Mhairi Aitken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Current planning policies place significant emphasis on the importance of public participation. Through a case study of a planning application for a wind power development in Scotland, this article examines the realities of such policy commitments. It seeks to evaluate to what extent the planning process represents an exercise in participation - entailing empowerment of participants - or rather in social control - through which public participation is managed in order to secure particular outcomes. The article refers to Lukes's (1974 [2004]) three-dimensional view of power to demonstrate the various forms of power present within the planning system. Subtle forms of power are shown to act to restrict the extent to which public participants meaningfully influence decisions. This is considered to be particularly true where public participation leads to the expression of public opposition towards developments which are explicitly supported by government policies (as is the case with renewable energy). However, while power remains predominantly in the hands of decision-makers, and within the structures of the planning system, public participants are not powerless. Yet, greater power exists within and beyond the planning system influencing participants' perceptions of what constitutes legitimate participation. The active roles of participants in interpreting what is expected or required of them, and presenting themselves in ways perceived to lead to optimal benefits must be acknowledged. Engaging with the opinions and knowledge of members of the public is more problematic than simply setting up encounters or opportunities. Rather it requires a more fundamental change in the ways by which expert and lay knowledges are perceived within society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-264
Number of pages17
JournalPlanning Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010


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