This article charts predicaments and conundrums associated with the ambition to plan for social justice. Drawing from classical theory on the roles of intellectuals, we identify what we call the “power of representation dilemma.” This dilemma arises because the credentials, knowledge, and skills of intellectuals (like urban planners) make them into powerful agents of social justice but at the same time can put them in a position of power in relation to the very communities they represent and serve. We develop a typology of various strategies for contending with this dilemma and conclude there are no clean ways to resolve the dilemma as each strategy has significant tradeoffs. We encourage a “realpolitik of social justice,” whereby planners become cognizant that there are only imperfect strategies to engage in the politics of social justice. Recognition of their fallibility in the pursuit of noble ideals will make them more reflexive and capable of responding to the inevitability of new injustices and silencings that arise when planning for social justice.

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Planning Theory
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Uitermark, J., & Nicholls, W. (2017). Planning for social justice: Strategies, dilemmas, tradeoffs. Planning Theory, 16(1), 32–50. doi:10.1177/1473095215599027