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"It's like the story of Little Town," an influential actor says in Rationality and Power when choosing a metaphor to describe how he manipulated rationality to gain power, "The bell ringer . . . has to set the church clock. So he calls the telephone exchange and asks what time it is, and the telephone operator looks out the window towards the church clock and says, 'It's five o'clock.' 'Good,' says the bell ringer, 'then my clock is correct.'"
In the Enlightenment tradition, rationality is considered well-defined, independent of context; we know what rationality is, and its meaning is constant across time and space. Bent Flyvbjerg shows that rationality is context-dependent and that the crucial context is determined by decision-makers' power. Power blurs the dividing line between rationality and rationalization. The result is a rationality that is often as imaginary as the time in Little Town, yet with very real social and environmental consequences.
Flyvbjerg takes us behind the scenes to uncover the real politics--and real rationality--of policy-making, administration, and planning in an internationally acclaimed project for environmental improvement, auto traffic reduction, land use, and urban renewal. The action takes place in the Danish city of Aalborg, but it could be anywhere. Aalborg is to Flyvbjerg what Florence was to Machiavelli: a laboratory for understanding power and what it means for our more general concerns of social and political organization. Policy-making, administration, and planning are examined in ways that allow a rare, in-depth understanding. The reader is a firsthand witness to the classic, endless drama that defines what democracy and modernity are, and what they can be.
The result is a fascinating narrative that is both concrete and general, current and timeless. Drawing on the ideas of Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Habermas, Flyvbjerg reads the Aalborg case as a metaphor of modernity and of modern politics, administration, and planning. Flyvbjerg uncovers the interplay of power and rationality that distorts policy deliberation. He demonstrates that modern "rationality" is but an ideal when confronted with the real rationalities involved in decision making by central actors in government, economy, and civil society. Flyvbjerg then elaborates on how this problem can be dealt with so that more fruitful deliberation and action can occur.
If the new millennium marks a recurrence of the real, Flyvbjerg's Rationality and Power epitomizes this development, setting new standards for social and political inquiry. Richly informed, powerfully argued, and clearly written, this is a book that no one trying to understand policy-making, administration, and planning can afford to overlook.
Read an Excerpt
"All the problems of politics, of social organization, and of education have been falsified through and through," Nietzsche says, "because one learned to despise 'little' things, which means the basic concerns of life itself." I take the Aalborg case to be one of Nietzsche's "little things," a "discreet and apparently insignificant truth," which, when closely examined, reveals itself to be pregnant with paradigms, metaphors, and general significance, what Nietzsche in typical immodest fashion calls "cyclopean monuments." Applying the Nietzschean approach to Aalborg, we will find that the most particular also reveals itself to be the most general. Nietzsche may have declared the death of God, but God fooled him; God is still in the detail. So is the devil, as we shall see. To understand the story of Aalborg is to understand central aspects of modernity and of modern politics, administration, and planning. Thus, Aalborg is not presented as a case of "something rotten in Denmark." It is put forward as a case of the more pervasive problem of how to make democracy work in a modernity that is strong on democratic ideals but weak on their realization. With Denmark being one of the oldest, and probably also one of the best functioning welfare state democracies in the world, the Danish case demonstrates just how seriously we should take Bernard Crick's observation that to call governments "democratic" is always a misleading piece of propaganda. We may want the democratic element in government to grow greater, but it is still only an element tempered by other elements that we need to take into account when working for more democracy.
Table of ContentsPreface
Map of Downtown Aalborg
1: In Some Remote Corner of the Universe
2: The Aalborg Project
3: Bacon and Nietzsche Come to Northern Jutland
4: Power Defines Reality
5: Rationality as Frozen Politics
6: The Rationality of Resistance
7: The Weakness of the Better Argument
8: The Longue Duree of Power
9: Rationality in the Context of Power
10: Interpretation over Truth
11: Antagonistic Reactions at Play
12: Farewell to Reason
13: The Dream Plan
14: Knowledge Kills Action
15: Minutiae Matter
16: Myths Die Hard
17: Exit the Innovators
18: A Single Drama...with an Endless Play of Dominations
19: Reality Check
20: Power Has a Rationality That Rationality Does Not Know
App. A: Main Actors in the Aalborg Project
App. B: Chronology of the Aalborg Project
App. C: Elements in the Original Aalborg Project
What People are Saying About This
Deeply original. . . . This book presents the single most important challenge to the perspectives of conventional social science and conventional political philosophy.