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The translation of planning ideas in Latin America: From national plans and programmes to discursive state selectivities
DANIEL GALLAND; PABLO ELINBAUM
Seminario; Policy transfer, diffusion and translation in territorial governance and spatial planning in the Global South; 2020
Department of Urbanism of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment of the Delft University of Technology
As Latour (1992) reminds us, the transfer of ideas involves a process of translation rather than one of reception or sheer acceptance. Originally transferred from Western Europe, the idea of planning became semantically diffused throughout Latin America during the 1960s (CEPAL 1967). Its genesis can be attributed to indicative planning notions, which were then translated, adopted, disseminated and endorsed by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL) through a normative model of social and economic development for the region. Planning was thus conceived by and large as a modern state project to overcome underdevelopment, and most if not all Latin American countries translated such planning model by creating centralised planning institutions in charge of preparing national plans and programmes. However, the fact that planning was too optimistically framed and linked to overly ambitious developmental goals generated expectations that were disproportionate to what the prevailing conditions in each country ultimately allowed for (De Mattos, 1979). The impossibility to undertake the required substantial institutional, structural and policy shifts during subsequent decades gradually led to the dismantling of most national organizations once established at the service of planning. Yet, as this paper will argue, the modern idea of planning as the developmental pathway to achieve modernization has persisted to date in strategic and discursive terms. Foregrounded by an analysis of the historical evolution of state strategies in Mexico and Argentina, the paper sets out to explore how the modernist discourse planning for development has been recurrently used by state actors as a scapegoat to justify interventionist state strategies that ultimately shape the form of spatial planning systems in these countries. On the other hand, it shows how the same discourse is employed to mobilize government agendas while either reinforcing or modifying the form of the state in accordance with such selective strategies. The paper demonstrates how state strategies tend to conceal inherent selectivities for socio-economic intervention and how their outcomes oftentimes diverge from the actual policy agendas they were allegedly set to pursue. Far from perceiving the institution of planning as a formal state project catering to socio-spatial development, the paper concludes that more attention need be paid to the framing and understanding of planning as an ensemble of multidirectional, selective state strategies that prioritise agendas relating to the international division of labour, which have been historically set by the influence of international organizations in the Global South. This occurs in detriment of real localised planning challenges relating to inter alia acute socio-spatial inequalities, urban informality, environmental degradation and housing deficits.