The Making of Planners

Subjectivities of Planners Related to Spatial Planning at Regional Level in the Context of Wind Energy in Germany


Subjectivities are a relatively neglected issue in planning theory and research. This is surprising given the fact that planning can hardly be understood without considering planning subjects conceptually, namely those who are involved in planning processes. Planning politics increasingly operates as identity politics, meaning that many voices try to influence planning and its outcomes via the subjectivities of planners. In this project, we conceive of spatial planning as a collective, self-conscious place-shaping practice. When we talk of spatial planning in Germany, we refer to a legally codified type of multi-tiered planning (Raumordnung), which may include informal, participatory elements to varying degrees.


The project adopts an integrative perspective on planning subjects and the wider power structures in which they are embedded and which they reproduce. The overall objective is to analyse subjectivities of planners in Germany at the interface of spatial planning at regional level and wind energy developments – given the fact that wind energy has become one of the most prominent, controversial and hence emblematic issues of spatial planning at regional level in Germany. The project draws on poststructuralist – or postfoundational – theories of identity-construction in combination with Foucault’s notion of governmentality. These theories assume that the subject is not the origin of social relations, but to some extent a product of discursively constructed identities and practices. Hence, subjectivities shall be analysed in this project as resulting from the interplay of subjectification, i.e. discursively produced power/knowledge structures that subjugate individuals and transform them into subjects, and subjectivation, i.e. practices by means of which an individual shapes her/himself. The subjectivities of planners are to be interpreted against the backdrop of different arts of government such as sovereignty or neoliberalism. In so doing, the project shall advance planning theory in general.


Methodologically, the project relies on textual analyses and narrative interviews with planners in combination with coding techniques. The selection of textual documents and interviewees follows a logic of maximum variation to cover as broad a spectrum of subject positions and forms of subjectivation as possible. The textual analyses are conducted on German-language planning literature as well as guidance documents, handbooks and web portals on public participation and consultation procedures.

Results so far

A first paper (Leibenath 2019) adopted a research design that analyses professional identities as resulting from the interplay of external discursive interpellations and own practices of identity work. It examines the roles, which are assigned to spatial planners at regional level in Germany, and how planners themselves perceive and shape their professional identities. The empirical part uses textual analyses and autobiographic narrative interviews to elucidate subject positions in published documents. It furthermore shows, which discursive interpellations spatial planners see themselves exposed to, which standards and norms they define for their professional work, which techniques of the self they employ and which tensions they perceive in this regard. The results tie in with international research on planners’ roles and identities. The findings call on planning practitioners to reflect upon individual practices and existing opportunities of identity work.


Leibenath, M. (2019), Berufliche Identitäten von Regionalplanern im Kontext der Windenergienutzung: eine poststrukturalistische Perspektive. Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning, 77, 2, 165-180

Thiele, P. & Leibenath, M. (2020), Business as usual? Regionalplanung, Kohleausstieg und Populismus, Book of Abstracts: 5. Dortmunder Konferenz ‚Räume neu denken – Planung in einer Welt im Wandel‘. 17.-18. Februar 2020 (124). Dortmund: TU Dortmund – ILS – ARL.

The Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development is jointly funded by the federal government and the federal states.

FS Sachsen

This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget approved by the Saxon State Parliament.