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Lisa Melcher

Lisa Melcher
Image Credit: Marcus Reichmann

PhD in June 2021

Viadrina University Frankfurt (Oder)

Who plans small towns and how? Multiple orders of worth in spatial planning at the local level in Sichuan, China


The multiple orders of planning: spatial development strategies for towns in rural Sichuan

Spatial planning is driven by and materialization of values, ideas and societal imaginations. Which investments are most sought for, the architectural form of town centers, interventions in the housing market: These are decisions being taken by planners or politicians, and these decisions reflect worldviews and conceptualizations of how society, polity, economy and culture work. There have already been numerous explorations of the political-economic institutions at local and national levels that condition e.g. the local growth strategies focused on the land market. My research builds on these explanations and reaches for identification and conceptualization of additional logics in spatial planning, which I expect to be based in values and narratives of the world. The theoretical framework that enables me to think a multiplicity of – sometimes contradictory – social mechanisms, objectives and values in spatial planning is derived from Boltanski and Thévenot’s (1991/2006) orders of justification and from the institutional logics perspective of Thornton, Ocasio and Lounsbury (2012).

In my empirical research, I focus on professional planners working in towns in rural Sichuan. Planning in this context is understood as a professional discipline rooted in academic and technical discourse, as well as a task of administration rather than politics. This is not to say that spatial planning is not at the same time highly political: it distributes resources and decides between alternatives options regarding public policy and spatial development. This tension between professional ethos, functions and charges of administration as well as political logics of personal career and negotiation of interests can be expected to be routine in planners’ work. I will examine how exactly it plays out in the setting of small towns in a rural context.

Melcher Lisa (2018): Review of François Gipouloux (ed.), “China’s urban century: Governance, Environment and Socio-Economic Imperatives”, in: Connections: A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists,www.connections.clio-online.net/publicationreview/id/rezbuecher-28008.

Melcher, Lisa (2017): "Techniques and Concepts for Shaping the Future: Assessment of Current Planning Thought Through a Content Analysis of Town Planning Textbooks", In: China Perspectives 1/2017: 7-14, http://www.cefc.com.hk/issue/china-perspectives-20171/

Melcher, Lisa; Niggemeier, Jan (forthcoming).: "First GEAS graduate conference: Individual Agency in Institutional Contexts in East Asia" (conference report), In: Asien.


The Production of Spatial Plans for Sichuanese Towns: Planners’ Conflicting Roles and Tasks, China’s New Urban Agenda: An International Dialogue on Sustainable Development, including participation in the PhD roundtable on the topic "Research Challenges of Sustainable Urbanisation", Manchester University (October 30th - November 3rd, 2018).

The Production of Spatial Plans for Sichuanese Towns: Planners’ Conflicting Roles and Tasks, Urbani[XX] Workshop ‘The interconnected City in Germany and China’, Center for Cultural Studies on Science and Technology in China (CCST), Technische Universität Berlin (August 13th - 17th, 2018).

Wer plant die Stadt und wie? Eine sozialwissenschaftliche Perspektive auf Raumplanung im ländlichen Sichuan, „Urban China Lunch“, Center for Cultural Studies on Science and Technology in China, Technische Universität Berlin, (June 25th, 2018).

Ideale, Politik und Betriebswirtschaft – Werteorientierungen von Planern in Chengdu (China), Deutscher Kongress für Geographie:  in session „Planungskulturen – theoretische Zugänge und empirische Belege“ and Experten, politische Berater und Regulatoren – widersprüchliche Rollen von Planern in Chengdu/China in der Sitzung „Planung im Wandel – von Rollenverständnissen und Selbstbildern“, Tübingen (September 30th - October 5th. 2017).

Who plans urban space in China? 2017 International Conference on China Urban Development: in session „Comparative urbanism 1“, London (5./6.May 2017).

What can I contribute to your project? Reflections on doing ethnographic research in a professional field. Paper presented at the China Workshop ‘Iserlohn 2017’ in Schwerte, Germany (Feb. 2017).

How spatial plans are made. Process and orders of creating the general plan for a small town. Paper presented at the New European Research on Contemporary China Conference, 3rd Edition in Beijing, China (Jul. 2016).

A Multiplicity of Orders: Spatial Planning of Towns in China. Paper presented at the 19th Annual Harvard East Asia Society Graduate Conference in Cambridge MA, USA (Feb. 2016).