On Wicked Problems

Here is the pre-production version of a paper just accepted for publication in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, entitled ‘The wicked city: Genealogies of interdisciplinary hubris in urban thought’. (You can access a PDF of the final draft here).

The paper is one, probably the last, output from ‘The Urbanization of Responsibility‘ project, supported by a Leverhulme Fellowship back in 2014-2016, but which lasted longer than the funding, as these things do of course. (If someone gave me another fellowship, I might have the time to sculpt the various urban-focussed things that have come out of that project into a coherent looking book. Probably won’t happen).

Here’s the abstract to this latest piece:

“Across multiple academic disciplines and fields of policy, cities are now ascribed wide-ranging task responsibility for addressing a wide range of global issues. This paper elaborates a genealogical mode of analysis for understanding the ascription of causal and practical responsibility to urban processes. This analysis is developed through a case study of the revival of interest in the concept of wicked problems. The paper pinpoints aspects of the original account of wicked problems that are crucial to appreciating the significance now played by this concept in discourses of metrophilia. The focus is on the specific sense of ‘wickedness’ outlined in this original account. The career of the wicked problems idea is reconstructed, with an emphasis on different views of expertise and how these are related to the changing status of the city in recent accounts of wicked problems. The paper identifies differences and similarities between the two prevalent ways in which the invocation of the concept of wicked problems is used to ascribe responsibility for shaping urban futures – a ‘taming’ perspective and a ‘sharing’ perspective. In concluding, it is argued that the career of the idea of wicked problems brings into view the constitutive link between generalised ascriptions of task responsibility to urban processes and a set of chronic concerns about the ambivalence of urban expertise.”

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