– Bruce Long

In an earlier article I discussed links between planning constructivism and positivism, and philosophical core concepts and disciplines like pragmatism. In another article I discussed the application of the language and concepts of the traditional philosophical disciplines of ontology (metaphysics) and epistemology to the field of information science – specifically the semantic Web, big data, and simulation theory – and the deployment of those tools by planners doing modeling for planning. In that article I mentioned that positivist and constructivist considerations were converging somewhat because of the reliance of both approaches on different kinds of large data and simulations. Basically – even constructivists want accurate data about psychological and experiential dynamics: data from surveys of reports of the inhabitants of an environment, for example.

I have also recently produced an article that investigates the place of constructivist and positivist planning philosophies and approaches in the context of the largest planning undertaking in history: the functionalist harmony-sustainability program of contemporary China. So I was interested to discover recently an article covering a set of predictive game-theoretic and evolutionary pathway models and simulations for a proposed sustainable eco-city project in China, developed as recently as 2010-2012.

The Mineral Rich Qaidam Basin

Game theory is the mathematical (and formal logical) study of how interactions between human reasoning agents (individuals or groups) pan out. Common non-specialist terms might include brinkmanship, negotiation, threat mitigation/management, bargaining and diplomacy. If you have heard the phrase ‘zero sum game’  – this is in fact game theoretic technical language referring to an outcome in game theory wherein both agents strive to destroy or completely outdo the potential and objectives of the other agent. The idea is that the game is ‘all or nothing’ or ‘them or me/us’.

Game theory is mathematical as well as psychologistic, and so potentially lends itself well to simulation – especially using the kind of sophisticated simulation software that is available now. The main reason why I found this study and article of interest is that it leans heavily to the constructivist end of the planning philosophy spectrum. The study in question deploys statistical evolutionary pathway modeling informed by game theory in a mostly constructivist mode to achieve the end of investigating how a functionalist eco-sustainable development might pan out with respect to all of the stakeholders:

The concept of zero emission contributes significantly to sustainable development. China is planning to build a circular economy pilot area with zero emissions in the Western Qaidam Basin. The paper discusses some theoretical and practical issues in the regional planning. In particular, the paper proposes a constructivism scenario evolutionary analysis based on the bargaining games among the involved stakeholders, which embodies the harmonic society criteria in regional plannings. Then, the paper applies the scenario evolutionary analysis method to the multi-objective programming model of the Qaidam Circular Economy Pilot Area, where the objective of environmental pollution minimization can be converted into constraint conditions. Therefore, the problem is converted into the a single objective mixed-integral programming model of the maximal profit under various constraint conditions including natural resources, environment capacity, and social and economic factors, etc. Furthermore, the model provides solutions to the optimal expected output levels of main chemical products and minimal quantity of pollution treatment facilities according to the optimal scenario evolutionary path which embodies the self-purification emission with moderate resource exploitation. The results of the paper will have important policy implications to the regional development planning in China.

In brute terms, planning constructivists take it to be the case that we make our urban and metropolitan realities, and that the subjective and psychologistic (experiential) are what should be regarded as the central motivators in planning theory. The study favoured and deployed systems thinking in the context of constructivist approaches, rather than cognitivist approaches, to scenario building for the game theoretic simulations:

There are two mainstream views for scenario building (Heijden, 2000). The first can be regarded as the “cognitivism views of scenario building”, which looks at a problematic situation as something to be clarified through rationalistic reasoning. Scenario building is examined as a way to turn intuitive knowledge of a problematic situation into clear research questions that may be explored by systematic analysis and forecasting. Most of the existing literature about scenario analysis implies the cognitivism views. For instance, Jouvenel (2000) proposed a five-stage procedure to construct scenarios…The second mainstream view of scenario building can be called “constructivism views of scenario building”, which suggests that organizations (or social groups) construct collective cognition and response socially in an ongoing conversation. Scenarios introduce the required variety of ideas and also lead to a gradual consistency in understanding what the new situations mean for the group and what its collective response should be. Therefore, the social causality is not only a set of passively observed concomitances, but can also be linked to people’s intentions and purposes (Heijden, 2000). Following the viewpoint of constructivism, in addition to strategic decision support tools, scenario analysis mainly serves as a means of building mental models for social groups. Here, instead of the highly uncertain situation that influences the future trend, scenarios are the potential choices by the involved stakeholders in making future decisions. But, how to define a mental model of involved stakeholders in the regional planning? How to describe the scenario evolutionary path by the interaction process among involved stakeholders? The existing researches about scenario analysis seldom discuss these problems. (Liu et. al. 333-34)

So here we see that the planners are very much adopting a constructivist and social-psychological approach to achieving the harmony-sustainability dual according to industrial functionalist imperatives (the paper also describes the intention of building at least two factories – including a sulfuric acid plant). The paper then goes on (348-49) to describe “scenario evolutionary analysis of QCEPA based on bargaining games” – deploying what would generally be regarded as a very positivistic approach. Thus the dichotomy of constructivism and positivism collapses somewhat under the pressure to deploy all possible analytic resources and tools to solve the industrial and social functionalist problem set for the establishment of a harmony-sustainability outcome.

The paper concludes with a sophisticated multivariate statistical analysis aimed at converging on a zero emissions model whilst fulfilling other objectives. Thus, in philosophical terms the merging of constructivist and positivistic frameworks under the pragmatic influence of functionalist industrial objectives exemplifies a sophisticated habit on the part of the Chinese government to be disciplinary, technological, philosophical, and epistemic omnivores in terms of acquisition of knowledge and tools for a purpose.

References and Bibliography:

  1. Callahan, G., & Ikeda, S. (2004). The career of Robert Moses: city planning as a microcosm of socialism. Independent Review, 9(2), 253.
  2. HJORTH, A., WILENSKY, U., Learning, C. for C., & University, C.-B. M. N. (2014). Redesigning Your City – A Constructionist Environment for Urban Planning Education. Informatics in Education – An International Journal, 13(Vol13_2), 197–208.
  3. Liu, D., Li, H., Wang, W., & Dong, Y. (2011). Constructivism scenario evolutionary analysis of zero emission regional planning: A case of Qaidam Circular Economy Pilot Area in China. International Journal of Production Economics, 140(1), 341.