Six controversies in search of an epistemology
Public engagement in planning and siting policy has been a political priority for some time, and there are various arguments as to why successful participation consistently proves to be an elusive goal. Emphasis is often laid on the incompatibility of local knowledge and technical knowledge, on the failure to invite ‘public’ involvement at an early stage, and so on. In this paper, we examine a set of controversies about the siting of an upgraded railway line and associated stations in six neighbouring municipalities in western Sweden. Using parallel focus group discussions with different parties to the process, we draw two main conclusions. Firstly, local knowledge may equally be technorational, yet the positioning of actors determines when and how alternative arguments may emerge. This suggests that arguments over the necessity of social capital for successful participation may be a red herring. Secondly, policy processes are long and drawn-out, and new participants appear all the way through these processes. The category of ‘the public’ is a fictional remainder category which undermines participative approaches. We suggest that opposition should be understood as an eternal factor in participative democratic policy processes, rather than a preliminary obstacle which can be alleviated early on. Hence we challenge assumptions about the rightful temporal positioning of participative practices and query the notion that early participation leads to ‘public ownership’ of plans.