Power and rationality in coastal planning: effects on participation and possibility in the management of barrier island dunes in Flagler Beach, Florida, USA

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article offers an empirical example of how power and rationality interact in coastal resource planning and management and reveals their implications for meaningful public participation in such processes. Participation has gained significant popularity over the last decades especially regarding the need to develop appropriate and democratic opportunities for meaningful public involvement in resource planning and management. However, planning processes involve interactions between different actors with different levels and types of power and thus pose problematic contexts for democratic decision-making and public participation. Understanding planning processes as manifestations of the interactions between power and rationality provides a useful analytical lens to interrogate past and current planning procedures, and how such dynamics may impede the potential for more desirable modes of public participation. Drawing on ongoing research in the coastal community of Flagler Beach, Florida, I demonstrate, through qualitative analysis of public documents, legislation, interviews, and observations, how this plays out in a real-world planning context. I draw conclusions from the empirical case area relevant to the praxis of action-oriented researchers concerned with facilitating social change for sustainability. I propose three axioms relevant to power-laden resource planning and management processes and central to future critical planning research: power-rationality relations have historical roots; power-rationality relations are context-dependent; power-rationality relations affect the potential for public participation. Taken together, these indicate that any research intending to critically investigate planning processes with the goal of enhancing the potential for meaningful public participation should incorporate these axioms, maintain a responsibility to identify others, and adjust theory and research praxis accordingly.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
  • Human Geography


  • Power, Rationality, Participation, Florida, Barrier islands, Sustainability
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)561-576
JournalJournal of Coastal Conservation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch

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