The Political Nature of SymbolsExplaining Institutional Inertia and Change

Authored by: Federico Savini , Sebastian Dembski

The Routledge Handbook of Institutions and Planning in Action

Print publication date:  July  2018
Online publication date:  July  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138085732
eBook ISBN: 9781315111230
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter problematises how institutional change is conveyed through a political mobilisation of symbolic markers in spatial interventions. It conceptualises the relation between institutional norms and the endogenous capacity of political coalitions to convey institutional change. Coalitions reproduce systems of institutional meaning. However, they also actively convey new norms in urban space through symbolic acts, languages and artefacts, such as landmark icons, public events or slogans. These symbolic markers are embedded in socio-spatial contexts but they also drift institutions towards an idea of a future condition, built on a politically biased interpretation of social and spatial dynamics. We illustrate this process with an example of an urban development in Amsterdam-North.

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