Infrastructural gaslighting and the crisis of participatory planning
Environment and Planning A
This paper traces and critiques gaslighting – the manipulation of circumstances by elite actors to sow doubt or confusion in residents over what is ‘real’ – as an affective experience of infrastructure planning. Predominantly observed within intimate relationships, scholars now identify gaslighting as a structural condition that manipulates whole communities and reproduces systemic oppression. We concur, extending analysis to the realm of urban infrastructure planning, and drawing connections with Rancièrian critiques of elite orders of governance. In infrastructural worlds, regulatory arrangements have been harmonised to suit coalitions of elite government and private actors whilst extolling the virtues of participatory governance. Megaprojects are legitimised by planning processes that cement monopolies and shroud elite public-private deal-making, while detractors are delegitimised discursively in political and media discourse. Yet, dissent is also pacified via participatory planning processes that invite publics to give testimony but undermine their epistemic and moral validity. This, we contend, is an example of infrastructural gaslighting. The case of Melbourne’s West Gate Tunnel Project (WGTP) is instructive – a ‘Market-Led Proposal’ from corporate infrastructure giant Transurban, backed by the Victorian government – where participatory planning was not simply tokenistic, but rather a discombobulating experience, concealing and ‘breadcrumbing’ information to publics, while undermining deliberative capacities. Exposing grounded experiences of infrastructural gaslighting, we join other critical urban scholars seeking conditions for just planning practices. Infrastructural planning regimes are consequential, but the realities they police are illusions that are as tenuous as they are politically constituted and, like other forms of gaslighting, are ready for challenge.
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Australian Research Council