Between Master Plans and Advanced Information Technology: is there a site for Brazilian Cities in the Global Network? The Case of Porto Alegre

da Cruz Fagundes, Thêmis (2001). Between Master Plans and Advanced Information Technology: is there a site for Brazilian Cities in the Global Network? The Case of Porto Alegre. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis consists of an investigation of the impact of information technology on participatory planning practices and social changes in urban governance. A multidisciplinary approach is adopted in which three fields intersect and link with information technology - these being urban space, urban planning and socio-cognition. This framework is derived from four theoretical perspectives: Castells' theorisation of the network society, the paradigmatic shift in the urban planning praxis towards a communicative rationality, Piaget's genetic epistemological Constructivism, and the current concept of cyberspace. It is argued that informational space is a social construction and that knowledge may be considered as the raw material to fight social inequality. A qualitative socio-cognitive perspective is thus employed to study the rise of citizenship movements and enable an investigation to be carried out into social relations and the development of knowledge in the new digital environment, having the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, as a case study. The inquiry as a whole seeks to improve our understanding of the kind of social learning processes that might empower citizens' participation by exploring grassroots participatory practices in emergent informational space. The work involved undertaking an examination of social relations within the institutional digital environment by means of a socio- cognitive clinical method. Semi-structured and open interviews were carried out to study 30 selected subjects (local politicians, academics, technocrats, and community leaders) in Porto Alegre - a city which has been associated with radical democratic planning practices over 12 years, with an effort to build participatory informational space. The investigation of the characteristics of social relations and participatory practices in the urban governance context and the initial stages of institutional digital environments provided evidence that an embryonic process of citizenship empowerment was emerging in informational space, associated with radical changes in cognitive learning processes. This is a dialectical process that involves the re- articulation of local power relationships in the struggle to build networks of social change.

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