Ontological diversity in urban self-organization: Complexity, critical realism and post-structuralism

Beitske Boonstra, Ward Rauws*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


As urban self-organization grows into a key concept in spatial planning—explaining spontaneous spatial transformations—the understandings and applications of the concept divert. This article turns to the ontological dimension of urban self-organization and scrutinizes how a critical realist and a post-structuralist ontology inspire theoretical practices, analytical tendencies, empirical readings, and subsequent planning interventions in relation to urban self-organization. This is illustrated with an example of the self-organized regeneration of a deprived street in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. With this contribution, we aim to create ontological self-awareness among planning scholars in studying urban self-organization and invite them to reflect on how their positions complement, deviate, and potentially challenge or inspire those of others. We argue that by clarifying ontological diversity in urban self-organization, theoretical practices and complexity-informed planning interventions can be further deepened and enriched.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-324
Number of pages22
JournalPlanning Theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are much indebted to the four anonymous referees, as well as to Em. Prof. Dr. Jean Hillier and Prof. Dr. Lasse Gerrits for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. Any errors that remain are, of course, our own. The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


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