Quantum Subjectivity – Understanding the Dual Consciousness of David Cameron by Joe Crawford (University of St Andrews)


In September, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to Oxfordshire County Council to ask what more they could do to ameliorate the very cuts that his government has imposed across the country as part of its never-ending-austerity programme.   The irony of this needs no further elaboration.

I wish to use this blog post to propose three possible explanations for David Cameron’s actions.

The first and most simple explanation is that the man known as ‘Call me Dave’ is a ‘liberal’ in the general (and worst) sense of the term.  Among a great many other problems, the liberal condition has a very strong tendency to decouple all that is inextricably linked while aligning all that is disparate.  For example, on one level (say, the liberal myth of meritocracy) there is no ‘perceived’ connection between rich and poor in the sense that the existence of one has no ‘obvious or visible’ determining effect on the existence of the other (rich people are seen as being talented and hardworking, poor people are lazy and feckless).  Yet in another sense liberalism aligns a diverse range of people (with vastly uneven and unequal volumes of economic and cultural capital) with politically motivated rhetorical sound bites such as ‘we are all in this together’, ‘we all need to tighten our belts; or ‘we should all pay our fair share’…etc.  Dave has himself produced a very useful example by recently decoupling any connection between the rise of ISIS and western military intervention in Iraq, and by aligning disparate groups of people who oppose the bombing of Syria under the broad rubric of ‘terrorist sympathisers’.  This is what liberal politicians, journalists and academics have a strong tendency to do, they decouple all that is linked and align all that is disparate.  So, in his letter to Oxfordshire council, Dave seems to have decoupled any link between his own party’s austerity measures and the cuts being made to his local council services and aligned the government, local and county councils and the public in sharing responsibility for the task of doing all they can to lessen the impact of the cuts (which his government is responsible for imposing).

The second explanation for understanding this situation revolves around the notion that Cameron is exercising a form of ‘cynical practice’ (see Crawford and Flint 2015).  This form of cynicism arises when professionals (often public sector managers) are all too aware of the distance between the reality (what can realistically happen) and the mask they wear in public (the pretence they wish to promote), yet still insist on wearing the mask (despite everyone’s acknowledgement of the distance between the two).  Carlen’s (2008: 20) example is useful’

For while ‘everyone knows’ that the chief inspector was only ‘doing his job’, ‘everyone else knows’ that in-prison programmes and decent regimes are almost certainly not in themselves going to reduce offending…So why lose credibility (or your promotion, or even your job if you are a prison officer or a prison governor) by continuing to say what everyone else always and already knows?

Perhaps then, since Cameron knows that austerity is a political rather than economic programme, his letter to Oxfordshire council could well be a cynical ploy.  He knows what he’s doing but pretends he doesn’t know.  Dave could be playing a double bluff.

Thirdly, there is what I’ve decided to call ‘quantum subjectivity’ a concept similar to the psychological  notion of ‘cognitive dissonance’ but without there being too much ‘dissonance’ involved.  Quantum subjectivity arises when an agent harbours two (mostly contradictory) positions on the same subject.  The position which emerges depends almost entirely on the situation within which the agent finds him/herself.  We don’t know a person’s position  until we engage them, an activity which always takes place within a context, located within both social and physical space.

Think Schrodinger’s cat.  Is it alive?  Is it dead?  Until you look (thus pinning it down to one state or the other) it is both at the same time.  A quantum particle can be in two places simultaneously, only once you pin it down (by observing it), does it provide its location.  In sociological terms, what a person ‘thinks’ is often determined, not by their social position (as classical sociology might suggest), but by the situation in which they find themselves when they are ‘pinned down’ to having to express an opinion.  My own research provides useful examples.  When discussing eviction practices with housing professionals, they would freely alternate between structural and individual discourses depending on the context. On one hand they would adopt a position in which structural factors played the most significant role in the causes of rent arrears (the problem was collectivised and therefore depersonalised), and in another context would adopt a position quite the opposite of that, where it was the irresponsible behaviour of the tenant which was the issue (the problem is then individualised and thoroughly personalised).  So, in short, the same professionals, from the same offices, oscillated between the same binary frames in order to deal with the contradictions contained within the practice of evicting tenants.  Quantum subjectivity, it seems, allows professionals to deal with the inherent contradictions, political tensions, and moral ambiguities which have come to characterise modern ‘public service’ provision in the UK.

The ‘quantum subjectivity’ explanation suggests that David Cameron’s position on austerity is determined by the situation in which he finds himself.  When Dave is at home, in Oxfordshire, drinking tea in the garden with his wife and children, the effects of the cuts to his local services appear to him to be so severe, he is compelled to write to the council to ask why more cannot be done to reduce their impact.  When David Cameron is in Parliament, surrounded by his Bullingdon Club chums, all braying like donkeys, manically waving their order papers as they ridicule and berate those in opposition, the government’s austerity programme seems the most sensible policy for dealing with problems, the real impact of which David Cameron appears to know absolutely nothing about.

Two entirely different positions.

Two entirely different worlds.


Pictures [from David Cameron’s (Tenant’s) special relationship with Scotland] are published with kind permission from Greg Moodie


By Joe Crawford (University of St Andrews)


From rags to riches? New planning implications of temporary use in Germany By Thomas Honeck (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development & Structural Planning, Germany)

Those who have visited German cities such as Berlin, Leipzig or Stuttgart in recent years might quickly have noticed the importance of temporary spatial uses for local identities. During the last 25 years, temporary uses have developed from informal – often even illegal – civil society initiatives to institutionally funded features of formal urban planning in Germany. While planners’ appreciation of temporary uses first grew in transforming cities in the East of Germany, such projects are nowadays also planning options in prospering cities and form part of the local business promotions. During the last two decades, German urban planning embraced temporary uses and gradually institutionalized related practices: in 2004 the building code was changed; nowadays many cities conduct public agencies or hire private consultants to facilitate temporary uses, and different administrative levels up to the federal ministry instruct studies on the potential of transient spaces.

In our project InnoPlan funded by the German Research Foundation (similar to British ESRC) at Leibniz-Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS) and Stuttgart University we research such drastic changes from former planning routines and ask how new planning approaches emerge, institutionalize and spread. Focusing on intentional acts of stakeholders during these processes we conceive the new way planning involves temporary uses as a social innovation. It is critical to point out, that our understanding of innovation does not include any normative assignments: in contrast to most notions in international literature, we do not conceive social innovation as ‘positive’ from a moral or ethical standpoint. Instead, we apply the analytical conception of social innovation proposed by the sociologist Werner Rammert.

Projecting Rammert’s understanding of social innovation (2010: 39) on the “rise of temporary use” in German planning, three aspects appear as essential. First, temporary uses can be understood as recombinations, reinterpretations and redesigns of already existing elements of planning or other fields. Second, temporary uses have been perceived as improvements and have, hence, been imitated in other contexts and adapted to them. And third, the new meaning of temporary uses may lead to a larger scale conceptual change of planning in Germany. Furthermore, we define social innovations in planning as social constructions with fluid identities, meaning for example that first experiments with temporary uses may differ to recent transformations and adaptations of the concept (Braun-Thürmann 2004: 4).

The long tradition of innovation research provides a large diversity of analytical and methodological concepts and tools that can be applied to the fields of urban planning. The possibilities of our proposed perspective as well as the results of our research will be presented in a full paper soon; but a few appetizers shall be mentioned here already. As a result of a discourse analysis, we identify five main phases in the lifecycle of the innovation. In a first phase of latency starting in the 1960s, the stage for the innovation process had been prepared in two main discourses: on the one hand, the planning system was criticised for its top-down dominance and tabula rasa approaches in urban renewal. On the other hand, the consequences of multidimensional structural changes such as large inner city vacant sites became more obvious, and planners and academics started to notice a lack of tools to react to them. The second is a phase of formation, in which the first experiments with temporary uses were carried out especially in East German cities such as Leipzig and Berlin or the Ruhr area, one of Europe’s largest deindustrialising regions. In this phase, the duality between informal temporary uses and formal urban planning slowly turned into dialectic. More and more positive notions of temporary uses appeared in related discourses. A third phase of fermentation was mainly characterised by processes of learning. From this time on, the literature on temporary use increased rapidly, research projects have been carried out and different administrative and political levels drew attention to temporary uses. Particular groups can be understood as agents of change since they facilitated symbioses between different actors and intentions. During a fourth phase of stabilisation, the new ways of planning involving temporary uses gradually became formalised and normalized. As a strong legitimation for the formerly new practices, the discourse on creative cities and creative industries gained attention in Germany. Subsequently, the economic dimension of temporary uses for a city became more evident. More prosperous cities considered temporary uses as relevant for their cultural and economic development.

Parallel to the normalisation of temporary uses in planning, in a fifth phase of critique, conflicts related to temporary uses reached the surfaces of several discourses. Temporary uses were described as “motors of gentrification” and “fields of self-exploitation”. Due to conflicts related to the immanent temporality, as for example in the case of the Berlin airport Tempelhof, planners started to be more careful involving temporary uses. In reaction to the critique – and similar to the phase of latency – nowadays, new forms of projects involving temporary uses develop as “innovations of the innovation” or “process innovations”.

As our short teaser suggests, the German debates on temporary uses are extensive. The innovation-perspective we chose is an analytical and non-normative one. Nevertheless, the presented results may provoke critical interpretations and inspirations for further research: how did the constellations of actors and motives of temporary uses in planning change from early to current implications? Can we maybe conceive the way planning recently embraces grassroots-practices as a commodification?



Rammert, W. (2010): Die Innovationen der Gesellschaft. In: Howaldt, J. and Jacobsen, H. (ed.): Soziale Innovation. Auf dem Weg zu einem postindustriellen Innovationsparadigma. Wiesbaden: VS Verl. für Sozialwissenschaften, 21-51.

Braun-Thürmann, H. (2004): Zum sozialwissenschaftlichen Verständnis von Innovationen. Planungsrundschau. 9, 9-17.


Thomas Honeck (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning)

Exposing the Illusion of Devolution By Alister Scott (Birmingham City University)

Recently our cities have been aloud with the disparate voices of devolution. This has risen like a proverbial phoenix from the aftermath of the Scottish referendum vote as the UK Government seeks to respond to criticisms of Whitehall domination of policy and decision making. Consequently, we see distinctive Scottish, English and Welsh expressions of “devo” reflecting both their different trajectories and power in the debate. In the English case the political imperative needs to redress the loss of regional autonomy which, when compared to the powerhouse of London, seems somewhat ironic given the rhetoric of Big Society and localism that have been defining characteristics of this government since 2010.

This then begs questions about what localism actually meant, means and will mean, given that now the political sound music is having to be reconstructed. Undoubtedly, there is an inherent attraction about our city regions having more power devolved from Whitehall. Raised expectations are everywhere which only makes the rhetoric all the more dangerous if such freedoms are not delivered. Yet within this constructed opportunity space there appears to be only one preset option available to secure the additional monies and power from the central government piggy bank.   This ‘managerial’ localism requires an elected mayor and is built upon a combined authorities’ model. However, despite pleas for tax raising revenues as in Scotland, the government have said no emphatically. This suggests a deficit of government trust in this local governance model delivering the kind of localism that they want.

So is this UK government pre-construction of localism fit for purpose? Many of our most pressing problems need strategic solutions where any governance model needs to work with, and across, scales and sectors to address the current disintegrated thinking and strategic planning vacuum that limits success. So the silos of housing, energy, biodiversity, employment growth, infrastructure (grey, blue and green), water management and climate change need better integration. Arguably the combined authorities model may not necessarily be the best fit for these diverse purposes as it appears that it is the money that is doing the talking, with cities scrambling to join in and have a piece of the action.

I certainly do not know or claim to have the answer on what is a complex and multilayered set of problems but it seems somewhat premature to rush hastily into this response when many people already seem dissatisfied and disengaged with our current models of local authority governance. So it is a valid to ask whether merging authorities within a further layer of political complexity through an elected mayor is a recipe for success or a political fudge?

In my mind, there should be a debate about what kind of structures are needed drawing on the lessons (positive and negative) from previous governance frameworks including regional planning. Drawing from our recent research on what successful policy and decision making looks like the primary ingredients revolve around different groups and sectors co-producing solutions rather than engineered political interventions at national and local levels that arguably are seeking to perpetuate, in some cases, discredited power bases. Behind such approaches there is strong leadership quality normally requiring them to operate outside the boundaries of the ‘box’.

Whatever expression takes root there is a major problem with the governance of our cities in the multitude of different geographies crossing the same space making coordination across the different sector priorities unnecessarily complex and largely elusive. So water (catchment management) biodiversity (local nature partnerships) economic development (local enterprise partnerships) planning (local and county/unitary authorities. Perhaps rather than add yet further layers we ought to think about a unifying landscape scale that is most relevant to these concerns ad ‘we’ the public who elect these politicians surely should have a say here. Otherwise I fear we will continue with the very disintegrated policy and public dissatisfaction that has created this political opportunity in the first place. So can I make a plea for our government and local authorities to perhaps consult their publics enabling us all to have a say in the kind of localism that we want rather than what is being allowed.

Prof. Alister Scott (@bcualisterscott)