Utopian Planning for Development and Change
The concept of development has been used in economics, sociology and education under different ideological labels and for a variety of planning purposes. However, the main reason for singling out education as instrumental in development is its role in producing the skilled manpower required to meet a country’s socio-economic needs. Thus education has come to be regarded, in our view wrongly, as a supplier of ‘human resources’; it has been turned into a formal institution concerned in practice with the immediate provision of trained skills and aptitudes, in which human beings are perceived as agents of production, their social, cultural and civic roles being relegated to the background.
Education has thus ceased to be a permanent lifelong process, and has become a system for awarding certificates, promoting social values and attitudes founded solely on paper qualifications and competition. It produces students whose aim is the prestige of a diploma or degree, not the genuine search for knowledge and its furtherance even after school and university.
In addition, the economic theory of development has now become obsessed with the attainment of economic indices of expansion in as short a time as possible, without pausing to analyze the effect of these changes on the lives of men and women. Greater emphasis is set on the production of goods than on the creators and users of these goods, on the assumption that production will indirectly benefit society.
This development process is reflected in the theory and practice of strategic planners, who try to predict foreseeable changes by applying to reality the measures they consider suitable to bring about such changes. Seen in this light, strategic planning marks a departure from the search for an ideal world, and becomes merely a forecasting technique.
The Utopia/reality dilemma is the epistemological representation of the divide between the desirable and the possible, between a world which does not exist and a temporarily established order, between planning the future and planning the present, between sustainable development and growth. Utopia and reality are terms commonly used, in our view wrongly, to portray idealism and pragmatism as incompatible ways of life. Added to this is the idea, deeply rooted in today’s money-dominated society that Utopia is a matter for idle speculation and fanciful imagination, leading nowhere.
Without entering into the philosophical discussion of Utopian and anti-Utopian thought, which began in the early seventeenth century, following the work of Sir Thomas More, and has continued up to the present day with several analytical studies, we must establish the relationship between an ideal world and the learning process by defining what in practice is meant by Utopia. The Greek etymology ou (not, no) and topos (place), in other words a place or world that does not exist, does not necessarily mean that this world could not exist, and it was precisely in Thomas More’s Utopia that the concept came to mean a plan or idea that is desirable but unrealizable in the established order of the present.
The notion of Utopia has developed in two clearly defined ways. The first, according to the ‘phalanx’ theory of Fourier, takes unreality and constructs an imaginary reality or another unreality, and the second takes existing reality as the starting point for representing a different and better world on the basis of another possible future reality. We consider the second view to be essential to any strategy of future social planning and we take issue with the ‘anti-climax’ of the theory of contemporary strategic planning.
This ‘anti-climax’ is constantly in evidence in writings on social, economic and educational planning. In most cases, the objectives set by planners do not differ in any way from the objectives inherent in the natural and irreversible growth of any society. An existing reality is taken in order to prepare, or rather organize, strategies to attain a foreseeable reality, frequently the product of economic growth or development, according to Robert L. Heilbroner’s theory. This concept of development aims at producing a take-off point at which wealth, defined as productivity plus finance, exceeds domestic consumption; this explains the effort to expand gross national product (GNP). As a rule, take-off is achieved by increasing agricultural production, industrialization and high-tech, bio-tech, and info-tech production; accompanied by new institutions to manage the planned expanding economy. The result is that the development-oriented system brings with it an expansion in formal education in order to produce trained manpower, or human resources, constitute a professional class and modernize a country.
This purely expansionist planning model typifies today’s society and causes an anti-climax in planning, turning it into a simple matter of forecasting, systematic organization and the subordination of desirable human goals to foreseeable economic development. This type of strategic planning is only short term and fragmented. Planning tends to identify objectives rather than create them, to maintain reality rather than transform it, and to match needs rather than expectations to resources.
We shall call this type of strategic planning ‘realistic’ because it pairs reality with reality, aggregates and allocates resources, and is based on a possible pre-established perspective. This is modern planning, devoid of creative imagination and innovation, not designed to change the course of society, amounting to no more than a programming technique. Decisions are taken, but there is no thought. Decision is simply a matter of attributing to objects logical patterns of existence, and this is typical of contemporary rational planning. We must go beyond the mere analysis of a situation in order to see how its components interrelate and can be projected into the future. However, the concept of ‘Utopian planning’ as thinking towards a climax gives scope for reasoning, reflection, imagination, innovation, and provides the first link in the chain of human dignity and change. I will refer to it in the context of scientific, technological and social development on future essays.
©2015 Miguel Angel Escotet. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint with appropriate citing.