Stereotypes and the professions

Urban transformation lives with the legacy of stereotypes as each profession and their associated institution finds ways of justifying its primacy or dominance. In interviewing the professions in the Future London survey I asked each what they thought of the other, what they thought others thought of them, and whom they admired and for what qualities. I was attempting to get a 360-degree perspective. The aim was to explore their frustrations in finding ways of working across disciplines with mutual respect, including the soft disciplines, and in addition how new knowledge could be embedded into the common sense of city-making. Rather than getting the developer or engineer to say, 'And now I also have to learn about this facilitation and consultation stuff,' the goal was to reach an understanding that a broader perspective helps achieve their personal, professional objectives better as well as those of city-making as a whole.

We live in a world of clich├ęs and stereotypes. By using these the aim is not to complain about any particular profession or add another layer of prejudice. Stereotypes are revealing about perceptions or prejudices and useful in helping to assess and overcome obstacles. Like all caricatures, stereotypes are grotesque, yet they retain a grain of truth and can be amusing, even though the images often linger long after realities on the ground have moved on.

A difficulty is that each profession is taken as a catch-all, when in fact there are great distinctions within each profession. For example, there are many types of surveyor, such as building, quantity or planning surveyors, and many types of planner, such as spatial, development-control or more process-oriented planners. Linked to stereotyping is scapegoating. Yet who gets the blame changes over time: the spatial planner today, the highway engineer tomorrow. I offer the following composite sketches based on verbatim remarks from these interviews, strung together to form a narrative. These are by no means scientific, but there is merit in highlighting prevailing assumptions and incomprehensions. The conclusions do not constitute the whole truth, but they will contain elements of it.

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