Conceptual and Methodological Advances
Edited by Frank Vanclay and Ana Maria Esteves
Chapter 5: Theoretical Foundations
5. Theoretical foundations Richard Howitt Introduction Social impact assessment (SIA) is meant to change the world (Vanclay, 2003a, 2003b). This is no naïve or idealized aspiration; rather, it is a practical observation of exactly what SIA is intended to do. SIA is undertaken to understand processes of social change, to predict how they will play out in real-world settings, and to manage and respond to the sources and consequences of change towards explicit – and often hotly contested – goals. It generally addresses social change at local and regional scales and, at its best, offers a coherent framework for understanding key institutions, relationships and connections in a particular social context in ways that facilitate creative and constructive engagement with issues of power, culture, place, participation, difference and community – all current key issues in the contemporary social sciences. These central concerns of SIA fuel major conceptual and theoretical debates in the social science disciplines that contribute to SIA, including anthropology, cultural studies, economics, environmental and social psychology, human geography, philosophy, political science and sociology. Yet explicit theoretical discourse is quite rare in the SIA literature (cf. Dietz, 1987; Becker, 2003). Instead, the literature has typically focused on questions of method rather than theory, and techniques rather than concepts. Practitioners from various disciplines have reflected big ideas from their own disciplines in their work, but rarely pursued wider discussion of the theoretical foundations for SIA. SIA is what Raymond Williams described as ‘an area where several disciplines converge, but in general do not...
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