Skip to main content

Justifying the Elephant in the Growth Machine: Urban and Planning Theory Understood Through Convention Theory

  • Living reference work entry
  • First Online:
Handbook of Economics and Sociology of Conventions
  • 33 Accesses


This contribution introduces the tenets and approach of convention theory in terms of its potential, use, and appeal in the overlapping fields of urban and planning studies. The conceptual framing and interpretive method of convention theory are discussed as they have been applied to urban and planning research, and in terms of the value the theory offers when compared with certain other theories in use in the field, namely, advocacy planning, communicative action, the critique of neoliberalism, and the urban growth machine. Key thematic interpretive aspects of convention theory are discussed, demonstrating its potential to present case studies of urban disputes, rich with the detail of diverse perspectives and arguments, recognition of critical capacities of actors to intervene in dynamics of inequality and power asymmetries, and an analytical eye toward compromise as a more likely resolution than pure victory of certain ideas or values over others. The potential is illustrated through a prototypical case of a contentious public hearing at City Hall about a proposed urban redevelopment project. The chapter concludes by considering three shortcomings that can be encountered when using convention theory in urban and planning research.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Institutional subscriptions


Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Meg Holden .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2024 Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this entry

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this entry

Holden, M. (2024). Justifying the Elephant in the Growth Machine: Urban and Planning Theory Understood Through Convention Theory. In: Diaz-Bone, R., Larquier, G.d. (eds) Handbook of Economics and Sociology of Conventions. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-52130-1

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-52130-1

  • eBook Packages: Springer Reference Economics and FinanceReference Module Humanities and Social SciencesReference Module Business, Economics and Social Sciences

Publish with us

Policies and ethics