Another important discussion we had during the 2nd Place Branding Conference was the lack of theoretical frameworks. There is no theory of place branding per se. Yet, should we aim to create a theory (or theories)? If so, how should we proceed? Here is my two cents.
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Scholars tend to use theories for analytical purposes, rather than practical ones. In other words, a theoretical framework will enable us to take a systematically critical look at a social phenomenon. Given the fact that place branding seems to be a practice-driven field for the time being, theoretical frameworks will provide the scholars with more opportunities to assail place branding projects. (For some reason, I believe scholars do not need more opportunities to criticize anything…. They are doing a great job right now anyways). If practitioners keep facing ‘theoretical’ criticism from scholars, they might be in a position where they do not feel the need to share their experiences and findings with the academic community. This situation will definitely hinder the development of the field.
Yet, theoretical discussions also have practical implications. Theory is fundamentally the way you approach an issue. If we explicitly acknowledge our theoretical assumptions, we might be able to strategize our place branding projects in a more effective and strategic way. Moreover, theoretical frameworks will ensure the compatibility of different aspects of our projects. As I tried to discuss in my earlier post, these different aspects come from various disciplines; therefore, there is a need for a foundation to unify them under one heading.
In short, yes, we do need a theory (or theories). However, we need to work on building up these theories without terrorizing the field, our colleagues, and more importantly the practitioners.
When we consider the fact that even well-established disciplines suffer from theoretical and methodological debates, such debates might ‘kill’ our emerging discipline. Undermining role of one or more disciplines in place branding might alienate some scholars. And lastly, as I discussed above, harsh criticism might cause practitioners to leave the discussion table.
Therefore, I believe, we should first of all ‘cut practitioners some slack’ for the time being. Through a wait-and-see approach, we will help our ‘data-set’ to grow. The higher number of place branding projects means a larger volume of data for us to start building up theories. Secondly, we should keep encouraging inter-disciplinary dialogue and make use of existing theoretical frameworks. I know that these recommendations are easier said than done. Not criticizing practice also means postponing the development of the study (and the practice) by years. Combination of inter-disciplinary theories might be nearly impossible due to different epistemological and ontological assumptions. However, I still argue that this is our best shot! If we want to theorize the study of place branding, we have to do so without terrorizing.
This post is also published at http://placebranding.ning.com/