Approaching transformative futures : Discourse and practice in Swedish national transport policy and planning

Abstract: This thesis concerns the need to transform the transport system to meet climate mitigation objectives. It provides insights into how specific approaches and practices in transport policy and planning affect prospects for transformation. It focuses on specific practices and knowledge perspectives in policy and planning, exploration of future uncertainty, and the scope and agency attributed to planning for influencing the future development of the transport system. The empirical interest is directed towards contemporary Swedish national transport policy and planning, analyzed in four articles: organization and procurement of physical planning of road and rail investments (Article 1), an emerging discursive framing of digitalized, 'smart' accessibility (Article 2), the approach to future uncertainty in the national investment plan for transport infrastructure 2018-2029 (Article 3), and an inter-agency collaboration on a plan for a fossil-free transformation of the transport system (Article 4).The thesis follows a qualitative research approach based on a social constructivist and poststructuralist understanding of knowledge as socially constructed and sustained. To highlight the influence of practice and knowledge perspectives on understandings of the future development of the transport system and conditions for transformation, a Foucauldian discursive approach is applied. This approach emphasizes reciprocal dependency between discourse and practice.Results make evident that Swedish national transport planning and policy is largely characterized by a ‘conventional’ approach with dominant quantitative practices and knowledge perspectives, through which the future is mainly portrayed as a continuation of the historical development. The studies show that this approach strongly influence how the transport system and prospects for transformation are understood and described. The thesis illustrates tendencies to avoid issues of future uncertainty, and how this is taken as an argument for not exploring alternative development directions. Consequently, opportunities to influence future development are portrayed as limited. This has a restrictive effect on the conditions for transformation. However, the thesis also shows contexts where future uncertainty is considered as a basic planning condition, which justifies exploration of opportunities for transformation by broader practices and knowledge perspectives.Overall, the thesis makes visible ways in which specific practices and knowledge perspectives exert significant influence over which choices regarding future pathways that are presented to the public and decision makers. A central conclusion regards a need for a more politically oriented discussion on what knowledge and practices in transport policy and practice that are relevant and fit for purpose in the light of the climate mitigation challenge as well as other societal objectives.