Democracy in participatory place branding: a critical approach
Konferensbidrag (offentliggjort, men ej förlagsutgivet), 2015
The traditional perspective on place branding as a managerial tool to promote a place to an external
audience has been criticized for serving certain political purposes and social groups whilemarginalizing others. An important aspect of the critique is that residents are neglected as
stakeholders even though they are strongly affected by place branding initiatives. Alternative views on what place branding should be about have emerged, which downplay the role of place brand managers and support residents as co-owners and co-creators. A participatory approach can thereby
be seen as a way to democratize place branding.
This paper supports the view that resident participation is fundamental in place branding, however
acknowledges that reaching participatory processes that are ethically and morally sound is extremely
complex, and that even the best intentions can result in further marginalization of groups that are
meant to be empowered. There is a risk that participation gets hijacked as just another tool to serve particular groups’ interests, where people are involved merely as informants, for educational
purposes or for justification of decisions already taken.
To avoid participation becoming a managerial tool among others, there is a need to problematize the concept within the place branding discourse and its relation to democracy. Otherwise, there is a risk that place branding will fall under the same critique which has been aimed towards participatory
design, architecture, urban planning and development studies. The purpose with this paper is therefore to encourage a critical debate on the meaning of democracy in participatory place branding, as a crucial foundation for a continued discourse. A review of the literature on democracy in relation
to participation is made, with emphasis on how it is perceived in marketing, design and related fields. It implies that the democratic aim for place brand managers cannot and should not be to
always reach consensus, but to handle conflicting interests and a multitude of interpretations of the place. With strong resident involvement in decision-making and throughout, with fair conditions
regarding time spent and allocation of resources, it is possible for place branding to be democratic. This may however be easily formulated on paper but harder to put into practice and calls for an ever present, open and problematizing discussion.
critical place marketing
participatory place branding