Published on: 20. September 2023

Annual conference of the AESOP Thematic Group of Ethics, Values and Planning: “Breaking through ‘conformorality’ in urban and regional studies”

In this two-day event, which took place at the ILS – Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development (Dortmund, September 14-15, 2023), we had the chance to explore the significance and impact of conformism/conformorality in the planning fields and within our scientific community. Although this topic might sound new and fresh, this conference was inspired by the recent works of our invited keynote speakers, Matteo Colombo (Tilburg University) and Claudia Basta (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency PBL). As a Thematic Group, we thought this topic deserved to be further explored and enriched with new reflections. The conference confirmed that this issue is not only relevant in our research community but also needs to be taken seriously because of its silent impact and the way it can affect scientific inquiries and scholarships.

© Cedric Müller/ILS

On the first day, we had the pleasure of attending two keynote speakers. Matteo Colombo, who works mainly in the field of neuroscience and moral psychology, discussed the fundamental aspects of conformorality and connected them with the urban environment. Claudia Basta, on the other hand, shared a valuable personal experience on how conformorality has obstructed her scholarship path and prevented her from enriching her perspective with new ideas. Her inspiring talk was titled “On academic conformorality, and why it threatens academic freedom.” The two talks will be available online soon.

On the second day, the conference hosted ten highly inspiring talks:

  • Questioning traditional redistributive urban policies: A heterodox approach to the just city – Stefano Moroni (Polytechnic University of Milan)
  • Antifragility and Resilience: Two Sides of the Same Coin? – Francesco Curci and Daniele Chiffi (Polytechnic University of Milan)
  • Green public space and its change – Paulina Budrytė (Kaunas University of Technology)
  • Easy theories for complex neighborhoods? How conformorality tames wicked problems in neighborhood management – Mark Scherner (University of Vienna)
  • Ordinary Neighborhoods – Raffael Beier (TU Dortmund)
  • Urban Displacement, an Unqualified Negative? Between Harm, Fairness, and Effectiveness in Conventional Responses – Brett Allen Slack (Polytechnic University of Milan)
  • To plan or not to plan: Is this the question? – Anita De Franco (Polytechnic University of Milan)
  • Import-Export Rules: Saving the greater number or sheer insensitivity? – Nana Serwaa Antwi (Polytechnic University of Milan)
  • MEGA-AMBITIONS – How generic and holistic values drive the interplay between mega-regionalization and urban megaprojects in Greater China – Henry Endemann (Hong Kong Polytechnic University)
  • A Planning and Urban Development Perspective on Digital Sovereignty. Diverging digital values in cities – Unger Lena (TU Dortmund) – This talk was cancelled.

The various contributions made it clear that, quite surprisingly, conformorality (or, more in general, conformism) has both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, it can favor certain collective learning processes through a “copy-and-paste” mechanism. On the other hand, it can harshly prevent the creative development of new ideas and reflections, severely limiting society and, in particular, the scientific community. What appears to be evident is that within the scientific community, it can be beneficial for many scholars to conform to certain prevalent and winning ideas to better align with successful groups. Benefits can derive from, for example, smoother review processes in scientific journals or funding opportunities. An interesting expression/concept that emerged in the final discussion round requiring further investigation is that of the “conform-zone.”


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Conformism is a widespread and robust phenomenon with salient moral and epistemic consequences from Matteo Colombo (Tilburg University)

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On academic conformorality, and why it threatens academic freedom from Claudia Basta (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency PBL)


Dr. Stefano Cozzolino
Phone: +49 (0) 231 9051-237

Modified on: 19. October 2023