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Bringing Local Knowledge into Environmental Decision Making: Improving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk

by Jason Corburn
Journal of Planning Education and Research ()
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ABSTRACT Ibn Khald¯ un’s theory of history has been extensively discussed and interpreted in widely divergent ways by Western scholars. In the context of present debates, it seems most appropriate to read his work as an original and comprehensive version of civilizational analysis (the key concept of ‘umran is crucial to this line of interpretation), and to reconstruct his model in terms of relations between religious, political and economic dimensions of the human condition. A specific relationship between state formation and the broader context of civilizational processes appears as the most central theme. This civ- ilizational approach is then contrasted with the most influential recent Western interpretation, put forward by Ernest Gellner. Gellner translates Ibn Khald¯ un’s analysis into functionalist terms and thus tones down its historical and civiliza- tional specificity. The consequences are most obvious when it comes to dis- cussing the unity and diversity of the Islamic world, especially with regard to the Ottoman Empire.

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