Associate Professor Michael Gunder

Published at: 18 March 2021

Associate Professor Michael Gunder, Cyprus, sadly passed away on 14th March, at an age of 67.

Few people in the planning theory field have been more influential than Michael Gunder. It is with great sadness that we inform the AESOP community that Michael passed away in his sleep in the early hours of Sunday 14th March.

Michael started his academic career with studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. He obtained a BA in Sociology in 1976, and an MA in Planning in 1981. After graduation, Michael worked as a professional planner for almost 15 years, with commissions from local and provincial as well as national governments in Canada, the UK and New Zealand. In spite of his passion for planning theory, Michael stayed close to practice, serving as the President of the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI) between 2006 and 2008. In 1999 he was awarded by the NZPI for Excellence in research, and in 2011 he was made a Fellow.

In 1994 he took up a position in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland, where he also obtained his PhD. Since then, Michael produced an impressive number of articles, book chapters and edited volumes in which he introduced poststructural thinkers such as Lacan, Foucault and Rancière, and critical thinkers such as Zizek, to the field of planning theory.

Michael’s interest in psychoanalysis stemmed from a desire to understand oneself and others, and this interest informed his ongoing search for a deeper understanding of the consequences of these relationships for society. In particular, his critical scholarship sought to question taken-for-granted norms found in planning practices by exploring how society is shaped (ideologically) through desires, language and discourse, and how planning often becomes the state’s prolonged arm in reproducing current power structures. He contributed to planning theory and practice with a sharp and critical voice, by questioning planning’s attempts to produce fake fantasies which cannot be fulfilled, and by spotlighting how planners tend to become society’s scapegoats. He often came back to the psychoanalytic concepts of lack and desire, and how very basic and fundamental feelings of longing for fulfilment and fear have far-reaching implications for how society is reproduced.

Michael’s astute knowledge of both analytic and continental philosophy was extraordinary, if not unmatched. He also became a much appreciated supervisor to several PhD students, who continue to praise his tireless dedication and rigorous guidance. Between 2011 and 2015, he served as the Managing Editor of the high-impact and widely circulated journal: Planning Theory. In this capacity, Michael supported and encouraged many early career scholars to find their voice. Michael’s unwavering support of other scholars, his generosity of spirit, his infectious sense of humour, his critical thinking abilities, as well as his enormous contribution to the field of planning are all invaluable attributes that so many of us in the planning community will sorely miss.

In 2019, Michael asked us if we wanted to co-edit a Handbook on Planning and Power with him. We both enthusiastically accepted this opportunity knowing that we would learn a great deal from Michael’s sharp mind and theoretical insights. We were in the midst of very inspiring discussions and interactions concerning all the chapters when we were informed of the incomprehensibly and terribly sad news of his untimely death. The many tributes to Michael that we have received from all the contributors are deeply moving. Michael was a fantastic person, so generous, caring, inspiring and encouraging. We are both honoured to have worked with and learned from him. The book project will go on, with Michael as a posthumous editor; and the book will be dedicated to him.

We extend our deepest condolences to Michael’s life partner, Adriana.

Kristina Grange and Tanja Winkler