Urban Studies

Our interdisciplinary Urban Studies list examines how the built environment shapes behaviour and how to address complex problems like urban poverty, gentrification, climate change and educational inequality.

Subjects covered include urban planning, urban geography, urban policy, local governance and community-based participation, to offer a broad understanding of how urban dynamics shape both global interdependence and local spaces.

Urban Studies

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This chapter investigates the work of the Airport Commission (2012–2015). It first discerns and characterises the bundle of mechanisms, strategies, arguments and rhetorical claims at play in its discourse. It explores how the Commission deployed legitimising appeals to independent expertise; transformed the economic boosterism of aviation into the strategic advantages of connectivity; marshalled the techniques of forecasting and prediction; and redefined information-giving and transparency as forms of engagement. In particular, it demonstrates how the Commission strategically framed aviation emissions and aircraft noise to negate opposition to expansion and how its ‘performance of authority’ was embodied in the ‘reasonable’ and ‘neutral’ position of its chair, Sir Howard Davies. Politically, the Commission successfully kept the aviation issue off the national political agenda in the run-up to the 2015 general election, while also satisfying the demands of the pro-expansion Heathrow lobby, which was a programme success for the Cameron government. However, in disclosing the complex dynamics of politicisation and re-politicisation at work during the Commission’s lifespan, we conclude that ultimately it did little more than instil a temporary ‘phoney war’ in aviation policy, with the publication of its Final Report in 2015 triggering another round of ‘trench warfare’ that re-politicised aviation policy.

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The conclusion reiterates our core arguments regarding the dialectical complexities of politicisation and depoliticisation, and explores the implications of the exemplary case of aviation and airport expansion for a wider set of social and political issues. The chapter begins by reflecting upon the power and grip of numbers and the logic of quantification in the construction and attempted resolution of the struggles to shape UK airports and aviation. It then explores the relationships between different technologies of government and depoliticisation; the role of legal institutions and spaces in structuring policy and campaigning; and the dilemmas and opportunities of political campaigning. Our focus then turns to the crucial dimension of politics in our story, where we examine the role of party politics, government and the state and campaigners and social movements in shaping airports policy, as well as the implications of our conclusions for democratic decision-making. In particular, we analyse the linkages between political costs and the creation and exercise of political will, showing how this factor played a crucial part in the explanation and development of the UK aviation policy regime. We conclude by restating our demands for the green transformation of aviation policy.

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Depoliticisation, Technologies of Government and Post-Aviation Futures

This book analyses the strategies used by public authorities to expand the UK aviation industry in relation to growing political opposition and the negative impact of flying on local communities and climate change.

Its genealogical investigations show how governmental practices and technologies designed to depoliticise aviation and expand airports have generally failed to constitute an effective political will to counter community resistance and environmental protest. Criticising the dominant logics of UK airport expansion, the authors promote a radical rethinking of our attitudes to aviation in terms of sufficiency, degrowth and alternative hedonism, laying the ground for a more sustainable future.

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This chapter sets out our theoretical approach to the dialectical complexities of politicisation and depoliticisation, and their impact on the struggle for policy hegemony. Using the resources of poststructuralist discourse theory, we begin by intervening in contemporary debates about the concept of depoliticisation to disclose a number of questions for further investigation and clarification. We then develop our core assumptions and show how the interacting logics of politicisation and depoliticisation are intimately intertwined, and how they can be further specified through the concept of hegemony and antagonism. In particular, we connect the dialectics of politicisation and depoliticisation to the logics of equivalence and difference, and the production and dissemination of fantasmatic images and narratives, before turning to the multiple rationalities, technologies and techniques through which government seeks to make controversial issues ‘governable’ and tractable. The chapter concludes by articulating the logic of depoliticisation, which consists of a process, a state of affairs and an accompanying set of practices, where all three elements are intimately connected to the primacy of politics. Finally, we connect these theoretical concepts and logics to the problems of policy analysis in the field of UK aviation and the struggle for policy hegemony.

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This chapter contextualises and analyses the COVID-19 conjuncture (2020–2022). Drawing together the multiple threads of our genealogy of UK aviation policy and airport expansion, it argues that as aviation expansion was tied to climate justice and social inequalities, the technologies of government deployed by government failed to contain the politicisation and re-politicisation of the issue of aviation expansion. However, we also demonstrate that the multiple crises, which have unfolded since the Final Report of the AC in 2015, exacerbated the difficulties facing government in its efforts to depoliticise airport expansion. Set against the backdrop of the intensifying climate crisis and legal challenge, new lines of antagonism were formed in the battlefield of aviation. Equally, government faced contradictory pressures, which pulled it between support for the recovery of UK aviation, its vision of post-Brexit Britain, its climate change commitments and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But importantly, the pandemic exposed citizens to the possibilities of living in a world with a radically retrenched aviation sector. The chapter concludes with the claim that the global pandemic has ushered in a novel problematisation of aviation that challenges the embedded fantasmatic narratives of flying as an unproblematic and valued public good.

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This chapter demonstrates how the post-war state sponsorship of UK aviation quickly coalesced around the social logic of ‘predict and provide’ – an administrative rationality which privileged practices of forecasting and quantification. The first half of the chapter explores how the Department for Transport developed a wealth of categories, assumptions, economic models and statistical techniques, which sought to normalise expectations of expansion, effectively projecting the making and implementation of concrete decisions over aviation into a depoliticised space of the future, while marginalising all but the most expert and powerful of citizens and groups. But provision did not always follow prediction as persistent political controversies about the location and timing of new airport capacity dislocated the logic of ‘predict and provide’. The second half thus characterises and evaluates the different technologies that governments used in their endeavours to depoliticise airport expansion. It draws attention to three principal technologies: public inquiries, expert Commissions and national public consultations. However, it concludes that these technologies were rapidly politicised by local residents and campaigners, who engaged in strategies of arena-switching and audience expansion. The chapter shows that the post-war regime of aviation expansion was marked by complex and contingent logics of politicisation, depoliticisation and repoliticisation.

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This chapter outlines the core arguments and contributions of the book. It first demonstrates how aviation and its attendant infrastructure needs is a paradigmatic issue of our time – an intractable policy controversy, which highlights a number of economic, political and symbolic contradictions of contemporary societies. Secondly, the chapter traces out the strategies of successive UK governments to devise and implement their desired plans to expand airport capacity in South East England since the 1940s. It contextualises the core arguments of the book by focusing on the increasing politicisation of airport expansion and the failed efforts of government to depoliticise aviation policy, secure a policy consensus and execute its plans. In so doing, it presents seven critical problematisations of airports policy in different historical conjunctures, arguing that the technologies and techniques deployed by government to implement the logic of ‘predict and provide’ in aviation only served to politicise the expansions and infrastructure projects, which were proposed or decided upon. Finally, the chapter sets out the theoretical and methodological approach that is used – poststructuralist discourse theory and genealogical inquiry – before presenting the organisation of the book and how its arguments unfold.

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This chapter analyses the complex and messy dynamics of politicisation, depoliticisation and repoliticisation, which punctuated the aftermath of the AC in 2015, as rival discourse coalitions competed for policy hegemony. In the post-Brexit context, it argues that successive Conservative governments struggled to perpetuate the dominant social logic of ‘predict and provide’, as they sought to deliver airport expansion in the face of sustained political opposition by depoliticising aviation’s contribution to climate change, air pollution and noise. Importantly, it analyses how the opponents of expansion exploited and re-politicised the novel arenas and technologies, which were designed and developed by government to remove the issue of aviation expansion from the political domain. Here we explore how the February 2020 ruling of the Court of Appeal, and the successful legal challenge to the third runway, transformed the 2008 Planning Act and Climate Change Act and the 2015 Paris agreement into ‘counter-technologies’, effectively redefining the courts as a sphere of resistance in which campaigners could challenge government and open-up new spaces for citizen protest and political resistance. It concludes by exposing the messy dialectics of politicisation and depoliticisation in this case, while underlining the role of strategic agency in seizing such opportunities.

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This chapter advocates a manifesto for the green transformation of aviation. It identifies and evaluates the discourses of ‘business as usual’ and ‘demand management’, which frame public policy dialogue around aviation in the post-pandemic world, concluding that the expansionist logic of ‘business as usual’, which relies on the myth of technological fixes, efficiencies and offsetting, no longer provides the effective tools or policies to tackle the environmental injustices of aviation, if it ever did. Equally, the chapter argues that ‘demand management’ also conforms to a logic of attenuation, supporting the politics of reform rather than transition and transformation. The chapter sketches out an emergent path leading to the green restructuring of aviation, which involves a radical divestment from aviation, while providing support for green jobs, social infrastructure and the foundational economy. The chapter also promotes the idea of alternative hedonism, while demanding new forms of political leadership and progressive alliances at the heart of a green state. The chapter contends that it is only this hegemonic strategy of transformation that connects aviation to broader visions of post-growth societies, which will enable us to break our addiction to flying and dependency on unsustainable and exclusionary forms of infrastructure.

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The conclusion summarizes the main concepts and reminds the reader of the meaning of key terms like ‘spectacle’ and ‘haunting’. It also raises questions about the boundary between authenticity and alienation that the retail ruins provoke, and reminds readers that this methodology is about detecting social power and politics.

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