Hegemony, policy and the rhetoric of ‘sustainable aviation’

The massive expansion of global aviation, its insatiable demand for airport capacity, and its growing contribution to carbon emissions, makes it a critical societal problem. Alongside traditional concerns about noise and air pollution, and the disruption of local communities, airport politics has been connected to the problems of climate change and peak oil. Yet it is still thought to be a driver of economic growth and connectivity in an increasingly mobile world.

The Politics of Airport Expansion in the UK provides the first in-depth analysis of the protest campaigns and policymaking practices that have marked British aviation since the construction of Heathrow Airport. Grounded in documentary analysis, interviews and policy texts, it constructs and employs poststructuralist policy analysis to delineate the rival rhetorical and discursive strategies articulated by the coalitions seeking to shape public policy.

Focusing on attempts by New Labour to engineer an acceptable policy of ‘sustainable aviation’, the book explores its transformation into a ‘wicked policy issue’ that defies a rational and equitable policy solution. It details the challenges posed to government by the rhetoric of scientific discourse and expert knowledge, and how the campaign against the third runway at Heathrow turned local residents, the perpetual ‘losers’ of aviation expansion, into apparent ‘winners’. It concludes by evaluating the challenges facing environmentalists and government in the face of concerted pressures from the aviation industry to expand.

This book will appeal to scholars and researchers of environmental policy and politics, poststructuralist political theory, social movements, and transport studies.

Abstract only
Steven Griggs and David Howarth

This chapter introduces the key arguments and structure of the book. It argues that air travel in the United Kingdom, traditionally associated with modernist promises of economic growth and increasing mobility, has been transformed into a ‘wicked’ or ‘messy’ policy controversy increasingly connected to climate change and peak oil. The chapter then sets out the contribution of this study to three related concerns. It first explains how airport expansion has been reframed as an intractable policy issue, analysing the political and rhetorical strategies that have emerged to resolve it while investigating how environmental campaigners appear to have been able to stall and possibly reverse aviation expansion. It also explores the construction and potential resolution of ‘wicked problems’ and the theoretical tools with which to explore them. Finally, it demonstrates how poststructuralist discourse theory and its insights into hegemony, rhetoric, heresthetics and fantasy offer novel twists on explanations of policy change.

in The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom
Steven Griggs and David Howarth

This chapter demonstrates how poststructuralist discourse theory, when articulated with elements of critical discourse analysis and rhetorical political analysis, contributes important tools and concepts to critical policy studies. Drawing on Laclau, Derrida and others, it first establishes the ontological assumptions of poststructuralist discourse theory, showing how its categories and logics help to analyse the politics of policy change as a hegemonic struggle, whilst also foregrounding the rhetorical and affective dimension of policy-making. Using the category of discourse, it develops a poststructuralist reading of the Gramscian concepts of hegemony and power, while outlining the connections between discourse and rhetoric. It then employs the Lacanian logic of fantasy to focus attention on the enjoyment subjects procure from their identifications with certain policy practices. Finally, it addresses questions of methodology, setting out the steps of what is termed the logics of critical explanation: problematisation, retroduction, social, political, and fantasmatic logics, articulation, judgment and critique.

in The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom
Steven Griggs and David Howarth

This chapter investigates the various paradoxes and contradictions surrounding the regime of aviation expansion in post-war Britain. It engages in a detailed problematisation of the UK aviation industry and its attendant practices and infrastructure requirements. In so doing, it elaborates on the concept of problematisation, building inter alia on the work of Michel Foucault to connect this idea to the peculiar issues and dilemmas thrown up in the policy domain. It then defines and outlines the five main problematisations explored in the book. These are the institution and installation of the regime of aviation expansion during the Second World War; the struggle over the expansion or regulation of aviation at the start of the new century; the subsequent reframing of aviation, not least as a threat to carbon emission targets; the governmental and industry’s response to the resignification of aviation; and the ensuing policy stalemate.

in The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom
Steven Griggs and David Howarth

This chapter constructs a genealogical narrative of post-war British aviation by delineating the social, political and fantasmatic logics that worked together to forge and prolong the contradictory regime of aviation expansion. Analysing in particular the predominance of Heathrow, the deregulation, liberalisation and privatisations of the 1990s, and the campaigns of local residents, it argues that aviation expansion resonated with the crucial myths of post-war Britain. Successive governments, it suggests, had recourse to a series of fantasmatic narratives, which articulated both the ‘beatific’ benefits of aviation expansion for the British economy, as well as the ‘horrific’ threats of overcapacity at British airports and of competition from the United States in the aftermath of the Second World War. Once lodged in the fabric of the British state, as well as the nation’s psyche, the logic of aviation expansion thus acquired a path dependence, which proved difficult, if not impossible to dislodge.

in The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom
Steven Griggs and David Howarth

Upon its arrival in office in 1997, the New Labour government opened a national consultation on airport capacity. This chapter analyses the politics of this consultation process leading to the publication of New Labour’s White Paper in 2003. It argues that the government’s efforts to broker a long-term settlement between rival stakeholders backfired. Rather than resolving the heightened tensions and sharpening contradictions, the consultation process created the conditions for the development of two antagonistic discourse coalitions: the pro-expansionist Freedom to Fly and the pro-regulation AirportWatch. This chapter explores the emergence and formation of these coalitions, analysing their strategies and impact on the UK aviation industry. It concludes that Freedom to Fly’s rhetorical redescription of the aviation industry as proponents of ‘responsible growth’ and ‘sustainable aviation’ provided New Labour with the requisite ideological cover for supporting a policy of airport expansion.

in The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom
The 2003 white paper
Steven Griggs and David Howarth

This chapter analyses the discourse and rhetoric of New Labour’s proposals for airport expansion. It explores the 2003 Air Transport White Paper as a specific genre of political communication, examining its framing and underlying problematisation of aviation policy. It thus demonstrates how New Labour envisaged aviation expansion as an ‘inevitable’ trajectory, though it also recognised the increasing environmental impacts of air travel. The problem of sustainable aviation, it suggests, was conceived to be one of achieving a ‘balanced strategy’, and the ATWP outlined a series of strategies to realise this goal. This chapter names and characterises these strategies as those of brokerage, deferred responsibility or individualisation, and incentivisation. It concludes that the rhetoric of sustainable aviation and its proposed resolution of competing demands enabled New Labour to come out in favour of the largest post-war expansion of British airports.

in The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom
Steven Griggs and David Howarth

This chapter explores the discursive processes and practices that enabled the reframing of aviation in the first decade of the new century. It analyses how the repeated public interventions of scientists and experts in aviation policy paved the way for the collapse of the fantasmatic narrative of ‘sustainable aviation.’ In particular, it demonstrates how opponents to expansion discredited New Labour’s 2003 White Paper, and sought to make aviation and flying synonymous with climate change. Having described and analysed these rhetorical strategies, the chapter then examines how New Labour endeavoured to recycle the rhetorical appeals and political strategies and tactics embedded within its White Paper. However, it concludes that these appeals failed to counter the collapse of the fantasmatic narrative of sustainable aviation, which began to lose its ‘grip’ in a changing political context, marked by heightened public concern about climate change and the collapse of the New Labour project.

in The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom
Steven Griggs and David Howarth

This chapter accounts for the successful campaign against proposals for a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow airport. It argues that local campaigners engaged in a transformative campaign, equating anti-airport struggles to opposition to air travel and to climate change, and linking local campaigns with direct action protests, in particular activists in Plane Stupid. It draws attention to how campaigners provided ‘ideological cover’ for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties by negating economic arguments in favour of aviation expansion and making visible new dimensions of conflict. Detailing the politics of the consultation process leading to the Labour’s 2009 approval of expansion, the chapter concludes that the re-signification of air travel as a ‘problem’ of climate change cut across traditional alliances, a heresthetic manoeuvre by campaigners which provoked new cleavages and fractures in the pro-expansion discourse coalition and provided the conditions for the Conservative-Liberal Democratic Coalition to reverse Labour’s decision in May 2010.

in The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom
Abstract only
Steven Griggs and David Howarth

This chapter explores the current aviation policy impasse and emergent discourses about the future of air travel. Reappraising traditional models of the British state, it focuses upon five interrelated factors that account for the policy shift in aviation: the formation of the Coalition, the transformation of the Conservative Party, the role of scientific experts and knowledge, changing institutional and structural conditions, and the importance of groups and movements in shaping public opinion. The chapter explains this impact of groups and movements on policy-making through resonance, repetition and the hegemonic politics of equivalence and difference, drawing attention to heresthetics, ideological cover and the multiple spaces of hegemony. Reflecting on the contemporary challenges facing campaigners, the chapter concludes by assessing the emergent high-modernist discourse of sustainable aviation against that of state regulation and demand management, calling upon government to establish an active and clear policy programme in aviation.

in The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom