Noise reduction: The postpolitical quandary of night flights at Brussels Airport

Stijn Oosterlynck, Erik Swyngedouw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The emergence of the controversy over airport-generated noise at Brussels Airport as an environmental issue on the national political agenda coincided with the inauguration of Belgium's first 'purple-green' government in 1999. The new government announced explicitly the dawning of a new political age in which old controversies and adversarial left-right politics were relegated to the dustbin of history. From now onwards, the interests of market actors, environmental concerns, and social objectives would be negotiated and reconciled in the interest of all within the framework of a common and consensually agreed objective of achieving environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive, and market-based development. The controversy over DHL's night flights at Brussels Airport would prove to be one of the first real test cases of this 'Third Way' postpolitical approach to policing socioenvironmental affairs. However, after several years of acrimonious argument, successive attempts to negotiate a compromise with all relevant partners, and increasingly more entrenched antagonistic dispute, DHL abandoned Brussels Airport as its main European hub. This sequence belied the initial optimism of the government's postpolitical approach and, we argue in this paper, stands emblematically for the failure of such postpolitical modes of policing socioenvironmental affairs. The objective of this paper is to explore, both theoretically and empirically, the contradictions and tensions associated with the postpolitical model. First, we situate theoretically the emergence and consolidation of postpolitical modes of governing and the colonisation of the space of the political by forms of consensual depoliticised governance. Second, we shall analyse how urban socioenvironmental governance procedures associated with the problem of noise at Brussels Airport express the attempts to institute postdemocratic modes of governance, while exploring the contradictions of this model. In addition, the failure of postdemocratic and postpolitical arrangements is discussed, and an urgent need to repoliticise urban socioecological relations is argued. © 2010 Pion Ltd and its Licensors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1577-1594
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2010


Dive into the research topics of 'Noise reduction: The postpolitical quandary of night flights at Brussels Airport'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this