Conflict reconsidered: The boomerang effect of depoliticization in the policy process


This article argues that the efforts of policymakers to avoid conflict in the short run can be counterproductive in the long run. Not only may policymakers fail to reap the benefits of conflicts when they try to steer clear, but conflict may actually increase rather than diminish. We study conflict through the conceptual lens of depoliticization in the lengthy and highly contested policymaking process over the multibillion euro Oosterweelconnection highway in Antwerp, Belgium. An indepth media analysis of 739 articles is combined with data from 32 narrative interviews. We conclude that efforts to end public debate through depoliticization can have a boomerang effect, in which conflict disappears only temporarily, and that these efforts can ultimately increase conflict while wasting engagement and creativity. More attention to the productive aspects of conflict is needed in public administration literature and practice.

In Public Administration