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The Politics of Innovation in Public Transport. Issues, Settings and Displacements

By R. Nahuis


The mutual shaping of technology and society, including all kinds of conflicts and power differences, reveals an important political dimension of innovation processes. This thesis aims at understanding and evaluating this dimension. Because the politics of innovation takes place in a variety of settings, this thesis focuses on displacements between settings. How to conceptualise displacements? How do displacements affect democratic quality? And what are their underlying dynamics? On the base of a literature review five different perspectives on democracy and technology are first distinguished and their similarities, complementarities and differences clarified. Spelling out these differences and similarities provides the blocks for building a theoretical framework with which the limitations of any particular perspective can be transcended. The framework starts from the idea that the politics of innovation takes place in settings that not neutral, but already biased. To gain insight in the role of settings one should follow the 'issues' when they are 'displaced' between different 'settings'. Three controversial cases of innovation in public transport are analysed according to this conceptual guideline in order to find answers to the empirical research questions. The first case study, about the introduction of self-service in the Amsterdam trams (1965-1973), focuses on the notion of 'issues', that is: the contestation of action programs. The second case study about the introduction of a flexible public transport concept in and between the towns of Hoogeveen and Meppel, the Netherlands (1999-2004) focuses on metaphor of a 'setting' as a theatre stage. The last case study, about the development of infrastructure for High-quality Public Transport (HOV) in Utrecht (1991-1999), focuses on the 'democratic quality'. The most important result from these studies is a typology of five displacements with distinct issue-framing effects. 'Delegation' is the realisation of an action program on the base of a broadly supported mandate. 'Articulation' is the public demonstration against (part of) an action program. 'Politicisation' is the discussion of controversial parts of an action program in its wider context. 'Authorisation' is the solution for a conflict on the base of acknowledged authority. (Partial) 'depoliticisation' is the disappearance of issues. The contribution of these types of displacements to democratic quality is discussed on the base of examples from the cases, resulting in a broad set of hypothetical relations that explain why different types of displacements provoke each other and how the interaction between types of displacements affects democratic quality. Second, the dynamics of displacements is discussed along a comparison of routes and conditions of displacements, which are found in the case studies. The routes can be described consistently in terms of changes in the characteristics of settings between which an issue displaces. With regard to the most important conditions, it is concluded that articulation depends on strategic considerations of stakeholders; that the main conditions for politicization, delegation and authorisation originate in the wider institutional context of the issue; and that depoliticisation is often the result of political unwillingness or inability

Topics: Sociale Geografie & Planologie, Innovation, Technology, Services, Public transport, Democracy, Displaced politics, Displacement, Translation theory, Users, Infrastructure
Year: 2007
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