Shedding Light on the darkness: Using the Actor-Network theory to analyse the distribution of power.

Paper 47th European Regional Science Association 29-02 August/September 2007 Paris, France
Bart de Jong, Utrecht University, Faculty of Geosciences. Address: P.O. Box 80115, 3508TC, Utrecht Netherlands. Tel: +31(0)30-2532738 E-mail:

In an era of globalisation, where policymakers have to deal with space of places and space of flows, organizing the decision-making process becomes more complex everyday. An increasing number of concerned actors want a piece of the action and therefore try to influence the decision-making process. Negotiation becomes a strategic tool. It is not necessary about who is right and who is wrong. It is about the ability to reconstruct a plausible (scientific) rationale for proposed action. So how is power distributed in these dynamic environments? In other words, who is organized in and who is organized out, and why? It is said that the Actor-Network theory, founded by Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law, can be seen as a systematic way to map the infrastructure behind so-called black boxes. We have to keep in mind that in order to understand certain developments we need to understand how the networks act that lie behind the developments. The theory can be used to analyze in what way certain actors generate size, power, or organization. In this paper I will analyze the realization of the so-called mainport concept. This Dutch concept, originally only used to refer to the harbor of Rotterdam, was adapted in the late eighties by Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to establish public support for further developments. I will reveal the power structures, organizations and specific rules that make up the actor-network of the mainport concept. Basically I will explain how the concept evolved from mere idea to institutionalized fact. To do so I will first introduce the methodological basis of the Actor-Network theory. In this part I will present the process of translation, which is necessary to understand the distribution of power. After this methodological elaboration, I will link the theoretical part with my case-study and eventually conclude why the Actor-Network theory can help us explain power-structures and how they come into existence in the first place. Keywords: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol; Mainport; Actor-Network theory; Airport



Without any doubt one can say that our world is changing. It is stated that the forces of globalization have triggered a technological revolution centered around information technology, that is reforming our society into a network society. This network society is characterized by an increasing worldwide and at the same time paradoxical interdependency, blurring and redefined boundaries and flows of people, products, services, capital and information that gain independence. This means that traditionally fixed and geographical regularities become less and less relevant. Spatial contiguity is no longer a precondition for social and economic interaction. Activities become footloose and are no longer bound to specific places. But it is wrong to think that we live in a borderless world. Instead we live in a world of increasing complexity, interconnectedness and volatility, where boundaries are permeable. The space of places and the space of flows co-exist in harmony as well as disharmony (Castells, 1996, Dicken, 2003, De Jong, 2007, Boelens, 2005). Globalization is a complex of interrelated processes, rather than an end-state. Several sets of processes – internationalizing, regionalizing, globalizing – co-exist. (Dicken, 2003) This means that on the one hand different actors will form new and complex networks and on the other hand traditional institutions, such as governments, can be neglected. Boundaries – not only physical ones, but also social and symbolic ones – become vague (Boelens, 2005). Actors, next to governments become more and more involved in the decision making process. The main reason is that next to the process of globalization and technological change, an increasing individualism can be seen. Social structures have changed; actors became more and more articulated, social and temporal structures changed, and identities are no longer determined by social groups (Wissink, 2000). Decision-making was once the domain of the governments, but nowadays it takes place in more informal, network type configurations (Huys & van Boxtel, 2005, Wissink et al, 2003). The government is no longer the focal point but just one of the many players in these network type configurations. In such dynamic environments where different actors want a piece of the action, negotiation becomes a strategic tool. Actors come in a great variety and have their own


gender. it uses notions such as power. and very importantly. It is about the ability to reconstruct a plausible (scientific) rationale for proposed action and become more powerful than other actors. class and norm (Murdoch. It shows how actors reach their goals by translating the elements around them so a black box can be build. The Actor-Network theory and the process of translation In the 1970s in reaction to Kuhn’s famous book the structure of scientific revolutions sociologists began to study scientists at work. resistance or reinvention of social arrangements only to translate mere ideas and theoretical concepts into concrete policies: discourse institutionalization (Hajer. That’s why science is constructive rather than descriptive and can be analyzed as the outcome of social processes (Hagendijk. 1995). This paper will focus on the distribution of power. These laboratory studies criticize the realistic interpretations of science and the ease and casualness with which scientific results are public accepted as political neutral and objective descriptions of phenomenon. Science describes no isolated reality. This theory elaborates why men act ‘like one man’ (Callon & Latour. It was Bruno Latour who took these findings to a next level by asking himself: if nothing scientific is happening in laboratories. They are involved in the constant process of adjustment. why are there laboratories to begin with 3 . The main question I will try to answer is how can we understand why certain actors become more powerful than others through the process of translation? I will answer this question by introducing the Actor-Network Theory or the sociology of translation. One of these laboratory studies was conducted by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (1979). 2006). Then a case study is given. The Actor Network theory will be used to explain how the concept evolved from mere idea to institutionalized fact. 1997). To conclude the main research question will be answered. 1981).legitimate orientations and concerns. The studies state that scientific knowledge is first and foremost the outcome of interactions and fabrications. but is involved in the construction of this reality. transformation. the forming of the Dutch mainport concept. The studies concluded that science is not objective. Theories are formed within their social and political context. interest. have their own mode of talking.

The actornetwork theory defines an actor as: Any element which bends space around itself makes other elements dependent upon itself and translates their will into a language of its own. École Normale Supérieure. Through the process of translation Pasteur becomes indispensable. 2006). 2006). it is necessary to explore the fundaments of the Actor-Network theory. An actor makes changes in the set of elements and concepts habitually use to describe the social and the natural world (Callon & Latour. According to the theory nature and society are the constant outcome of interactions. 1999). 1999). He does so by inventing a cure for anthrax – quite a problem in French agriculture during those days – in his laboratory and then interests outsiders by enrolling and enlisting them: he extents the laboratory into society by inventing vaccinations (Murdoch. rue d’Ulm. This ‘next level’ led to the birth of Actor-Network theory. It constructs power and changes the composition of society itself. 1983. 1999). order a vaccine flask from Pasteur’s laboratory. We have to focus on the construction of the laboratory and its position in the societal milieu (Latour. cited in Murdoch. 1981) 4 . is the surrounding them paying for these places where nothing special is happening? (Latour. Let us start with the first notion. strangely enough. But how do you translate others’ interest into your own language? Before I can answer this question. First I will elaborate this some more and then I will look at the mechanics of power. The example shows how Pasteur translates others’ interests into his own language. that of Pasteur at the École Normale Supérieure. The translation in the end thus reads: If you want to save your animals.and why. The theory thus turns down an epistemological approach. The two most important and fundamental notions of the Actor-Network theory are the fact that material objects are just as important as human beings and the fact that all actors are equal. [Pasteur] transfers himself and his laboratory into the midst of a world untouched by laboratory science (Latour. Paris (Latour. At the same time Actor Network theorists abandon the traditional sociological separation of human culture and the material world (Hagendijk. Bruno Latour stressed that a focus on the laboratory itself is not enough. To illustrate this Latour takes the reader back to 1881 and a certain laboratory. 1997).

1992. 2006). He could also give the same lecture without the PowerPoint presentation and suddenly find bored students that are not paying attention at all. which is akin to ‘sequi’. Murdoch. And it is also mediated by networks of objects-and-people. to share. and machines are all effects generated in patterned networks of diverse (not simply human) materials. Callon & Latour (1981) elaborate in a semiotic manner why the social is a construction: the word ‘social’ derives. Thus the PowerPoint presentation participates in the social relations: it helps to define the lecturer-student relationship and is therefore part of the social. our communication with one another is mediated by a network of objects – the computer. In ANT action arises from collective endeavor and the collective includes both humans as non-humans (Murdoch. agents. such as the postal system (Law. the printing press. it is just as glued together by many other types of connectors or associations as all other networks (Law. I speak to you through a text. Bottom-line is that various networks participate in the social. 1992. The social. 2006). 1992). And to do that. the social link is there. then. He does so by using a PowerPoint presentation with lots of pictures that capture the dynamics of the contemporary Asian cities. can be seen as nothing more than patterned networks of heterogeneous materials: it is not some glue that can fix everything. even though we will probably never meet. Society is held together instead that it holds us together. Latour.Law (1992) elaborates this more by introducing networks of heterogeneous materials: a way of suggesting that society. then to form an alliance or to enlist. from ‘socius’. processes of construction can not be seen as created by solely social or human causes (Law. then to have something in common. Several act like a single entity. they shape it: For instance. 2005). At any rate. organizations. Action is defined as the establishment of links in networks or as 5 . If human beings form a social network they do so by interacting with human beings and endless other materials too. I am tapping away at a computer keyboard. we know. First of all to follow. Another example: a professor has to give a lecture about the demographic transitionmodel in Southeast Asian countries. the paper. to follow.

It is about exerting power – in actu – so others are performing the action and not you. 1986). But if actors are equal according to ANT. A king can sit in his castle having power – in potentia – while outside the caste walls his people are behaving as pure anarchists. actors and intermediaries. Having power still doesn’t mean that you’re powerful. No assumption is necessary about whether or not any actor knows more or less than any other actor. then. 2006). Power is a result and not a cause. 2005: 5). then. size. Size.associations1. 1981). Size. or organization are generated (Law. The Actor-Network theory. If actors are larger we should study how this comes about-how. 1981). sizes and their measures. 1992). analyses how social and material processes are closely interwoven within complex sets of association (Murdoch. in other words. how is power distributed? Actor-Network theorists try to investigate why associations between actors and entities come into existence and how functions and roles of humans and non-humans. the stakes and rules Therefore. 2006. And this is the first important notion of the Actor Network Theory: in order to come to successful networks material objects are just as important as human beings. 2005. they are all the same size (Callon & Latour. Being ‘bigger’ (or more powerful) than someone else is not obvious. Bruno Latour defines sociology not as the science of the social but as the tracing of associations (Latour. it is not yet there but it is composed as a result of collective action and attributed to just one (Latour. psychological make-up and motivations behind actions are not predetermined (Latour. the actor can only grow in size through the efforts of these associated others. values and standards. 1 6 . This brings us to the second important notion of ANT: all actors are equal. power. Callon. how come that in real life certain actors are more powerful than others? In other words. However. is primarily at stake in their struggles and hence their greatest result (Murdoch. 1997). One can only tell at the end of the construction process the distinction between actors – those that organize the associations or networks – and intermediaries – those that are organized within networks – when the organizer takes credits for the organized. There are no macro-actors or microactors. Callon & Latour. 1998. [an actor] defines space and its organization. subjects and objects are ascribed and stabilized.

1981). you cannot tell beforehand which actor is more powerful. habits. In order to grow you must first identify what other actors want. Or else it allows another. more powerful than itself. no longer for one alone (Callon & Latour. A macro-social actor is a micro-actor seated on black boxes. those things whose contents have become a matter of indifference. The more relations an actor has and the more relations he or she can put in a so-called black box. thanks to which an actor or force takes. forces and objects – the broader the construction one can raise. This is very important to keep in mind and something we saw earlier. or causes to be conferred on itself. and in the end reify the translation in such a way that your interests are exactly what the others want. Translation shows us through different steps which actors become macro-social and which actors become intermediaries. acts of persuasion and violence. authority to speak or act on behalf of another actor or force: ‘Our interests are the same’. s/he is translating other actors into a single will. Following Thomas Hobbes. of which s/he becomes spirit and spokesman. The more elements one can place in black boxes – modes of thoughs. a black box contains that which no longer needs to be reconsidered. to lay them down (Callon & Latour. calculations. ANT uses the process of translation. To understand how they influence their size. 1981). He or she associated so many other humans and nonhumans that he or she acts like a ‘single man’ (Callon & Latour. 1981). do what I want’. you cannot succeed without going through me’. Callon & Latour (1981) see actors as isomorphic. then translate their wills. This means that although actors may differ in size. Whenever an actor speaks of ‘us’. 1981). S/he begins to act for several. 1981).of the game – the very existence of the game itself. Before I identify these steps a definition is appropriate: By translation we understand all the negotiations. a priori it is impossible that researchers can make a distinction between macro-social and micro-social actors: The difference between them is brought about by power relations and the constructions of networks (Callon & Latour. 7 . The most important question behind this process is [h]ow can men act ‘like one man’? (Callon & Latour. intrigues. It is crucial that actors organize their own size. the bigger an actor grows.

1986). The second phase is the interessement or how the allies are locked into place. research questions and a research program or plan of action. There is more than a hint of Machiavelli in the processes of translation (Law. no point of view is privileged and no interpretation is censored). or associations.According to Callon the process of translation consists of four phases. The first phase is the problematization or how to become indispensable. 8 . The main research question becomes an obligatory passage point (OPP) and the focal actor becomes indispensable. 1981). 1986). It is only during action that they are formed and adjusted. It is no longer possible for elements dominated by the actor to escape in any direction (Callon. The other actors cannot obtain what they want by themselves. Unfortunately reality is never this obvious and therefore it would be arrogant for the observer to describe entities by giving them an identity and formulating their goals in an independent manner. The focal actor then determines a set of actors and shows that the interests of the set of actors lie in admitting the proposed research program or plan of action and shows that forming an alliance around the research program or plan of action can benefit each of them. During these four phases the identity of actors. These three methodological principles of course match the fundamental ideas of the Actor. Thus. which the focal actor does. Hagendijk (1997) notices that ANT and especially Latour have been reproached for being to Machiavellistic.Network theory mentioned before. Law (1992) on the other hand praises the use of Machiavelli and his merciless analysis of the tactics and strategies of power. because their road is blocked by obstacle-problems. Callon & Latour. 1986). In this phase a focal actor first comes up with a formulation of a problem. generalized symmetry (Nature and the social are equal) and free association (observers are not allowed to make any distinction a priori) (Callon. Figure 1 shows how the problematization describes a system of alliances. 1986. either the actors change direction or recognize the need to study and obtain result. the possibility of interaction and the margins of manoeuvre are negotiated and delimited (Callon. The process of translation starts from three methodological principles: agnosticism (the observer is impartial. Each entity can submit to being integrated into the initial plan or do the opposite and refuse the transaction. 1992). between entities defining identities and goals (Callon.

so they are interested into the network. the third stage in the process of translation. Murdoch. Thus to describe enrolment according to Callon (1986) is to describe the group of multilateral negotiations. which can be placed between them and all other entities that want to define their identities otherwise (figure 2). Obstacle Problems OPP Goals of Entities Source: Callon. 9 . When the interessement is successful. An attempt is made to interrupt potential competing associations and construct alliances so a favorable balance of power can be created (Callon. 1986: 207 Interessement is the group of actions by which the focal actor attempts to impose and steady the identity of the other actors defined during the phase of problematization. 2006). enrolment. Interessement does not necessarily lead to alliances or... it achieves enrolment.Figure 1: Problematization Focal Actor Actor A Actor B Actor . Their goals must somehow be aligned with those of the focal actors. There are many ways in which actors can be enrolled: seduction. The other entities can be interested by building devices. success is never assured. trials of strength and tricks that accompany the interessements and enables them to succeed. 1986. But no matter how much devices are built.

10 . knowledge and abilities (Hagendijk. the mobilization of allies or are the spokesmen representative? When the focal actor succeeds in the description of interessement and enrolment. Law. Figure 2: Interessement E B A C D Interessement device Source: Callon. In other words.transaction. consent without discussion. their position. propaganda. the focal actor has formed a relationship with only a few representatives: the chains of intermediaries (e. 1986: 208 This brings me to the final phase of the process of translation. Through this the actor acquires the means and authority to speak on behalf of the translated elements. interpretation. An actor becomes truly macro-social when representations and practices are institutionalized and the networks that lie behind and make up an actor. object or institution disappear into a black box.g. persuasiveness and even physical violence. 1997. intrigues. 1986). those who do not act but simply transmit the actions of others) have resulted in a sole and macro-social spokesman through progressive mobilization of actors who render the presumed propositions credible and indisputable and form alliances (Callon. only a few actors have been interested in the name of the masses they (claim to) represent. An actor becomes macro-social because other elements behave in accordance with his or her vision of the world. defining the margin for maneuver enjoyed by the other actors. their desires. manipulation.

a constraining network of relationships has been created. 2006. Translation can become treason and maintaining the associations becomes essential (Callon. no organization. At the end of these four phases. a consensus that can be contested at any moment: no version of the social order. 1992). 1981). into something that passes as a punctualized actor (Law. The actor-network theory basically says that truth lies in power and power emerges from within networks. and how they manage. 1992). either consensually or coercively. Murdoch. juxtapose. 1995. 2006. The more actors and 11 . Black boxes never remain fully closed and those it enrolls can desert it. 2006): This is the core of the actor-network approach: a concern with how actors and organizations mobilize. Main target is to persuade an actor to identify with the network. Callon & Latour. Callon & Latour. 1986). how they are sometimes able to prevent those bits and pieces from following their own inclinations and making off. The focal actor becomes macro-social and all faithful allies that contributed to his power disappear behind his or her greatness. 2006). and hold together the bits and pieces out of which they are composed.1992. becoming small and provisional in comparison (Murdoch. Not only the actors that make up the network are crucial. Latour. autonomous and final (Law. Some issues are organized into politics. while others are organized out (Hajer. 1981) But the process of translation is an ongoing process. Translation is necessary in order to enroll actors and entities into network relations. Callon & Latour. or through a combination of the two. as a result. So if successful only voices speaking in unison will be heard (Callon. and no agent is ever complete. what kind of links the network has with other networks. authority will flow back and the focal actor is interpreted as the cause of the network effects. how they define and redefine the boundaries of the network and what kind of translations the actors use (Boelens & de Jong. Thus the sociology of translation can be seen as a systematic way to map the infrastructure behind the so-called black box. and if all the enrolled entities remain faithful. If a network functions correctly. 2005). but also the material objects through which they are organized. Murdoch. 1986. to conceal for a time the process of translation itself and to turn a network from a heterogeneous set of bits and pieces each with its own inclinations. 1981. We have to keep in mind that in order to understand certain developments we need to understand how the networks act that lie behind the developments.

Rise of the mainport concept On the first of February 2003 the fifth runway of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. arise (Van Duinen. In this way the airport operator could justify further growth which eventually led to the construction of the fifth runway. as Callon & Latour (1981) put it: we know that we do not need to be impressed by the relative size of the masters. Bröer. 12 . The authors observed that transport and transshipment of certain goods was increasingly concentrated in centrally situated harbors. Public Works and Water Management and responsible for the Schiphol file and Leo van Wijk. CEO of Schiphol Group (the airport operator). than supporters and as a result future developments were halted. former state secretary for the Ministry of Transport. The creation of the mainport black box by the end of the eighties changed governmental policies completely in favor of Schiphol Group. But no matter how powerful a network becomes. or to be frightened by the darkness of the black boxes. Melanie Schultz van Haegen. 2004. The airport had more opponents. Cerfontaine kneels down and kisses the Polderbaan. former CEO of KLM are among the first to ever land on the new fifth runway. Gerlach Cerfontaine. Poeth and Van Dongen. The term mainport itself is thus actually a Dutch word. Poeth and Van Dongen used the network metaphor to show that in growing networks important nodes. 2006). comes into operation. the greater the influence of the network. 2006). founded in the early eighties and consisting of two English terms: main and port. But moreover. Mainport is a portmaneau word. including the national government. As the party departs the airplane. It seems as an act of frustration as the airport waited 36 years for the realization of the runway on the exact spot that Schiphol Group had in mind in 1967 (Bröer.entities assembled. Their research at that time was about the future of the harbor of Rotterdam. Or. In the seventies airport expansion was not obvious anymore. kissing the asphalt resembles the sweet taste of victory as Schiphol Group itself made the airport indispensable for the Dutch economy again. believed to be found by two professors in the University of Rotterdam. maintaining the associations becomes necessary because a translation is never an end state (Murdoch. called the Polderbaan. or mainports.

This military exigency ceased after the war ended in 1918.2006). The days of Columbus. The parties involved did not manage to reach an agreement about the final design and the financial aspects. The national government decided that the post-war reconstruction of the Netherlands should be linked to economic growth. Unfortunately. The first KLM flight to Indonesia. it was agreed upon ‘better to be safe than sorry’. The Dutch airport developed into one of the best equipped airports in Europe as a result of the Olympic Games of 1928 (held in Amsterdam) and the direct air links to Dutch colonies. By that Schiphol became the national airport of the Netherlands (Bouwens & Dierikx. 1997). This target was only achievable if the government would play an important coordinating role. Schiphol was bombed several times by both the Nazis and Allied Forces. Despite the fact that the Netherlands were neutral during the First World War. Magelhaes and so forth seemed to be revisited. The development of aviation 13 . in those days still a colony. so a new national airport was needed. investments were minimal and it wasn’t until 1928 -when the Dutch state sold the airport to the municipality of Amsterdam.that Schiphol became a competitive player in the European aviation market. Before analyzing the realization of the mainport concept by using the process of translation. was celebrated throughout the country. Diaz. During these early years aviation is being glamorized. Again. Eventually it took ten years before the plunge was taken. As a result the national government took the reconstruction of the airport in hand. In the meantime the public limited company Schiphol (Schiphol Group) was founded: a collaboration between the Dutch government and the municipalities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Not much was left of Schiphol. a global race began with at stake the discovery of the world but this time by air. At the same time civil aviation gained importance and Schiphol was appointed as a civil airport. But the decision-making process concerning the rebuilding of Schiphol was a slow process. during the Second World War. It was believed that the post-war reconstruction was primarily a matter of the state. Schiphol was originally founded as a military airport in 1916. Still. I will explain why Schiphol was hampered in its expansion plans by the end of the seventies.

In 1967 the ‘new’ Schiphol was declared open at last: this marked the beginning of a dividing line between airside and landside and as a result a functional diversification occurred gradually (Hakfoort & Schaafsma. From the 1960s onward. Noise pollution gradually looms large on the public agenda. it resembles the rich colonial past of the Netherlands. At the same time the tension between the airport and its surrounding area was build up even further. This proposal caused an endless discussion. noise nuisance plays no role at all. Bröer. Ironically. exactly this uncertainty triggered the forming of policy. Logically. the airplane as a mode of transport became more accessible for more people. Amsterdam. 1997). Still. especially because of the introduction of the jet engine. 2006. 2006). Dominated by a planning approach. developments in aviation accelerated. because the invention triggered cost reductions by which the airplane seat trade slowly but steadily became a mass product. consisting of KLM. politicians and experts defined noise as a national problem that could be solved by central planning policy and noise contours2 (Bröer. Was a fifth runway necessary? Or should the government construct a whole new airport? In 1968 inquire into a possible new airport was initiated (Bouwens & Dierikx.created a national identity. noise nuisance was believed to be a future risk or problem. So planners and policy makers raised the issue before politicians and citizens began voicing their concerns! 2 14 . 2000). The introduction of the jet engine strengthened this trend even further. but a fifth runway would not be constructed for some time either. In the meanwhile Schiphol Group admits that noise pollution is a serious problem. The research concluded that a new airport was financially not feasible. concludes that noise nuisance is becoming a big issue at international airports all around the world. 2006). At the same time the introduction of the jet engine leads to the first protest groups. As a solution to this problem the airport presents plans for a fifth runway. Because of rapid economic growth and an increasing prosperity arising out of this. the national civil aviation authority and Schiphol Group. Until 1955 that is. as almost no one in the Netherlands ever heard a jet engine back then. Growth is presented as a natural process and a necessary trend (de Jong. A report written by Studiebureau Schiphol.

is a relatively effortless phase. deals with a serious economic crisis and wants to prosper economically again. concludes that a new industrial élan is needed. The other entities are persuaded that in order to reach their goals and overcome their obstacle problems an alliance should be formed. However. Schiphol Group decides to try and turn things around. regional and local policy (Van Duinen. of interessement. Schiphol was on its own as expansion plans were hampered by national. Again. The unemployment rate is high and the level of prosperity low. Schiphol Group asks itself the following crucial question: is Schiphol of economic importance for the country as a whole? They determine a set of actors. Thus they recognize that the research question should be answered. The airlines. appointed by the government. b) National Government. Schiphol group defines the following three actors (figure 3): a) KLM. Trade.Throughout the seventies future developments are halted and Schiphol could not expand any further. Schiphol Group becomes the focal actor and indispensable. This specialization is based on the geographical position of the Netherlands. the country is in an economic recession due to a worldwide oil crisis. Furthermore. has to regain footing as spatial planning in the Netherlands is being plagued by a general crisis. de Jong. The second stage. 2006. wants to develop an optimal network because of increasing competitiveness. Firstly. transport and distribution were traditionally specializations in which the Dutch bloom. define their identities and create an obligatory passage point in the network of relations. investments in the direct surroundings were necessary because of severe congestion. right in between the Atlantic world and the Euro-Asia continent (Bröer. At the same time the airline deregulation act was enacted. 2004). this argument is inspired by historical arguments. Therefore the Netherlands must concentrate on successful industries. such as transportation and logistics. 2006). In 1981 the Wagner committee. The airport wants to expand and increase their competitiveness. c) National Planning Agency (RPD). which until that 15 .

So from that day on airports had to do their best to retain their home carrier. 2007 Another effect of the deregulation act was that airlines were no longer committed to one airport. 2004). Therefore Schiphol Group believed that a focus on transfer and transit flows was necessary and the airport imputes itself a gateway function as a marketing instrument.time hid behind the national governments all of a sudden got to deal with a free market system. In a system dominated by a free market system a prominent place is only given to a select set of airports. 16 . Figure 3: Problematization of Schiphol as mainport Schiphol Group Government KLM RPD Oil Crisis Increasing competitiveness Planning plagued by crisis Is Schiphol of economic importance for the country as a whole? Further expansion Economic prosperity Develop an optimal network Regain footing an Source: Author. The aim of this act was to trigger competitiveness and as a result market position gained importance. Furthermore. This phrase was being illustrated by the fact that while the Dutch economy was still stagnating in 1983. the airport operator stated that Schiphol was operating in a different economic entity than the rest of the country. Schiphol had witnessed a rapid growth as a result of American economic recovery (Van Duinen.

concludes in 1980 that Schiphol is of growing importance for the Amsterdam region and the national economy as a whole. Financial-economic factors and slot capacity became more important. just as the exploitation of locational advantages. Bouwens & Dierikx. the airport had to present itself as the Rotterdam of the air.Finally. regional and local policy. That’s why Schiphol Group decided to appoint a committee in 1985 that would formulate a plan for Schiphol on how to realize and take advantage of the opportunities Schiphol airport offered for the Dutch economy (Van Duinen. The committee stressed the importance of the airport in terms of jobs and added value. Facilities and interconnectivity gained importance. 2004). To achieve this Schiphol should work on its attractiveness. after all the airport was no longer a monopolist (Van Duinen. The committee concluded that if Schiphol wanted to contribute to the Dutch economy. The third stage of the process of translation. as said before. So there were enough reasons for all actors to be convinced that studying the economical effects of Schiphol was an absolute necessity. The report highlighted the importance of Schiphol for economic development and employment both regionally and nationally. The small domestic market and the dependency on transfer passengers also made the airport vulnerable. The extension of intercontinental transport to an increasing number of primary and secondary destinations was considered essential: possibilities to expand were mainly positioned on an international level. Still. A year later the committee Van der Zwan presents their report Schiphol towards the year 2000 (Schiphol naar het jaar 2000). 1997). but at the same time some threats were distinguished. the world changes as a whole with the ending of the cold war and the emerging Newly Industrializing Countries. the report 17 . It was no longer obvious that the KLM – home carrier of Schiphol – was linked to the airport. Next. the economic importance of Schiphol (de economische betekenis van Schiphol). As the national government struggled with an economic recession and made the creation of jobs one of its top priorities. 2004. the actual enrolment. takes place with help of several documents which underline the economic importance of the airport. A broadlybased research. the expansion plans of the airport were hampered by national. the gateway or hub function of Schiphol was recognized by the committee. Schiphol was believed to be an economic growth pole.

But in the 1980s. In this way Van der Zwan succeeded in creating a sense of urgency: Schiphol is of great importance for the recovery of our national economy (‘It can even become a Rotterdam of the air!’). it still was presented as an objective and independent document (Bröer. This initiative lead to the formalization of the Holland International Distribution Council (Nederland Distributieland). This report was highly innovative because for the first time ever spatial distribution of economic activities was linked with infrastructure and transport development. In the same year. the international 18 . Although the Van der Zwan committee was ordered by the aviation sector to write this report. 2006). But speaking of a gateway or a hub. A wide-ranging. ruimtelijke verkenningen hoofdinfrastructuur). it became a powerful lobby group (van Duinen. From 1985 onwards organizations in the logistics sector realized that the position of the Netherlands as a transportation and distribution gateway to Europe needed the installation of a forum to promote these interests. The whole country is manmade. and our comprehensive planning system is international renowned. 2004. The national planning agency (RPD) was afraid that they would become superfluous and thus had to reconsider the position of its organization and re-define spatial planning in the Netherlands. but we have to react fast as competition is fierce (Van Duinen. God created the world. To do so. It was up to spatial planners to link this concept to the airport. The Holland International Distribution Council and the Van der Zwan committee both stressed the same message: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is an important engine for the Dutch economy. rationally based form of spatial planning had emerged that dictated the post-war reconstruction. 2004). spatial planning in the Netherlands was plagued by a general crisis. but the Dutch the Netherlands. 2006). But now. 2004). Schiphol was not defined as mainport yet. is a popular saying in the Netherlands. they wrote a report in 1986 called spatial reconnaissance in main infrastructure (RUVEIN. Furthermore. the logistics sector released a similar report as the Van der Zwan committee for both Schiphol and Rotterdam. Bröer. With both members of the government and the corporate world.was well received and made the benefits and necessity of the expansion of Schiphol evident (Van Duinen. Dutch society believed that the Netherlands had been completed in terms of spatial development.

private and public actors could find each other in their support for mainport development (Van Duinen. Global processes trigger fierce competition. and is important for the country as a whole. Three months after the RUVEIN report and only just after the Van der Zwan and the Holland International Distribution Council reports.dimension of traffic and transportation was considered for the first time. Moreover this report had to convince the public that spatial planning in the Netherlands was not unnecessary. Finally. although only applied to the harbor of Rotterdam (Van Duinen. creates employment. Schiphol is an economic engine. These two reports by the RPD made sure that that the mainport concept was also recognized by Dutch politics. The Dutch mainports were described as traffic nodes of significance for the Dutch economy. so you better act fast (Bröer. The 19 . this report introduced the mainport concept into the spatial planning arena. and a constraining network of relationships has been build. In 1988 the mainport concept is adapted as one of the cornerstones in the Fourth Report on Spatial Planning. 2004). In the mobilization phase it seems that Schiphol Group succeeded in bringing together several actors through the first three phases. After analyzing the enrolment we can identify three general discursive practices that characterize the mainport concept. It creates jobs and lures American and Japanese companies to the Schiphol region. we better expand Schiphol”. the economic importance of Schiphol is being enhanced. Finally globalization plays an important role. thus the mainport concept becomes institutionalized and a standardized black box. The new message was that spatial planning could play an important role in enhancing the competitive position of the Netherlands. And although driven by different problem perspectives. Then. First. the RPD released the spatial perspectives report (notitie ruimtelijke perspectieven). but also as spatially structuring for the business climate in the Netherlands as a whole (Van Duinen. growth is seen as natural. “If we don’t want to miss the economic boat. 2004). This report was intended to start a nationwide discussion on future spatial planning. More important. 2004). The mainport strategy is a successful growth strategy. 2006). for the first time ever the mainport concept was applied to both the harbor and the airport. organic and inevitable.

infrastructural investments.government emphasized that the significance of the most important gateways. leaving the other actors more or less powerless. 1988). insulation measurements. new contours. It explains that an actor becomes truly macro-social when representations and practices are institutionalized Economic growth must be stimulated. numerous reports. To that end the mainports and the international transport possibilities should be strengthened. Schiphol Group becomes a macro-social actor as their interests became exactly what the others want. the mainport. Economic growth should be promoted through strengthening the competitive position of the Netherlands in Europe. The mainport concept forms its own translated world. No one seems to doubt the economic importance of the mainport. In the nineties the mainport concept becomes even more standardized in new laws. and the significance of their connections with the hinterland were critical for the further development of the country (Ministry of Spatial Planning. the mainport concept remains a rather stable network today. and finally a new runway. Conclusion In the beginning of this paper I introduced the following research question: how can we understand why certain actors become more powerful than others through the process of translation? To answer this question I first introduced the Actor-Network theory to show how it can help us understand the institutionalization of mere ideas. the double objective3. new arithmetic methods. new complaints service. only the emphasis shifted from transportation and logistics to the network society and global city regions (Schiphol Group. The reason for this relatively closed black box is that like-minded actors form a stable network with almost no room for negotiation. Private and public actors still use the mainport concept. 2007). 2004. 3 20 . deliberative bodies. Extensive attention is given to the growth potential of Schiphol. Housing & Environment. And while being criticized by the end of the nineties mostly because the incompatibility of economic aims with environmental restrictions and despite several conflicts after the Polderbaan came into operation. but simultaneously improving and sustaining the quality of space and the environment is just as important.

their position. when Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is not allowed to expand. In this way no one has to be frightened by the darkness of the black boxes. By the end of the seventies. This paper showed how the Actor-Network theory can prove to be an important tool for planners and policy makers to understand complex projects and excessive governance in an era of globalization.and the networks that lie behind and make up an actor. their desires. In several documents the economic importance of Schiphol is underlined.g. The mainport concept becomes a standardized black box through the process of translation. Next the network metaphor is used to show that Schiphol can be become an important node in a globalizing world. 21 . Schiphol Group decides to translate other actors into a single will (e. defining the margin for maneuver enjoyed by the other actors. just like our ancestors during the Golden Age. At the same time this globalizing world and increasing competition makes growth inevitable. object or institution disappear into a black box. After the theoretical part of the paper I introduced the mainport concept. knowledge and abilities. This so-called mainport concept is being embraced by a national government plagued by an economic recession and a high unemployment rate and in 1988 the mainport Schiphol is being institutionalized as one of the two national economic engines. It provides a clear framework to analyze nontransparent power structures and networks. expanding the airport).

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