Sustainability as a Change Agent? Lessons From the European Airspace Regulation

  •  Marc Mölders    


The contribution at hand follows the sociologist Niklas Luhmann in framing ecological problems as communicative ones. This approach offers valuable insights for the difficulties in finding society-wide accepted solutions. Reflexive steering (RS) as well as reflexive governance (RG) took up basic assumptions but also added proposals for working towards solutions. Because actors from different contexts cannot escape from a “vicious circle of first-order reflexivity”, they have to be forced to take into account the big picture (claim 1). In the RG literature it is argued that notions such as “sustainable development” may ease triggering communication across different societal domains by working as a “change agent” (claim 2).

Both of these claims are examined by introducing a case study on European airspace regulation (“Single European Sky”). It shows that economy – usually the system that is intended to be changed – makes use of sustainability as a change agent in order to redirect the pressure to reflect and adapt towards others. It is concluded that, on the one hand, public credibility is a powerful means to induce changes within idiosyncratic societal entities. On the other hand, terms such as “sustainable development” are so widely diffused that they allow for being used by almost any societal actor able to communicate publicly. This multi-directionality has been neglected in the literature so far which calls for thinking of new communicative solutions – especially beyond procedural proposals which are favored by many approaches from RS to RG.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1927-0488
  • ISSN(Online): 1927-0496
  • Started: 2011
  • Frequency: semiannual

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