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

Eva Wolf, Wouter Van Dooren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues that the efforts of policy‐makers to avoid conflict in the short run can be counterproductive in the long run. Not only may policy‐makers 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 (de)politicization in the lengthy and highly contested policy‐making process over the multibillion‐euro ‘Oosterweelconnection’ highway in Antwerp (Belgium). An in‐depth 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-301
Number of pages16
JournalPublic Administration
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • depoliticization
  • public administration
  • Conflict management
  • Policy Making
  • urban planning
  • Infrastructure
  • sensemaking
  • Belgium


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