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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Christopher Lawless

Lawless, Christopher (2020). Assembling airspace: The Single European Sky and contested transnationalities of European air traffic management. Social Studies of Science 50(4): 680-704.

Author(s) from Durham


The Single European Sky (SES) encompasses a series of legislative and regulatory measures reflecting a vision for reforming Air Traffic Management (ATM) in Europe to ultimately transcend national control of airspace. This article considers SES via the conceptual framing of the sociotechnical imaginary, and finds that the embedded, distributed and interpretive character of European ATM invites further conceptualization around how actors may need to engage with infrastructural imaginaries. How is an imaginary perceived and interpreted across its spatial reach? How do the standpoints, interests and interpretations of different groups embedded within infrastructural space play a role in the construction of that spatiality and envisioned territorial assemblages? Do these standpoints and interpretations extend to the perceived imaginings of others, and what might this imply for how sociotechnical imaginaries and spatialities are co-produced? The article outlines the history of European ATM through to the current status of SES. By describing contested negotiations involving the European Union, Eurocontrol, state bodies and organized labour, SES is used as a case study to demonstrate how relations between national sovereignty and transnational governance can be imagined in different ways through ATM. The article identifies a series of interactions and tensions between interpretations of SES, involving instances of perceived appropriation by some stakeholders on the part of others and concerns over emergent risks and uncertainties. The study identifies how relations and interpretations between stakeholders, states and transnational bodies shape and are shaped by the discursive and material projection of assemblages of technology, data, space and political rationality. These projections map European airspace in different ways. Negotiating the SES imaginary has entailed a politics of suspicion and risk that reflects a certain instantiation of interpretive flexibility, involving concerns over how SES is imagined by others.