From bathrub to bypass: Backfiring bommerangs in Dutch water governance

Buuren, A. van; Warner, J.F.


The discursive framing of projects is an oft-used strategy to claim legitimacy and create support for proposed measures. By giving a project an appealing ‘label’, politicians and policy makers try to prevent criticism. However, policy labels are thrown out like ‘boomerangs’ with a view to gaining leverage, resources, and legitimacy. The thrower, however, cannot control how the boomerang comes back. This paper sheds light on the consequences of these ‘backfiring labels’ with the help of two illustrative case studies: a ‘calamity polder’ for controlled flood storage (Ooijpolder) and a ‘bypass’ for the river IJssel near Kampen, respectively. Interestingly, the wider frames from which these labels originate differ and give rise to different dynamics, but with the same outcome: the label reaped the opposite effect. We analyze the way in which this process of strategic ‘labelling’ takes place, its discursive power, its impact on the governance process in question, and how policy makers react upon backfiring consequences.