New study of grassroots initiatives and the ‘care of others’


Omslag initiatievenIn the process of writing my dissertation, I developed an interest in what Michel Foucault called ‘the care of others’. In one of the chapters, I wrote about the manner in which such ‘care’ is mediated by technology. The topic stayed with me, and developed in two interrelated lines of research. One traces the notion of the ‘care of others’ to the global level, the other particularly to the local level.

In terms of the global level, I am working on a book about fair trade. I conceptualize fair trade as a case that helps me to think about the relations between Westerners, like myself, and people at the other side of the globe. Some of the posts on this blog touch upon this issue.

In terms of the local level, at the Netherlands Institute for Social Research, I have been working on a study of grassroots initiatives that people have taken in five Dutch cities or villages (municipalities). In public debates in Holland, the initiatives that people take receive considerable attention. Many such initiatives address such issues as communal production of energy or improving the ‘liveability’ of one’s neighborhood. The study that I have been involved in, with my colleagues Anita Boele and Pepijn van Houwelingen, targets initiatives that people take to ‘care for others’. We found 23 examples in total, ranging from ‘care co-operatives’ to voluntary transport services. Particularly considering recent plans to reshape the Dutch welfare state into a ‘participation society’, politicians are keen on civic projects that (partly) replace professional, state-funded care. The 2007 Social Support Act (Wmo) therefore makes local governments responsible for stimulating such initiatives. Our study questions how this policy works out in practice.

The study (written in Dutch) was published today. An English-language summary can be downloaded here.

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New publication: Constituting the “good patient”


Our paper (with Frans Birrer), Constituting the “good patient“, was published in the proceedings of the 2010 conference of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation (ISSA). Also here, the question is how innovation is related to the subjectivity of the patient, as Michel Foucault would put. The Dutch Personal Healthcare Budget – receiving “cash-for-care” instead of a treatment “in kind” – is presented as a scheme that ought to enhance innovation. By getting patients to control the budget, they are expected to become rational consumers who only spend their money on innovative care providers. This way of reasoning is often criticised. However, the discussion is built up around a large number of arguments, which make up a cluster that is hard to penetrate. Effectively, criticism is often evaded in these types of debates, as we show in the paper. The question is how this relates to political accountability. With respect to the patient, we may wonder if (s)he wil really turn out to be a “good patient”:

‘Is (s)he indeed a cash-supported, rational sovereign, who constantly shuffles elations with care givers and is putting pressure to break rigid healthcare institutions? On the basis of the problems that participants in the policy discussion raised, another image of the patient-subject appears. It could also be an overburdened individual, constantly involved in unequal power relations, suspect in the eyes of government and society, and, therefore, increasingly constrained. This points at an entirely different type of subject, a “problematised subject”, so to say’.

New publications


Both papers that we presented with colleagues at last year’s International Conference on Indicators and Concepts of Innovation (ICICI2009) ath the Charles University of Prague were published. Twice. First, instead of conference proceedings, a book with a selection of papers was published under the title The Social Dimension of Innovation. Second, both papers were selected for a special issue on Knowledge Governance of the Central European Journal of Public Policy.

The journal versions of the papers are available for download by clicking on the titles below:

The Role of Expectations in System Innovation: The Electronic Health Record, Immoderate Goal or Achievable Necessity?
Wouter Mensink, Frans A. J. Birrer
Unpacking European Living Labs: Analysing Innovation’s Social Dimensions
Benoît Dutilleul, Frans A. J. Birrer, Wouter Mensink

Please also have a look at the other contributions to the special issue.