Vici grant for Anouk de Koning for research on the prototyping of well-being in Europe

Across Europe, neighbourhoods, schools and community centers are being transformed into living laboratories for experimenting with the “doing” of the welfare state differently. Cultural anthropologist from Leiden, Anouk de Koning, receives a Vici research grant for her project “Prototyping Welfare in Europe: Experiments in State and Society” to study welfare experiences in four countries and examine what they tell us on the future of European welfare states.

For the past ten years, De Koning has researched the welfare landscape in Amsterdam and led a project that examined encounters between migrant parents and welfare professionals as sites where a new More diverse Europe is traded. With this Vici Fellowship, the cultural anthropologist wishes to delve deeper into this topic by examining how different European countries deal with new models and policies of social protection through comparative and in-depth ethnographic research on social protection experiences in Amsterdam, Liverpool, Marseille and Athens .

The role of imagination

Such experiments often involve different partners: state actors, citizens and civil society or organizations from the third sector. De Koning’s research will focus, among other things, on the role of the imagination in experiences of well-being. De Koning: “Experimental social projects are often harbingers of future realities. This is why it is very important to understand the work of imagination within these projects. The potential of these state-sanctioned social experiments has not been fully realized. With this project, I want to advance our understanding of European sociopolitical worlds and develop a practice-based theory of state and society that can inspire a rethinking of approaches to the state across disciplinary divides.

An anthropological vision

The welfare state is a subject usually studied by sociologists or political scientists. In examining the role of the imagination, De Koning approaches this subject from an anthropological point of view. The gap between citizens and government is widening in the Netherlands. The government wants a participatory society in which citizens play a more active role, but struggles to really reach out and involve citizens. The project’s findings on the potentials and dilemmas of welfare prototyping will speak directly to practitioners: policy makers, social professionals and community actors who help shape European welfare states. De Koning wants to understand how particular socio-political arrangements are worked out in practice, drawing on the parameters of the contexts in which they emerge. In addition, the project asks who is involved in such experiments, and how. Who is considered a solution, who deserves care, and who is considered a problem?

Making knowledge accessible to the public

Eventually, De Koning hopes to be able to contribute to public debate and make knowledge accessible to everyone, not just to the academic or political world. De Koning: “A large part of the grant budget has been set aside to make the knowledge we are acquiring available to the public. We want to organize public events and invite people to exchange knowledge. And I would be really happy if a good documentary was made at the end of the project on this subject.

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