New roles of state and citizens essential for marginalized neighborhoods

The interaction between the state and citizens of marginalized neighborhoods does not only take place in cooperation or conflict but also in the spaces ’inbetween’. This is the conclusion of Simone van de Wetering in her dissertation, which she will defend on Monday, June 3, at Tilburg University. It is within this ’in-betweenness’ that something can be achieved.

Cities around the world are growing - and so is urban inequality. In response, many governments increasingly employ participatory approaches that start from the idea that urban change can only be realized together with urban residents. Governance sociologist Simone van de Wetering studied how the interaction between governments and residents of these neighborhoods takes shape within such approaches and what this means, both theoretically and practically, for addressing urban marginality. For this, she used ethnographic methods, analyzing the stories, experiences, and practices of urban professionals and neighborhood residents in Tilburg (the Netherlands) and the Īle-de-France region in France.

New Roles and Relationships

The research shows that the interaction between the state and citizens takes various forms in both the Netherlands and France. Sometimes urban professionals and residents move past each other, for example, when participatory ideals and ambitions play out differently in practice: when ’inclusion’ is the goal, but some residents are unable or unwilling to participate. Sometimes the parties also clash, for instance, when the informal, daily activities of residents, such as young people hanging out on the street, do not match the intended forms of citizen participation, such as a youth council.

However, the state and residents also find common ground: in new roles, in specific places in the neighborhood, and in relationships ’in- between.’ For example, in a resident who also works for the municipality, in relationships of support and recognition between professionals and residents, and in a ’neighborhood home: a building made available to develop neighborhood initiatives - with and by residents.


Moreover, in all these forms of interaction, a ’vulnerability’ or ’otherness’ attributed to marginalized neighborhoods and residents plays a role. In both the Netherlands and France, this leads to what Van de Wetering calls ’paradoxical participatory approaches.’ Citizens are simultaneously positioned as ’active’ and experts, and as vulnerable individuals needing help. In France, this ’otherness,’ more than in the Netherlands, is strongly linked to the stigmatization of the Parisian suburbs (the ’banlieues’).

According to Van de Wetering, these findings illustrate that the relationship between the state and citizens in marginalized neighborhoods is not simply a promise of collaboration fulfilled or purely problematic but exists in a space ’in-between’. In this ’in-between’, the ’vulnerability’ of residents and neighborhoods can be acknowledged and questioned. Thus, it can serve as a foundation for how government and citizens can work together.

Van de Wetering: "It is important to question participation as ’the’ answer, to adopt a reflective attitude towards ideas about ’active citizenship’ and ’vulnerability,’ and to pay attention to the existing relationships ’in-between’."

PhD Defense

Simone van de Wetering will defend her dissertation on June 3, 2024, at 10:00 AM in the auditorium of Tilburg University. Dissertation title: Beyond promise or problem. How state and citizens interact in participatory governance for urban marginality. Supervisors: Prof. M.L.P. Groenleer, Prof. W.G.J. Duyvendak, Prof. F. Hendriks. The defense can also be followed via livestream .