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Citizenship and Humanisation of the Public Sector


The research performed by the chair group Citizenship and Humanisation of the Public Sector concentrates on the humanisation of the public sector, in a broad sense. 

How can people employed in the public sector contribute in a meaningful way to a more humane society? How to promote respectful interaction? What forms of organisation invite and support such interaction? How can organisations facilitate and enhance a sense of citizenship among stakeholders? What mechanisms and processes hinder humane relations in organisations, and what can be done to overcome this?

We mainly focus on public organisations and institutions (which in principle seek to and should promote citizenship), but also examine private organisations that emphatically pursue public goals and wish to be held accountable for their efforts.

Citizenship within the public sector

Citizenship plays a key role in the humanisation of the public sector. Citizenship seeks to serve the public interest in an autonomous and critical manner, and may conflict with organisational, professional or personal interests. The role of the citizen is then at odds with the role of the employee, professional, client or private person. Within organisations, citizenship may interfere with the organisation’s goals. Promoting citizenship within an organisation is therefore not necessarily in the organisation’s interests.

Particularly in the public sector we see professionals working with respect and dedication to further the interests of justice, health or development, to which end they help individual clients as well as the managers that aim to facilitate the provision of these services. Yet we also see the reverse: organisations that discourage citizenship and stifle its emergence. Organisations may stimulate people to develop calculating behaviour, to pursue their own interests aggressively at the expense of others, or foster disrespect, disdain and neglect for the people for whose well-being they are responsible, or seek to maximise their own production at the expense of their clients’ well-being. It even happens that organisations penalise and punish citizenship, as happens for example with whistle-blowers.

Restructuring the welfare state

An important theme for the chair group is the restructuring of the welfare state. This restructuring eminently involves a change in the ideals and practices of citizenship and at the same time a transformation in organisational ideals and practices. It involves a shift away from centralised state management and a privatisation of sectors, in two directions: in the direction of the market with regard to ‘cure’, and towards the family and civil society and local government with regard to ‘care’.

Regarding ‘cure’, the drive is towards more competition, a greater focus on profitability, and upscaling with a view to more efficiency and technological developments. Regarding ‘care’ the focus is on caring (communitarian) citizenship, organised locally, in new organisation-transcending teams and networks, with small companies and voluntary initiatives as the ideal organisation forms.

To what extent and in what way do new fracture lines emerge in this process of decentralisation and privatisation, for instance between (organisational) citizenship and other roles, and between organisational citizenship and other forms of citizenship such as neighbourhood citizenship? To what extent are the expectations regarding social networks justifiable and realistic?

The same goes for the expectations regarding voluntary work: expecting people to freely donate their time in a society characterised by a lack of time. We are working with the department of sociology of the University of Amsterdam on a four-year research project into the decentralisation of care and reintegration, under the title of De belofte van nabijheid (‘The promise of proximity’ ).

View staff members of this group.
View research projects.

Research performed by the chair group Citizenship and Humanisation of the Public Sector.