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Citizenship and Humanisation of the Public Sector

The promises of proximity (completed)

  • Periode 2015-2018
  • Status: completed

A four-year research project (2015-2018) examining the devolution of care and reintegration, with the title The promises of proximity; a qualitative investigation of the devolution of job market reintegration, youth care and long-term care. Conducted jointly with the department of sociology of the University of Amsterdam, and funded by Instituut GAK.


On 13 September 2018, the following book (‘The welfare state moves house’) was launched:

De verhuizing van de verzorgingsstaat


A major devolution drive got underway in early 2015, giving municipal authorities primary responsibility in the ‘social domain’, pertaining to (job market) participation, long-term (extra-mural) care and youth care. This research examines this three-fold devolution in the context of the wider restructuring of the welfare state, though it concentrates on the central principle of this restructuring, namely the promise of proximity.

Whereas the new social provisions were justified during the building of the post-war welfare state as a liberation from dependency on family members, now the mutual support and care through one’s own social network is propagated as a liberation from bureaucratic government interference. The restructuring of the welfare state is based on four principles:

  • Proximity: participation shifts from the national to the local level in order to organise the care nearer to the citizen and to prevent fragmentation
  • Self-reliance: primary public responsibility shifts to the responsibility of citizens among themselves. Citizens are stimulated to solve their own problems, calling on their social network where necessary.
  • Reciprocity: having rights is offset by the obligation to perform a return effort, for instance in the form of volunteer work.
  • Integral approach: multi-skilled and flexibly deployable professionals pursue an integral approach through ‘social community teams’ by interconnecting the three devolved policy domains. This should result in more efficiency, compared to the usual ‘silo’ approach which leads caregivers to work without mutual coordination.

This principled restructuring of the welfare state is not just a matter of governance but also an affective matter. It goes hand in hand with an appeal to and promotion of the affective bonds between citizens, and encourages the cultivation and use of those bonds.

Research methods

The study ‘The promises of proximity’ examines how ‘proximity’ is made meaningful for social professionals and for citizens requiring care and support (in respect of social support, youth care or participation) and their personal network, and to what extent this improves the quality of care, professionalism and interventions. The project comprises a short-term and a long-term study:

  • The short-term study uses a quick scan and literature study to inventory how the four principles are reflected in municipal plans and projects for the three policy domains, and what problems the municipal authorities anticipate.
  • The long-term study analyses in six municipalities the two concrete new strategies that clearly embody the four principles of devolution: social community teams and social networks.

Project leaders

Research team


  • Prof. Margo Trappenburg, UvH/UU-  De- en reprofessionalisering van maatschappelijk werk in de decentralisaties 
  • Vicky Holsgens, MSc, UvH - promotieonderzoek: Levensvragen in de decentralisaties
  • Mirjan Hoijtink, MSc, HvA - promotieonderzoek: Professionaliteit in het nieuwe welzijnsdiscours 

Other partners

National researchers’ platform 3D (coordinated by  Ard Sprinkhuizen), Inholland University of Applied Sciences, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences.


Yearbook of the Tijdschrift voor Sociale Vraagstukken: De verhuizing van de verzorgingsstaat.

Bredewold, F.H., Verplanke, L.H., Kampen, T., Tonkens, E.H. & Duyvendak, W.G.J. (2019). The care-receivers perspective: how care dependent people struggle with accepting help from family-members, friends and neighbours. Health and Social Care in the Community. doi: 10.1111/hsc.12906 

Trappenburg, M.J., Kampen, T. & Tonkens, E.H. (2019). Social workers in a modernising welfare state: professionals or street-level bureaucrats? British Journal of Social Work. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bcz120

Also see

More information is available on the personal website of Professor Evelien Tonkens.


Prof. Evelien Tonkens,

A four-year research project (2015-2018) examining the devolution of care and reintegration, with the title The promises of proximity; a qualitative investigation of the devolution of job market reintegration, youth care and long-term care.