Constructing democratic participation in welfare transitions: An analysis of narrative interactions

Mare Knibbe*, Klasien Horstman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Web of Science)


Objective This article provides insights into the democratic character of local enactments of welfare reforms by analysing narrative interactions about changes in care. We analyse processes of storytelling that are part of the interactions between citizens giving, receiving and organizing care and the policymakers governing welfare reforms. We also study how narrative interactions shape understandings about changing care practices and what types of narrative interactions support democracy in care. Background Stories about recent welfare reforms include messages about citizens' care, citizen participation, citizens' powers and revitalization of democracy. However, researchers have cast doubt on their emancipatory and democratic character. Research setting and methodology We conducted research of four initiatives and municipal policy settings in the city of Maastricht that organized social care in lifeworlds connected to arts, crafts, farming and entrepreneurship during welfare reforms. Using narrative ethnography, we analyse narrative interactions between the master narrative of welfare reforms about 'lifeworld care' and 'citizen powers', and small stories told by participants in new care practices. Results We identified two types of narrative interaction: idealizing and pragmatizing. Idealizing narrative interactions were strategic for care initiatives in finding support and for policymakers in proving that a so-called 'participation society' works. Pragmatizing narrative interactions gave expression to insights into the everyday practices of social care experiments and included a greater variety of stories. Conclusions We conclude that pragmatizing narrative interactions adjust the master narrative about welfare reforms and replace ideals of independency with ideals of active participation in webs of dependency and care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-95
Number of pages12
JournalHealth Expectations
Issue number1
Early online date6 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • care theory
  • democracy
  • narrative analysis
  • participation society
  • public discourse
  • welfare reforms

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