About the project

Across Europe and beyond, welfare states are falling apart. In the face of volatile economies, growing precariousness, and increasingly conflictual diversity, welfare states show themselves to be unable to live up to earlier social contracts, to a sedimented set of expectations and assumptions vis-à-vis the state. The project Prototyping Welfare in Europe examines how actors in and alongside the state are reimagining welfare and remaking its futures. Anthropologists have long looked to social movements and grassroots initiatives for radical alternatives to existing governing arrangements. Much less attention has been paid to the work of imagining and reimagining that takes place in less radical, state-sanctioned spaces, even though these are likely to prefigure future realities. 

Funded with a NWO Vici grant, Principal Investigator Anouk de Koning, together with Tessa Bonduelle, Martha Kapazoglou and Vénicia Sananès is investigating the remaking of welfare in four European cities: Amsterdam, London, Marseille, and Thessaloniki. Through ethnographic case studies and in-depth comparisons, they hope to shed light on the remaking of European welfare futures and sociopolitical worlds at this critical time. 

The team asks how a variety of actors-from municipalities, schools, charities, NGOs, churches, community groups to social enterprises  are (re)imagining the welfare state, the social contract, and sociopolitical worlds more generally, as they provide essential social services related, for instance, to food, housing, health or education. Where established welfare arrangements are not providing answers to human emergencies, which actors emerge to take on what kind of public roles, and for whom? And how do projects and policies that claim to do welfare “differently,” reshape governance, traditions, welfare structures and social imaginaries in their day-to-day implementation? What new settlements do such efforts envision and elaborate? What welfare futures do they prefigure, in practice?