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PhD Defence by Janneke Rutgers

Date of news: 20 January 2022

This news article was published by Prof Huib Ernste on his blog page. You can read the full version here.

On January 13, 2022 Janneke Rutgers successfully defended her PhD Thesis “from Panacea to Paradox: The internal dynamics of regional cooperation in Dutch demographically shrinking regions”. She was supervised by Prof. Gert-Jan Hospers and Dr Tamara Metze. As we know, places and regions are not ‘made’ by one single actor, but are co-produced by both civil society actors as well as governmental actors, and the success of this ‘placemaking’ process is very much dependent on how well civil society and government chime together. This was also the topic of a number of other PhD research projects in the framework of our human geography group, although each from another angle. Like in many of my other contributions to my blog site, I always tend to be rather critical if it is presupposed that one single actor or one single cause is responsible for the success or failure of ‘placemaking’. In most cases, these kinds of presuppositions are the result of an unjustified reductionism. In the real world, it is always a combination of different causal factors and circumstances and always the results of how the different actors cooperate.

To be successful in placemaking one always needs to take the full complexity of the situation into account, and one always needs to foster cooperation to be successful. The first is resembled in my own tendency to favour ‘practice theories’, while the latter relates to my preference for ‘inter-action’ instead of individual top-down actions and decision making. From this perspective, the PhD thesis of Janneke Rutgers immediately struck the right chord. Using Urban Regime Theory she empirically shows that what started as ambitious and very open civil society initiatives, gradually developed into more regulated and restricted governmental policies in which the original objectives lost focus, while the continuation of the regulatory regime became a target in itself. This is also the essence of the paradox of regional cooperation she describes with the slogan ‘cooperation well organised, urgency of shrinkage approach disrupted’ (in Dutch: ‘samenwerking goed geregeld, urgentie krimpaanpak ontregeld’). She nicely shows how important it is to keep the balance, and she makes extensive practical recommendations on how to do so. A great piece of research where we can learn from.