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Citizenship as enterprise: the transformation of Amsterdam community centres into community enterprises

Towards an Understanding of the Economies of Neighbourhoods and Communities

Emiel Rijshouwer and Justus Uitermark

Informed by austerity politics and the disillusionment with classical welfare policies, governments are looking at civil society as provider of community services. Citizens are supposed to establish community enterprises to provide services that were before administered by the state. We contextualize the emergence of this policy ideal as part of a wider process of neoliberalization, and in a study on community centres in Amsterdam we investigate how the ideal works out in practice. Drawing on an inventory of 183 community centres and 49 interviews with representatives of community centres, we distinguish different constellations according to civic participation and funding sources. While almost all respondents emphasize that they want to become more entrepreneurial to generate funds to sustain their initiatives, only one of the centres conforms to the ideal of an independent community enterprise. Enduring dependence on formal institutions is widespread. However, instead of acknowledging that structural state support is apparently necessary to sustain these types of activities, community centres have to make it seem as if they are nearly financially independent in order to qualify for funding. Despite the fact that their civic action is tightly circumscribed by the demands of funders, community centres act out the ideal of autonomous community enterprises.