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It is not realistic to expect warm and emotional ties between citizens with a disability and those without. Femmianne Bredewold bases this conclusion on the results of her doctoral research project as set out in her thesis, Lof der Oppervlakkigheid (In Praise of Superficiality), which she will be defending on Friday, 10 January 2014. Bredewold researched how the ideal of the 'participation society', a society in which people help and care for each other in their local communities, actually plays out in practice.

Winkel Flickr Creative Commons Crossett Library Bennington College 6467423961

In her research, Bredewold examined the social contacts between people with an intellectual or psychiatric disability and their fellow citizens. Her research demonstrates the folly of expecting warm and emotional ties between citizens with a disability and those without. Bredewold: 'In general, people do not really want to invite a neighbour with an intellectual disability to dinner on a regular basis. By the same token, people with a psychiatric background often do not want their neighbours in their homes at all. The type of social contact neighbours want with each other cannot be described as intensive. 

Opting for a more limited form of contact

A more limited type of social contact between people seems to be more effective. For example, people with a disability enjoy superficial but good contacts with shopkeepers. Walking the dog also presents opportunities for light and convivial meetings between neighbours. This more limited type of contact also works two ways, providing a link for people with a disability to the regular world while giving those without a disability the feeling that they are doing something positive for society. Bredewold: 'What makes more limited forms of contact successful is in fact their limited nature. Contact between people remains pleasant when neither side expects too much from the other.'

Clear boundaries

Contact between people with and without a disability can easily break down when there are no clear boundaries. Mutual incomprehension results in irritability, which can degenerate into conflicts and bullying. On the other hand, people with a disability are easy targets for those with a malicious streak.

Time and location

The doctoral thesis defence ceremony will take place on Friday, 10 January at 12:00.
Location: Agnietenkapel, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 231, Amsterdam.

Publication details

Ms F.H. Bredewold: Lof der Oppervlakkigheid (In Praise of Superficiality) Contact tussen mensen met een verstandelijke of psychiatrische achtergrond en buurtbewoners.

Supervisors: Professor E.H. Tonkens and Professor M.J. Trappenburg (UU). Co-supervisor: Professor J. Hoogland (VU).