Voluntary Sector Review
An international journal of third sector research, policy and practice

Jenny Phillimore, Hannah Bradby, Tilman Brand, Beatriz Padilla and Simon Pemberton (2021) Exploring Welfare Bricolage in Europe’s Superdiverse Neighbourhoods

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  • 1 The Open University, , UK
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Jenny Phillimore, Hannah Bradby, Tilman Brand, Beatriz Padilla and Simon Pemberton (2021)

Exploring Welfare Bricolage in Europe’s Superdiverse Neighbourhoods


242 pp

Paperback: ISBN 9780367629359, £36.99

Hardback: ISBN 9780367629335, £120.00

eBook: ISBN 9781003111504, £33.29


Migration flows and the resultant impact on European societies is a topic of heated debate. Exploring Welfare Bricolage in Europe’s Superdiverse Neighbourhoods, which considers how people living in superdiverse neighbourhoods in European cities meet their healthcare needs, provides a welcomingly considered and nuanced understanding of how these global trends play out in real places. The authors employ the concept of ‘bricolage’, defined as the ‘creative mobilisation, use and re-use, of wide-ranging resources, including multiple knowledges, ideas, materials and networks’ (p 1), to explain how people go about addressing particular health concerns. Although the book is primarily speaking to a social policy audience, these insights are highly relevant to practitioners and researchers of the voluntary sector. The focus on individual ‘bricoleurs’ gives us an insider’s view of what life is like for the people who often rely on voluntary sector services, which helps us better understand the role the voluntary sector may usefully play in people’s lives.

The book begins by explaining the concept of ‘superdiversity’ as a phenomenon that has come into being since the 1990s. At this time, migration flows of a few people from a few places, moving along fairly predictable channels, gave way to the movement of lots of people from lots of places to lots of other places. In response, European governments have tended to focus on fostering social cohesion, leaving healthcare providers poorly equipped to provide specialist services to meet diverse needs. In some cases this has been exacerbated by austerity, notably in Portugal and the United Kingdom (UK), and in most countries access to healthcare is linked to immigration status, meaning some groups are not entitled to access most public healthcare. In this context, the authors present the concept of ‘bricolage’ as a heuristic device for making visible the complexity of the barriers and constraints facing people and the strategies they use to meet their healthcare needs. The research underpinning the book explored case study cities in four countries, those being Lisbon (Portugal), Birmingham (UK), Bremen (Germany) and Uppsala (Sweden). A mixed-methods approach was taken to studying two contrasting neighbourhoods in each city: one with a long history of diversity and relatively low social mobility and one that has become more diverse recently and has relatively high social mobility.

The central chapters explore residents as bricoleurs, offering insights into four types of bricolage. ‘Within-system bricolage’, in which people use tactics to move across public health services, was found to be the most common. As part of this approach, particular groups were found to be more likely to draw on the support of voluntary sector and civil society organisations. This support was crucial to older people, undocumented migrants, homeless people and people with addictions. For example, in Lisbon, older people and disabled people were found to lean on volunteers to help them navigate and engage with services, and in Birmingham, faith-based groups were engaged in helping asylum seekers with healthcare needs. In interviews with healthcare providers, voluntary sector organisations were found to fill gaps in provision and form the ‘social glue’ that joins services up. This role encompasses social and emotional support, as in Bremen where organisations spent time trying to rebuild trust in their clients to re-engage with public services that they felt had discriminated against them. The book explores the whole ecosystem of provision and is rich in examples that give insight into the wide range of actors, practices and services that are involved in helping people to maintain their health. The concluding message of the book is that services need to be driven by a new ethics of care in both policy and practice.

This book will appeal to anyone interested in the intersection between voluntary sector practice and public service delivery. Its focus on the whole range of people in a place, rather than a specific demographic group, also feels timely as ideas of place and place leadership are attracting growing attention in voluntary sector literature. The concepts of ‘superdiversity’ and ‘bricolage’ are both powerful illustrators of trends that are being experienced across the continent in different settings and by the huge diversity of individuals the voluntary sector seeks to serve. In the book the authors acknowledge that there are limitations and risks associated with these concepts. Superdiversity sounds like an attractive word that could fall prey to romanticisation at the expense of evoking the struggles and difficult life experiences that being part of a superdiverse neighbourhood can result in. The idea of bricolaging one’s way through life could also imply that having agency and ingenuity may be enough to solve life’s problems. However, this book shows that the role of the voluntary sector and broader civil society is often one that has to mitigate the damage done and the gaps left by under-resourced public services. This in itself suggests that any romanticisation would be misplaced and the authors are at pains to point out that neither of the two concepts negate the need for comprehensive and compassionate services.

  • 1 The Open University, , UK

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