In late 2016, Julia Wittmayer obtained her doctorate on approaches for creating social change at the local level. One of the things brought about by her research was the reopening of a community centre in Zuid.

magine you’re sitting next
to your uncle at a birthday
party. How do you explain
the nature of your research
in a few short sentences?

“My research focused on Carnisse, a neighbourhood in Zuid where the community is experiencing social problems. I met with residents and business people to discuss how we could improve the neighbourhood to make it more sustainable and attractive. Actively contributing to change is a different way for a scholar to approach research, so I also researched how I carried out my activities. Actually, the underlying question was: how can we improve our relations as a community and how can science play a role in this process?”

How will your dissertation make
the world a better place?

“My goal was to make a tangible contribution. For instance, my research resulted in the reopening of the community centre in Carnisse. Interviews revealed this was something many residents and business people wanted. We brought these people together and they formed an action group and launched a petition. I also hope that my dissertation places the role of the researcher on the agenda. Such close involvement provides societal legitimacy for research where you not only provide answers for pressing issues in society, you also contribute to change. At the same time it’s scientifically relevant because it leads to a large amount of quality data and evidence-based insight.”

Did you reach rock-bottom at some
point during the past few years?

“In the week I obtained my doctorate I received an email stating that the community centre was having trouble with the municipality again. While the municipality wants to encourage social development, it also wants to set rents at market levels. These two ideas clashed and the volunteers trying to keep the community centre open during the past five years were the victims. It even ended a few friendships.”

How did you celebrate obtaining
your doctorate?

“With coffee and cake for my colleagues. My family came over from Germany and stayed for the weekend. Unfortunately the small committee took a long time before issuing their decision. Otherwise I could have thrown a large beach party in the summer in Scheveningen, where I live. That party will now take place a year later.”

About the cover

“A colleague with graphic design skills helped me. The cover depicts the reopened building and the roses with thorns represent the challenges faced in practice. The back cover shows the entrance of the community centre with the wooden beams above it where a sign with the name used to be. The name has been changed three times in the past couple of years. This empty spot symbolises the struggle waged by the residents of the neighbourhood.”