Non-enforcement as a technique of governance: the case of rental housing in the Netherlands

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When governments systematically fail to ensure that a policy is implemented, while at the same time keeping that policy in place, this can result in a reality where certain regulations are simultaneously officially present but informally absent. In this paper, I derive from the case of rental housing in the Netherlands that such non-enforcement can be understood as a technique of governance. Here, rules on security of tenure, rent ceilings and maintenance are in theory strong, but in practice knowledge of these regulations is almost non-existent, and enforcement is so weak that the rules have become largely meaningless. Through analysing political and bureaucratic documents, and drawing on my previous ethnographic research, I argue that keeping regulations in place that are largely unknown to citizens and unenforced by authorities can function as a policy mechanism in its own right, as a method to secure and transmit the objectives of government in a more subtle way than explicit, top-down exertion of power. I conclude that non-enforcement as a technique of governance, previously overlooked by most research, deserves our attention, not just because of its effects on policy processes but also because of its impact on citizens.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages30
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Nov 2018


  • Non-enforcement
  • policy mechanism
  • case-study research
  • governmentality
  • rental housing
  • Netherlands


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