Inclusion as Heterotopia: Spaces of Encounter Between People With and Without Intellectual Disability

Friday, November 1, 2013
First author:
Herman P. Meininger
Hybrid Spaces of Belonging

1 Willem van den Bergh Chair, VU University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
2 ’s Heeren Loo, Amersfoort, the Netherlands

All authors:

Herman P. Meininger 1,2

Intellectual disability, inclusion, deinstitutionalization, encounter


The public space to which - in line with common definitions of inclusion - persons with intellectual disability are designated often turns out to be a space of discrimination. Aim of this study is to identify spaces of encounter and belonging.


Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia  - ‘other spaces’ – and its subsequent interpretations are used as an analytical tool for evaluating efforts to include persons with intellectual disability in society.


In Foucault’s work ‘space’ refers to geographical places and to ‘sites’ that can be defined by sets of relations. Among these spaces are ‘counter-sites’ like prisons, hospitals and residential facilities. Though contemporary policies aim at erasure of these ‘heterotopia of deviation’, the results of these policies of deinstitutionalisation are often disappointing. Recent interpretations of the concept of heterotopia position the ‘other places’ in the middle of ordinary life as spaces of encounter and dialogue. Characteristics and practical conditions of such spaces of encounter are explored.


The analysis opens up a new conceptualisation of inclusion in terms of niches in which encounter and belonging are cultivated and an alternative social ordering can be exercised.