PhD Defense W. van der Zwaard MA
Omwille van fatsoen. De staat van menswaardige zorg
- Location: Cobbenhagen building, Aula
- Supervisors: Prof. P.H.A. Frissen, Prof. T. Schillemans
Tilburg University follows the guidelines of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) concerning the corona virus. Due to the most recent developments, we offer a live stream for our ceremonies.
Because of decency. The state of dignified welfare.
This book is about decency and humiliation in the Dutch welfare state. The welfare state has to a certain extent become an abstract, technical operation, in which 'the human being' has moved out of the picture. The institutions of the welfare state, on the other hand, are still based on normative ideas about human dignity. These underlying 'ideas' have consequences for the ways institutions treat citizens in practice. At this moment it seems that the Dutch welfare state aims to guarantee a
dignified existence for everyone, but in striving to do so puts that same human dignity under pressure. That observation is not without obligation, as Avishai Margalit's (1996) story of the decent society shows. He argues that the way in which institutions respect human dignity – in other words: do not humiliate people – is of decisive importance for the decency of society as a whole. In Margalit's view, the welfare state, because of its bureaucratic foundation, has good credentials for being decent. However, there are also risks of 'institutional humiliation', such as state paternalism,
cold bureaucracy and disguised charity. This makes research into the normativity of the Dutch welfare state relevant and urgent.
In this research, I present several key moments in the development of the Dutch welfare state. They reveal an underlying 'fear' of institutional humiliation: too much government regulation could lead to cold bureaucracy and state paternalism in personal matters such as income and health. The now 'classic' works of Abram de Swaan, Max Weber and Michael Lipsky help to get a closer view of this fear. Political and societal ideas about human dignity determine how a society organises its care
arrangements. When the state becomes involved, a paradoxical situation arises in which representatives of the state, in encounters with citizens, must navigate between acting with and without respect to individuals at the same time. In the contemporary Dutch welfare state, this paradox has become entangled in a constitutional dynamic of categorising, fragmenting and monitoring – as made clear by Cees Schuyt, Paul Frissen and Willem Trommel. The decentralizations of 2015, when Dutch municipalities became responsible for tasks in the areas of children support, healthcare support and resocialisation, are an important recent attempt to change this dynamic and therefore a relevant case study for further research.
In order to perform this research, a conceptual framework is needed which encompasses views on human dignity, includes encounters between state and citizen, and does justice to the intrinsic constitutional logics of the contemporary Dutch welfare state. That is why I use a conceptual framework for the case study that consists of the reciprocity of ‘man’, ‘work’ and ‘task’. This reciprocity starts with the normative ideas behind the 2015 decentralisations – namely ideas about human dignity – and then exposes how this normativity influences the daily practice of caregiving and social support and the associated conceptions of tasks and responsibilities.
The discourse of decentralisations of 2015 revolves around independent, participating citizens, receiving (if necessary) close-to-home and custom-made care and support, and a government committed to affordable care with clear sense of 'ownership'. The municipality of Utrecht – where the case study took place – constructed a local version of this story, which was the basis for employing social outreach teams in the city. The discourse of national and local policy plays a clear
role in the encounters between professional team members and residents of Utrecht. In these encounters, however, the professionals must first and foremost consider for themselves, among themselves and in conversation with residents, what is 'the right thing' to do at that moment and in that setting. The ideas about human dignity that play a role in this do not always correspond to those on which the policy discourse is based. What's more, the overarching policy discourse is not always helpful, because it is difficult to translate to the versatile, capricious daily lives of residents. This is where paper and practice differ.
However, the ethnographic study of encounters between 'representatives' of the state and citizens also shows that there is some reason for optimism. The professionals working for the social outreach team in Utrecht give great efforts to respect human dignity and show a great ability to navigate between acting simultaneously with and without respect to persons. A point of interest here – in consideration of the risk of disguised charity – is the extent to which citizens can become dependent on these 'representatives' of the state. But the discretionary power of these 'representatives' requires support and protection in principle, because it offers an important safeguard against the risks of cold bureaucracy and state paternalism. This research has shown that the described discretionary power is easily undermined by well-intentioned rules and guidelines. The realization that this is not without obligation, but entails real risks of institutional humiliation, urges a call for modesty to managers, policy makers and politicians.