Verslag ‘Whose Welfare? Fresh Perspectives on the Post-war Welfare State and its Global Entanglements’
On the 19th and 20th of January, researchers from various disciplines assembled for the workshop ‘Whose Welfare? Fresh Perspectives on the Post-war Welfare State and its Global Entanglements’ at Leiden University. The workshop was organised by dr. Monika Baár and dr. Paul van Trigt, as part of the ERC project ‘Rethinking Disability: the Global Impact of the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981) in Historical Perspective’.
The aim of the workshop was to provide a perspective on the welfare state through the lens of the concept of disability, showing that ‘disability’ is just as important a category and indicator of vulnerability and marginality as more conventional social categories such as ‘race’, ‘gender’, and ‘class’. One of the achievements of the workshop was the potential to provide for a successful intersectional and interdisciplinary approach: researchers from many different disciplines – social and political scientists, historians, legal scholars and economists – combined their expertise in answering a broad range of questions. In addition, the first day of the workshop was concluded with a public debate with the Council for Health and Society (Raad voor Volksgezondheid en Samenleving) about the issues and policy decisions that municipalities presently face in the provision of social services for refugees. Some of the most pressing issues of refugee assistance programs (housing, language instruction and the creation of contacts with the local community) were discussed together with local stakeholdersThe mentor program of Leiden municipality was also presented. This mentor programma gives the opportunity to refugees to obtain a buddy who helps them with any problems they may encounter and makes the process of integration smoother.
One of the pivotal issues discussed at the workshop concerned the global/ transnational entanglements of the ‘national’ constructions of welfare states. Anaïs van Ertvelde presented an aspect of her research which demonstrated that disabled people in the 1980s in Belgium were well aware of international debates around disability and they used those debates to justify their claims for rights in Belgium. Larger, geopolitical issues were also important in the consolidation of rights for disabled people and Gildas Brégain showed that Cold-War geopolitics were of importance in implementing or neglecting certain suggested policies for disabled people by the International Labour Organization. In her keynote lecture Sandrine Kott demonstrated that these national, international and transnational levels of expertise are no detached spheres, but are interconnected. She emphasized the need to take a close look at who these experts were and what specific agency they had in specific contexts.
A subject that returned in many papers and discussions was the agency of migrants, disabled people and other usually ‘marginalised’ groups and their representatives in shaping and constructing the welfare state. As Sandrine Kott argued, approaching the welfare state in this manner shows the hitherto often overlooked, yet important role of human rights in the welfare state for those who are not in the position to derive benefits on the basis of their working capacity. Further elaborating on this point, dr. Monika Baár provided an interesting case from the 1970’s in which the widow of an Italian labour migrant in Belgium was able to claim certain rights for her disabled son by turning to the then relatively new European Court of Justice in Luxemburg.
Because historically welfare states were usually constructed around the issue of labour (and unemployment), approaching this topic from the point of people that could not necessarily contribute to labour offers fruitful new perspectives. What consequences did and does the welfare state have for those who cannot be included in the regular labour markets? In her paper on ableïst life paths and the Swedish welfare state, Christine Bylund showed that while Sweden is usually regarded as the success model of a welfare state, the creation of an ideal ‘family life’ in Sweden went hand in hand with extensive sterilisation politics and forced institutionalisation of disabled people, and these policies were also applied to ethnic minorities such as the Sami and Roma people.
In conclusion, the workshop succeeded bringing together many different angles of research and by shedding new light on the welfare state. It inspired researchers to pursue new approaches and to bring more attention to researching the welfare state through the lens of disability.
Daniël Korving en Berend Mul