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Naar de inhoud
Kromme Nieuwegracht 29
3512 HD Utrecht, the Netherlands

T +31 (0)30 239 01 00,

University of Humanistic Studies Research Chairs Citizenship and humanisation of the public sector

Symposium: Dignity in dependence and emotional labour

Presented by the University of Humanistic Studies and the University of Amsterdam

17th of May, 2017

Utrecht, University of Humanistic Studies 


Self-reliance, independence and personal responsibility are leading notions of welfare state reform. Citizens are expected to demand less from public services and be more ‘self-reliant’ and ‘independent’ – words that often hide new dependencies, from family members and volunteers as opposed to professional workers. Professional care and support are restricted in terms of time and money, which puts professionals under pressure to compromise their quality standards.  

These reforms are not just about changing ways of thinking about and organising support; they also come with a new emotional regime, with new demands for emotional labour of clients as well as workers, family members, friends and neighbors. A regime that possibly entails feelings of pride about managing to fulfil expectations of self- or family-reliance, but may as well cause feelings of guilt and shame. Professionals and family members might feel guilty for not doing enough. Clients may struggle with shame and guilt for being dependent and being a burden to others or society. 

In this symposium, we want to explore the emotional regime of current welfare state reform. What emotions are at play in current welfare state reform, and how do people subjected to them respond to these appeals? How do they work on feelings of pride, shame and guilt? How does welfare state reform affect peoples’ notions and feelings of self-worth and dignity? Does this new emotional regime also give rise to resistance of clients, family members and or professionals, and if so, how and with what effect for their dignity and self-worth? Or does it cause resentment and anger, resulting in blaming ‘others’ (e.g. migrants or refugees) for budget cuts, the loss of professional support, and collectively financed provisions?

This symposium is organized by the research project ‘The Promise of Proximity’; a project on professionals’ and citizens’ experiences of welfare state reform.  More information about the research project can be found here

Keynote lectures 

Vincent Dubois, professor at the University of Strasbourg (Institute for Political Studies) will speak about Emotions in bureaucratic work

Contrary to a narrow understanding of Max Weber’s ideal type of the anonymous bureaucrat fulfilling its codified function sine ira et studio, affects, emotions and personal morals do play a role in bureaucratic work. It is all the more the case when it comes to relational bureaucratic work, when agents of public services face their clients. Rather than asking whether emotions appear or not in bureaucracy, the questions are therefore under which conditions they do? How do they impact on bureaucratic work? And, eventually, what are their possible effects on clients? To address these questions, this presentation will mainly draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in French welfare organizations.

Hanne Marlene Dahl, professor at Roskilde University, will give her keynote lecture: Searching for words in elderly care: Dignity? Resistance? Silencing?

International discourses on elderly care stress the need for re-ablement/rehabilitation. While these ideals give a hope of autonomy, they may also violate the dignity of elderly and misrecognize them. Investigating how state discourses on re-ablement and NPM are played out in the Danish welfare state, I argue for a methodological and theoretical attention to resistance and silencing. I give some examples of resistance among elderly and professionals and examples of silencing of care needs and identities.


Jan Willem Duyvendak, Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam.

Evelien Tonkens, Professor of Citizenship and Humanisation of the Public Sector at University of Humanistic Studies.


Margo Trappenburg, Professor by Special Appointment of Foundations of Social Work at University of Humanistic Studies


12:30 - 13:00 - Doors open (lunch provided)
13:00 - 13:15 - Opening
13:15 - 14:00 - Keynote lecture by Vincent Dubois -
Emotions in bureaucratic work
14:00 - 14:30 - Response by Jan Willem Duyvendak and questions
14:30 - 14:45 - Coffee/tea
14:45 - 15:30 - Keynote lecture by Hanne Marlene Dahl - 
Searching for words in elderly care: Dignity? Resistance? Silencing?
15:30 - 16:00 - Response by Evelien Tonkens and questions
16:00 - 16:15 - Ending

16:15 - 17:00 - Drinks on location

The symposium is free of charge, but application is required.

Click here to apply now

University of Humanistic Studies, Kromme Nieuwegracht 29, Utrecht. Take a look at this page for travel instructions. 

More information 
Please contact Laurine Blonk 



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