Like most websites, the website of the University of Humanistic Studies uses cookies. Dutch regulations require websites to ask for approval the first time the site is visited. More information

Simon van der Weele: ‘Look differently at dependency in daily care for people with disabilities’

afhankelijkheid van mensen met een beperking in de zorg

18 November 2022

In the daily care of people with disabilities, dependency is often seen as a problem to be solved as much as possible. This creates all kinds of moral tensions. It would help if we looked at dependency differently, says PhD student Simon van der Weele. It would also be good if counsellors were given more room to experiment with making dependency bearable.On 18 November 2022, he defended his thesis The Moral Charge of Dependency: Contestations of Dependency in Care Theory and Care Practice at the University of Humanistic Studies.

In today's care, where ideals such as 'self-reliance' and 'own direction' predominate, dependency has a negative connotation. At the same time, care is unthinkable without dependency: to need care is to be dependent. PhD student Simon van der Weele studied how people with disabilities and care professionals struggle with this tension in daily practice. He made an ethnographic study of daily care for people with intellectual disabilities, and combined this study with a philosophical analysis of the concept of dependency.

Moral tension

There is much anxiety about dependency in the disability care sector. By 'shadowing' people with disabilities and their supervisors in their daily practice, Van der Weele studied how dependency becomes morally charged in care and what that means for what that care looks like. In the many days Van der Weele spent with his informants, he discovered that moral tensions around dependency largely determine the daily lives of people with disabilities and their supervisors.


Much of what counsellors do consists of mitigating or remedying what they see as the problem of dependency, for example by letting people with disabilities make choices or do things themselves. Together with people with disabilities, they experiment with various interpretations of (dis)dependency to make life a little better for people with disabilities. Van der Weele calls such practices dependency work. The irony is that all this dependency work cannot ultimately remove the dependency relationship between people with disabilities and their supervisors. In fact, people with disabilities need their companions to make their inevitable dependency bearable. 

Room to experiment

According to Van der Weele, it would help if care were less about preventing or fixing dependency. Instead, it makes sense to try to make dependency as bearable as possible. To do that, though, professionals need room to experiment with (un)dependency so that they can shape a good life together with people with disabilities. This requires care organisations to place less emphasis on rules and protocols and allow more time for reflection and deliberation. It also requires a forgiving organisational culture where mistakes are allowed, both by people with disabilities and their carers. 

Also see: 

On 18 November, Simon defended his thesis The Moral Charge of Dependency: Contestations of Dependency in Care Theory and Care Practice.