Dr. Nathanje Dijkstra

PhD Candidate
Cultural History
Cultural History

Making up incapacity for work? How government officials, medical experts and disabled workers brought incapacity for work into being in the first Dutch social security law (1901-1967)

In 1901 the Ongevallenwet, the first act regulating the insurance of labourers in cases of accidents, was introduced in the Netherlands. In the historiography of the welfare state, introductions of acts like the Ongevallenwet mark a moment in time in which the collective started to take care of individual misfortune. This new form of state funded compensation for the loss of income due to disabilities came with a pressing individual responsibility to not misuse this social security arrangement. The regulations have constantly been tightened to make sure ‘the right people’ receive benefits. But when was a person truly incapable to work?    

Social security legislation necessitated classification. As philosophers of science have shown, classifications are moving targets that interact with our investigations.  Interaction with the classification therefore ‘makes up’ the label that is being described. In line with these insights, my research examines the search for identifying properties of incapacity to work as a process of making up incapacity to work. It aims to stay away from the search for the true properties of incapacity to work, but instead focus on how this quest, produced the incapacity to work it propotes to describe. My research seeks to answer questions such as: How was incapacity produced in the execution of the Ongevallenwet? How did the main actors (government officials, medical experts and disabled workers) enact incapacity to work in higher appeal cases? And what do these practices of incapacity to work, tell us about the history of the welfare state, of medical expertise and of disability and work?