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Working paper

'social Subjecthood?’ the Inclusion of Imperial Citizens in the Dutch Post-War Welfare State

Emily Wolff, PhD candidate at Leiden University, wrote a paper about the inclusion of imperial citizens in the Dutch post-war welfare state.

Emily Wolff
18 July 2020

The post-war period has been called the ‘Golden Age’ of welfare expansion (Ferrera, 2005; Obinger and Schmitt, 2018). Scarcely acknowledged is the simultaneous dismantling of colonial empire. This was not only a geographic process but also a political one, as the legal status of overseas subjects, or imperial citizens (Banerjee, 2010) was renegotiated. What of their social rights? To what extent were imperial citizens, resident in European metropoles, included in early European welfare states?

Existing literature generates conflicting expectations. On the one hand, the careful delineation of boundaries to welfare, especially along racialized lines, is thought to create a ‘sphere of justice,’ engendering solidarity necessary for redistribution (Walzer, 1983; Lieberman, 2001; Alesina and Glaeser, 2004). On the other hand, legal equality and the possibility for full political rights were instrumentalized to justify and maintain colonial presence (Betts, 1991; Hansen, 2000; Shepard, 2006). Granting social rights may have been a strategic concession to maintain legitimacy. In this paper, I set out to explore this question through a case study of the social rights of Dutch imperial citizens in the late 1950s. The Dutch population of imperial citizens included both white ‘expatriates’ from e.g. post-independence Indonesia as well as non-white citizens of Dutch empire from Suriname, enabling the effects of race and citizenship on welfare state inclusion to be disentangled. In addition, Dutch resistance to decolonization is well-documented; oft-cited is the intensity of attachment to West New Guinea despite its limited strategic value (Lijphart, 1966; Kuitenbrouwer, 2016). Here, I compare the eligibility of different groups to the 1956 General Old Age Act reform, which marked a critical juncture in the transformation of Dutch welfare from limited to higher levels of generosity (Nijhuis, 2018). I also consult archival evidence from parliamentary debates, consultations and commission reports to resurrect the justifications given at the time. The paper offers insight into the boundary-making of European welfare states, and the inclusionary or exclusionary impulses at its foundations. It also has implications for scholarship at the migration-welfare nexus, adding to the literature on the potential trade-off between welfare generosity and openness to migrants (Ruhs, 2013).

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