The Need for Roots

Exploring the deeper meaning of our work

Current thinking about disability and difference is inadequate. Mainstream political and philosophical thought does not reflect the real experiences of people who are different. And, too often the new ideas that do emerge remain disconnected from wider social debates or marginalised within academic silos. This disconnection impoverishes our actions by depriving them of deeper and more diverse roots.

This is not just an academic issue. The failure to develop depth and connectedness in our thinking creates important problems:

On its own better thinking will not solve these problems. But without better thinking it will be impossible to shift the debate onto better ground. The terms of the political debate will be defined by older ideas, however bankrupt and irrelevant they might be. And better thinking can multiply the possibilities for practical action that builds more inclusive and just communities.

We have called this project The Need for Roots in honour of one of the greatest, but also most marginalised, thinkers of the 20th century, Simone Weil. Her book, The Need for Roots, was also subtitled Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind. Here, as a guide to the economic and political regeneration of France after the Second World War, she explores the moral and practical foundations for a society that was capable of respecting all its members. We want to encourage a search for roots in response to the demands and capacities of our own time.

We have published five papers so far:

The Unmaking of Man - Disability and the Holocaust - Essays exploring the corrosive forces that undermine moral behaviour and its respect for human diversity by Simon Duffy.

The Relational Basis of Empowerment - Narratives of Hope and Acceptance in the Lives of People with Learning Disabilities by Karl Nunkoosing and Mark Haydon-Laurelut.

Citizenship and the Welfare State - Exploring how citizenship can be used to reconcile equality and diversity and to help improve the design of the welfare state by Simon Duffy.

Political Literacy and Civic Thoughtfulness - An essay outlining the principles of a decent community and exploring their relevance to social policy by Henry Tam.

Love and Welfare - This essay explores the intellectual foundations of the current welfare state and argues that important alternative perspectives, rooted in the idea of love, have been excluded.

We want to work with thinkers, academic institutions and key organisations to promote deeper thinking about the value of diversity, human equality and the nature of justice. 

This work is currently being carried out pro bono. 

John O'Brien



Simon Duffy


President of Citizen Network

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