Tagarchief: anthropology

500ste blog Standplaats Wereld!

Bron: Boogie en AJ

Bron: Boogie en AJ

Door Lenie Brouwer. Ongeveer vijf jaar geleden bespraken wij – enkele stafleden van de afdeling Antropologie – de kwaliteit van het publieke debat. Wij stoorden ons aan de negatieve toon van het islamdebat, hoe bijvoorbeeld de hoofddoek uitsluitend als een vorm van vrouwenonderdrukking werd gezien of hoe er alleen maar óver moslims werd gediscussieerd in plaats van met hen zelf. Een andere bron van frustratie betrof de discussie over ontwikkelingssamenwerking, hoe rechtse partijen dit debat monopoliseerden waardoor er weinig ruimte was voor nuancering . Wij misten een antropologische visie in deze maatschappelijke debatten en wilden onze kennis delen met een breder publiek. Maar als je een ingewikkeld maatschappelijk probleem weigert in one-liners te benaderen, dan is het niet eenvoudig je stem te laten horen in het publieke debat.
Daarnaast merkten wij dat het algemene beeld over antropologie nodig bijgesteld diende te worden. De koloniale en exotische erfenis zijn al lang geleden afgezworen en hebben inmiddels plaats gemaakt voor kritische studies over actuele onderwerpen als armoede, protestbewegingen of duurzaamheid, die niet alleen in het buitenland maar ook in eigen land worden onderzocht. Kortom, we hadden meer dan voldoende redenen om een antropologisch weblog te starten met als standplaats niets minder dan de wereld! Lees verder

Het Spinhuis: Reclaiming the Public University

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By: Touraj Eghtesad

In the first week of this academic year, a group of concerned students and ex-students squatted the Spinhuis Common Room, just two months after being closed down. This room was once the meeting spot for academics and students from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, until the University of Amsterdam decided that the profit made from real estate sales was worth more than cultural heritage.

‘I hate that I have to go to Roeterseiland now. The Spinhuis is so beautiful, it’s central and we had a real sense of community with the professors and students here.’ – Joanna, anthropology student.

The Spinhuis is a typical example of what the anthropologist David Graeber calls ‘zones of cultural improvisation’ in which ‘diverse sorts of people with different traditions and experiences are obliged to figure out some way to get on with one another’. The initial squatters were political activists, but we soon managed to include many non-activists who were delighted to witness this social space take shape. The Spinhuis Collective is not limited to anarchists: there are communists, liberals and non-political students. What unites them all is a sense of community and their drive to defend a free university, devoid of commercial interests.

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The advertisement campaign of the UvA focuses on the ‘intellectual rebel’. This powerful imagery was helpful in legitimizing the Spinhuis action.

Many students involved with the Spinhuis feel a sense of community in this space that they had yet to feel at university. Members of the collective constantly remind each other that running the Spinhuis demands hard work, but that they do not mind it because it is meaningful. Public services are being provided to students and non-students who come to enjoy a quiet study atmosphere during the day and fun, informative events every night of the week. They have been overwhelmingly popular, as universities provide too few opportunities for students to organize free cultural and political events.

‘The Spinhuis taught me a lot about being the change you want to see and how life can be different if you step outside the social norms. There are so many possibilities now that I never noticed before.’ – Jan, 26, UvA graduate.

There seems to be a widespread ‘squat stigma’, whereby people refuse to attend squatted social centres because they are an attack on private property. I invite those people to come see for themselves what they have missed out on. In fact, anyone can feel free to organize events at the Spinhuis. So far these have ranged from parties to discussion nights; cinema nights to benefit dinners; activist meetings to poetry readings. If these things are not appealing, there is the cheapest food and in all of central Amsterdam and coffee, tea and snacks are free.

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The Spinhuis Common Room.

The Spinhuis is safe for now, as the University of Amsterdam has another month to provide evidence that they have plans for the building (which they currently do not). In the most recent court ruling, the judge decided that this was an act of civil disobedience and that a speed eviction had no legitimacy as long as the space is used in the public interest.

In the meantime, the university community’s support for the Spinhuis and its principles will go a long way. The ideal of the university as a ‘community of learners’ is still worth defending. The example of the Spinhuis shows that when students are given an opportunity, they can also create amazing practical outcomes. They are not just consumers of education waiting to become working adults, but are also actively engaged in shaping the society they want to live in.

For more information, check hetspinhuis.wordpress.com

Electoral democracy confirmed: The 2014 Tunisian parliamentary elections

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Photo: Touraj Eghtesad

By Touraj Eghtesad Almost four years after the Tunisian Revolution, electoral democracy is becoming a reality in this little country where citizens often feel distant from the process of democratic transition. Meanwhile, much of the European media praises the ‘advent of democracy’ in Tunisia, where a democratic tradition has little consistency so far, as if democracy was a ‘thing’ rather than an ongoing process of checks and balances.

After a first set of elections with hundreds of political parties, Ennahdha (conservative) won and led a coalition government (Troika). Many people trusted that an Islamist party could not become corrupt and that Ennahdha would pursue a whole different trajectory than the Ben Ali regime which long oppressed them. Over the past three years, however, many Tunisians were frustrated that the Troika government did little to stop the growth of Islamist terrorist groups and carried out the same economic policies of the Ben Ali era.

The murder of far-left parliamentary Mohammed Brahmi by Salafist extremists in July 2013 brought one million Tunisians onto the streets . The Troika government, under pressure, promised to step down in favour of a technocratic government after a process of ‘National Dialogue’. This culminated in the vote of a new Constitution, praised as the most progressive in the Arab world, in January 2014.

Conducting my Master’s field research about unemployed graduates’ activism, I managed to witness the constitutional vote in the National Assembly, where politicians of all colours were ecstatic after three years of deliberation and conflict. The next day, a group of young Tunisians of various political belongings argued whether the Constitution was an advancement or not. Nonetheless, they agreed that three years had been wasted in drafting a new Constitution, a reflection of the secular/Islamist debate over Tunisia’s national identity, while none of them actually cared about those issues.

The recent October 26th elections had a smaller turnout than the previous one (about 40% vs. 50% in 2011). This outlines the lack of engagement of Tunisians, especially young voters, with political elites and the new ‘democratic’ regime. ‘I didn’t vote in 2011 because there were many people from the Ben Ali regime on the electoral lists. I only voted this time to balance power between parties. Since every party has a similar programme and all of them are only after power, it is important to avoid that anyone gets a majority’ (Kais, 25 years old).

Many young Tunisians are disillusioned and are unaccustomed to the electoral process. In the past few months, hundreds of NGOs working on ‘democratic transition’ and ‘citizenship’ have mobilized people to vote and teach citizens how to make a conscious electoral decision. This resulted in a clean and fair election, with Nidaa Tounes (liberal) winning almost 40% of the vote. There are two key reasons for Nidaa’s victory. First, this was a sanction vote against the Troika government’s poor performance since October 2011. Many people felt that it failed to accomplish its mandate, as rising insecurity and economic crisis ravaged the country. The CPR party of President Marzouki and Ettakatol both collapsed (from 24 to 5 seats), while Ennhadha lost about 10% of the popular vote. Secondly, Tunisians voted in favour of stability and competence. Tunisians hope that the uncertainty of the Revolution fades away, paving the way for a vibrant national economy. The mismanagement of the Ennhada party and partisan quarrelling in the transition period made people sceptical of the potential for new parties to govern the nation. On October 26th, they chose to elect a party with many members of the old regime in its ranks as a more experienced party that can guarantee a return ‘back to normal’ for the middle classes.

‘I don’t want to go backwards or live in an Islamic state so I voted for Nidaa. They will bring stability back; for us that is especially important to revive the tourist industry’ (Asma, 28 years old). Electoral democracy has become the game for Tunisia’s main political actors, and a two-party system is likely to unfold. For some theorists of democratic transition, two governmental changes through elections means that democracy is consolidated. Many former members of the Ben Ali regime joined Nidaa Tounes at its creation in 2012 by notorious Bourguibist leader Beji Caid Essebsi. Ennahdha, afraid of falling out of parliament altogether like the Islamists in Egypt, have also adopted the rules of procedural democracy. They left power before the elections and are not presenting a candidate for the presidency, instead preferring a consensus candidate.

Now that the elections are over, Nidaa Tounes has yet to name a new government. In the absence of a majority, they must lead a coalition government with the UPL (led by a billionaire and has no clear policy) and the FP (far-left), which seems unlikely, or enter join forces in a government of national unity with Ennahdha who is widely in favour of this. Their priority will be to lead the country out of the economic crisis as Tunisians of all backgrounds have high expectations for change.

The unhappy nations

Freek Colombijn 32 nations play in the World Cup 2014. The football matches create excitement (and feelings of irritation, or indifference) to the inhabitants of these nations. As only one team can become champion, supporters of 31 nations will be disappointed, but at least their favourite team took part in the tournament. Most nations do not even get that far and have lost during the qualifying rounds.

Take Indonesia. As I write this blog, it ranked 158 in the FIFA ranking of 209 nations. Actually Indonesia did not do badly at all during the qualifying round. It passed through the first two qualifying rounds of the Asian zone, but in the third round lost in a competition with three other teams. When the Timnas (tim nasional, or national team) did not stand a chance anymore and had to play Bahrain, which needed a 9-0 victory to keep their chances alive to go the next round, the Indonesian team suffered an astounding 10-0 defeat. The Indonesian goalkeeper was sent off in the third minute and Bahrain scored the first goal with the associated penalty. From there the score went regularly up till the desired 9-0 in the 82nd minute and 10-0 in extra time.

How could this happen? How could a nation with almost 250 million inhabitants lose from a country with 1 million citizens? Allegations of corruption were quickly made. Somewhat surprisingly the Indonesian media did not have doubts about any of the Indonesian players, but questioned the fairness of the Lebanese referee. Another reason put forward was the fact that professional football in Indonesia had split between a competition supported by the national football association, and a professional competition, of which the players were barred from playing for the national team. There were public calls to form a united timnas in the interest of the nation. Even Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono held a press a conference to give his view on the matter. Clearly the national prestige was at stake and in letters to the editor, ordinary people, who in no other way were involved than having Indonesian citizenship, expressed to feel humiliated.

It has not always been this way for Indonesia. In 1938 Indonesia (then still Netherlands East Indies) sent a team to the World Cup, played in France. It was on the eve of the Second World War, and only 15 teams participated instead of the planned 16, because of the recent annexation of Austria, one of the prospected participants, by Nazi Germany. The Indonesian team was beaten by 6-0 in the first round by Hungary. As at this World Cup the loser of each match was ousted, it was the only match ever played by an Indonesian team at a World Cup.

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Dutch East Indies players at the 1938 World cup

Despite the honourable defeat at the hands of the later runners-up, Hungary, it was a memorable match. The selection counted Javanese, Moluccan, Chinese and Dutch players, like Achmad Nawir, Isaak Pattiwael, Tan Mo Heng, and Henk Zomers. The Netherlands Indies team was thus a symbol of tolerance, overcoming ethnic differences. The Netherlands Indies team can be a source of inspiration of today’s national team. Timnas only stands a chance of making it to the World Cup if players stand united and overcome internal divisions.

 

 

NB. I owe many details to the Bachelor thesis of a Monash University student, Timothy Flickers, and Christian Tugnoli, ricercatore sportive from Bologna, Italy.

This blog was originally written for the Jakarta based Whiteboard Journal (www.whiteboardjournal.com) and with permission of the editors also published on Standplaatswereld.

A master student’s shitty first drafts

Door Zeger Polhuis  

In the first week of April my fellow students in the master Social and Cultural Anthropology returned from their three months of fieldwork abroad. I was one of the students who stayed in the Netherlands for fieldwork ‘at home’. I look back on three months of research on the experiences of Indian medical professionals in the Netherlands, and simultaneously look forward to the last interviews that I have scheduled for the coming weeks.

After having conducted most of my research, I had a muddling mass of data, information, and personal experiences. I had visited and interviewed doctors of Indian origin in various places in the Randstad area. I did not know, though, if there were any Indian nurses in the country. I knew that there had been nurses on temporary contracts, but did not know if they were still around or had already returned to India. During the celebration of the Indian Republic Day in Amstelveen, I met someone who knew one nurse from India, and then one contact led to one other. After that, contacts multiplied, and I heard about, and met nurses who were still living and working in a number of cities. I conducted interviews and attended Sunday mass with some of them a number of times. Now I have a pile of notes about my observations and experiences, and a bunch of audio recordings of the interviews, many of which I still have to transcribe. This I have to craft, together with scientific literature, newspaper articles and my own academic reflections, into a meaningful and valuable thesis.

Slowly and painfully, I try to get back into the rhythm of classes, handing in assignments, and reading textbooks. As I am halfway through reading Anne Lamott’s essay ‘Shitty first drafts’ in our textbook on fieldwork, I feel the urge to write – but it doesn’t happen. The essay by Anne Lamott, who is a writer, is great – it is well-written, funny, but also reassuring: reassuring that there are other people like me who, well, suck, and are screwed up. Lamott explains in a cheerful way how first drafts are always crappy one way or another – but we have to write them in order to learn how to write good stuff. During the next few weeks, I will conduct some more research to fill in a few gaps and answer some more questions, and I really have to get my transcribing done. At the same time, though, I will have to start with writing some assignments, fragments of drafts for my thesis. As I will be writing, and even now as I am sitting at a table in my house writing this, I imagine a lot of people watching me, looking over my shoulder: my supervisor and teachers, my fellow students, the people I met and interviewed, the people who did not respond or whom I did not get to meet, friends, God, the scholarly saint Thomas Aquinas, while outside saint Francis of Assisi is hanging around in the Vondelpark, preaching to the birds while sunbathing, and barbequing with cool people from Amsterdam South-East. And here I am, inside, writing. Shitty first drafts. Let’s get it over with.

Zeger Polhuijs, student in the master Social and Cultural Anthropology

Poor Whites in South Africa

Just like last year, various master students obtained a small financial allowance from the Vamos Bien-Foundation of our Department. In  return, they write blogs about their fieldwork, posted on the vamosbien.nl-site. Like last year, we will re-post some of these field stories on our Standplaatswereld site. The first one is by Dafydd Russell-Jones. He went to South Africa to explore the experiences of poverty among white communities living in informal settlements in and around Pretoria.  This research will explore the lived realities of white South Africans who have experienced a great shift in social and economic security since the end of apartheid.

 

By Dafydd Russel-Jones   After commuting in and out of Westfort (an ‘improvised’ community near Pretoria) for the past 6 weeks, I was presented an opportunity to live in one of the spare rooms with a member of the Democratic Alliance and so I have been living as he does for the past week. On the very first visit to Westfort, I spoke with a young Soweto man with two kids, and Indian family who lived next door to a Zimbabwean family, a Zulu man, who was neighbours with an Afrikaner lady and also a coloured family. I was told by one of my supervisors that I should not go looking for the ‘rainbow nation’ whilst in South Africa because I simply would not find it. It is clear that the rainbow exists right here, but the colours are not united in their freedom of choice, instead they are bound in their daily struggles and alas, there is not a pot of gold sight.

During my time, I have tried to speak with a diverse range of people as possible but have carried out the most in depth interviews with minority of Afrikaners (20) as they are the focus of this study. Regardless of cultural background, there are three clear insecurities that would dominate any humans daily psychological, emotional and operational capacities; no running water, no electricity and not knowing that you will still be sleeping under the same roof come tomorrow. Lees verder

Racism as satire

By Markus Balkenhol    Progressive Dutch were shocked when they read the racist commentary swamping critics of the Zwarte Piet figure in recent weeks. “It’s time this whining negro gets a new owner,” and “they should let him pick cotton as a punishment,” or “In Sint’s bag off the Munt tower with Quinsy Gario” were, by comparison, among the more harmless racist execrations that were flung at Gario and other critics of the figure.[1] With indignation, many proponents of the Zwarte Piet figure who understood themselves as non-racist were quick to condemn this outburst of racism. A handful began to wonder whether there may have been a point to the critique, after all. Yet the racism spilling across public media continued to be seen as an exception, representing only a few ‘actual’ racists who were in no way representative of larger proportions of Dutch society. The racist comments were understood to be altogether disconnected from the Sinterklaas celebration as such, and their racism was seen as completely out of sync with the benign family tradition they held so dear. Many have told me that they had never seen anything wrong with the family tradition, but that they were taken aback by the reactions. Lees verder