Tagarchief: anthropology

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.


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

“This is how it is”. Your Informant’s Recognition as the Ultimate Reward

renskeoptredenDoor Renske den Uil
During the first semester of the master Social and Cultural Anthropology, you are working on the development of a research proposal. After four intense months of reading, writing, re-reading and re-writing, you leave to the field. Then, for a three-month period of time, you are doing fieldwork and the distant words you have read throughout the first few months of the master, are now becoming personified in the stories and lives of your informants. You start to build relationships with these informants, some superficial and formal, others profound and sometimes even evolving into special friendships. After three months have passed, you have to leave the field again. The friends you have made stay behind, but with a suitcase full of data you carry their stories and lives with you.

These stories are fixed: in your notebook, in your photo’s, in your video’s, in your voice-recorder, and most of all in your mind and heart. Returning from the field, you face three more intense months in which you have to translate the reality of your informants back into words again. Solving the ethnographic puzzle leads to the final result of this master: a complete master-thesis. After a full academic year of toiling, floundering and doubt, you hand in your thesis and ultimately receive a grade that reflects the quality of your work. For many of us, this is where the thesis-era ends. For me, however, this was not the case.

Lees verder

Anthropology Day, November 29th, 2013

As every academic year, this year again the department will organize an “Anthropology Day”. Write down November 29th in your agenda! You are warmly invited to this year’s Anthropology Day that, once again, promises to be a highly interesting and relevant symposium. This year’s theme is applied anthropology  and we invited well-known speakers who work outside academia (see the provisional program below). Please save the date. More information will follow. Lees verder

Een tas vol verhalen

“Dus eigenlijk heb jij onderzoek gedaan naar iets wat niet bestaat?” vraagt Phillip mij, na mijn relaas over agency & structure, de rol van de politiek en de media, adolescenten in het algemeen en die vreemde Argentijnen en hun geschiedenis in het bijzonder. “Eh, ja,” antwoord ik. Want dat is inderdaad de essentie. Ik heb onderzoek gedaan naar iets wat er niet is.

Lees verder