Dutch dikes, water, and the wizards who master it

Although the Dutch social imaginaries of and discourses on water are not a univocal, it is univocally stressed that Dutch history, the landscapes, democratic institutions, ‘modern civilisation’, and supposedly the political culture of seeking compromises, are all unthinkable without the ‘battle against the water’ throughout history and the thereof emerging technologies, mega-constructions such as the Delta works, and institutions such as the water boards (Van den Brink 2007, Van Dam 2000). Approximately fifty percent of the country today lies below sea level, and almost the whole Dutch landscape is human-made from the Middle Ages onwards. A vicious circle of human response to increasingly frequent flooding kept changing the landscape with more and stronger dikes (Van der Vleuten & Disco 2007). The technology to separate land from water developed from ditches, dikes and sluices to windmills and pumping stations and eventually the megastructures of large dams and storm surge barriers. All these constructions have intensively recreated the Dutch landscape, to such an extent that there is an internationally famous cliché that ‘God created the earth and the Dutch created the Netherlands’ (Ten Brinke 2007).

Whilst every young Dutch citizen learns about the homeland’s water history in school, which is presented as something to be proud of, nowadays water is hardly a topic of real concern in everyday life. Water as a ‘threat’ is seen as something of the past, in the consciousness of most Dutch people at least. The hydraulic engineers and water authorities make sure of that. Even more so, water almost seems to be taken for granted, not just by myself but by many other Dutch inhabitants. Clean drinking water runs from the tap, the shower, and even the toilet. Drinking water, water to sprinkle the garden, and water to swim in or sail on, the ‘nice sorts’, are always abundantly available, whilst the ‘nasty sorts’, in the form of storm surges, waste water, or heavy rains, are conveniently kept from us or dealt with by water professionals and technologies. We do not have to worry about it, and we indeed do not.

The Dutch social imaginary of water seems to be engrained with pride of the water engineering ‘superiority’ of the Dutch in the world, as well as a deep trust in these engineers’ skills in keeping us safe and arranging fine drinking water for all inhabitants. This pride of and trust in the water engineers resonates in my own imagination of water, too, that is nourished by the way my grandmother talks about De Ramp (the disaster) of 1953, in which the dikes of the province of Zeeland broke during an immense storm surge. Seawater flooded the polders and in one week 1.835 people drowned and more than 750.000 inhabitants were affected (Bijker 2007). After De Ramp, the Oosterschelde storm surge barrier was constructed, a megastructure that is open under normal circumstances but can be closed when s storm surges is forecast. The thing is promoted worldwide as a technological wonder, and advertised as “the eighth modern wonder of the world” (Van der Ham et al. 2018), constructed by the Dutch “water wizards” (Van der Vleuten & Disco 2004).

In the midst of the disaster, my own grandparents and their family had to flee to Tilburg, where they lived with a host family for six weeks, because the water came all the way to our village. As a child I was often intrigued by my grandmother’s stories. For her, the sea had literally threatened her life, forever impacting her relationship with water and always proud at ‘our’ dikes and other structures. When she only recently visited the museum near the Delta works with my mother, she turned emotional again whilst seeing the videos of the breaking of the dikes, even after more than sixty years. Through listening to her stories, my grandmother’s relation with water must have seeped through generations.

The Dutch water history is constantly and proudly reproduced by politicians: they point at the Dutch ‘tradition’ to find compromises through the ‘polder model’, rooted in the first water boards, and promote the Dutch water expertise worldwide as an export product. By this continuous reproduction of pride, the Dutch-water relation arguably becomes deeply engrained in people’s shared imaginaries and sense of nationality. This imaginary then again finds its way in new plans to master the water, for example in the construction of new islands in the IJsselmeer, of building new land to expand the port of Rotterdam, and to design large off-shore windmill parks. The Dutch relation with water seems to manifest itself merely through their relation with water technology, rather than with water in itself.

Considering the Dutch history with water, it is at least curious that many present-day ecological movements also (almost) seem to take water and water technologies and infrastructures for granted, at least as they play out in the Netherlands. Although off-shore windmill parks harm marine ecosystems, most large ecological movements praise the renewability of wind energy, also in offshore parks, as a good constituent for fossil fuel. There is also no conspicuous ecological protest against the repairing and strengthening of dikes and pumping of the water, nor against ‘building new nature’. In fact, Dutch ecological movements that revolve around water-related ecological damage or conflict, or about water in general, are pretty rare. There are the well-known Plastic Soup Foundation and Ocean Clean-up, organisations that aim to raise awareness on the large negative effects of plastic waste on the oceans and marine life, and to reduce plastic consumption. These organisations are not targeting the Netherlands only, but the whole world. They can afford to: Dutch beaches are not as filled with waste compared to the Indonesian beaches. Telling is also the example of response to earthquakes in the province Groningen that occur because of drilling for natural gas. The dikes surrounding Groningen at the coast are damaged because of these earthquakes. Whilst thousands of Groningen inhabitants are struggling with the gas company for financial compensation and repair of their dwellings, the water boards immediately received large amounts of money to repair and strengthen the dikes along the coast. This is not questioned nor contested by activists who support the Groningen people. It is seen as a priority. The simple explanation for this apparent lack of water movements are: we need strong dikes because otherwise we would all drown; wind energy is more ‘sustainable’ than fossil fuels; new ‘nature’ in the IJsselmeer is good for birds. More complex explanations could lie in a relation with and imaginary of water shaped by a hierarchy in which humans are superior to the rest of the ecology.

However, at least one interesting movement to focus on for this research might be the Parliament of Things and the Embassy of the North Sea, established in 2018. The Parliament of Things is an open space for conversations between humans, things, animals and plants, based on the book We have never been modern by Bruno Latour (1991). In the summer of 2018, as spin-off of the Parliament of Things, the Embassy of the North Sea has worked on a plan for the years until 2030. Their strategy consists of imagining, connecting, and representing. It uses imagination as a catalyst of revising relationships with the North Sea and to develop alternative scenarios for the future. It aims to give a political voice to nonhuman North Sea stakeholders and researches relations and forms new ecological movements. The movement’s website notes: “We live together with the sea. She fascinates and nourishes us, once we emanated from her. At the same time, we feared and subdued this great mirror of our land. The sea always stirs, in many ways.” The movement wonders what, nowadays, is our relations with “our largest public space”. Its vision is described as follows: “The North Sea belongs to herself. In the Anthropocene, new forms of imagination, connection and representation are needed to see and understand the North Sea in all her diversity. The Embassy of the North Sea unites, in urgent and ingenuous manners, humans and non-humans in and around the North Sea. Building more inclusive sea-perspectives, the Embassy of the North Sea investigates whether the North Sea must be an independent legal person.” This type of reasoning intends to resonate the anti-anthropocentric ideas and at the same time challenges us to re-imagine our relation with the sea, by using all of our senses.

Imagining in the Anthropocene

How do people imagine water, how did they do so historically, and what does that mean? René ten Bos (2015) argues that people seem to take water and its life-giving characteristics for granted, or ignore it. Especially in western thinking, he argues, water has long been ‘objectified’, not seen as something with intrinsic value, but only as something ‘out there’ that humans can use or must control. Imaginaries revolving around water seem to link to a certain human relation to water, and the nonhuman world in general, in which water and other things of the earth are ontologically reduced to being resources, commodities, external supplies, that can be measured, tamed, mastered and/or used by humans. In such a way of thinking, it is overlooked that water is a fundamental part of life on earth and literally a large part of ourselves. This denial, indifference, or downplaying of water’s importance arguably allows for a way of treating it – and the nonhuman world in general – that is only utilitarian and hierarchical: humans above the rest. With such a way of thinking, the step towards doing ecological harm, unintentionally or carelessly, is easily taken, allowing for damming rivers, for dumping waste and chemicals in the ocean, if only it is benefitting or convenient for human beings. Scholars argue that this social imaginary of water, its reduction to its utilities, is one of the root causes of ecological disaster that we need to challenge and question (see for example Ten Bos 2015; Neimanis 2012, and the recent IPBES[1] report 2019).

This idea about water and the controllable ecology has plausibly already been dominant, at least in western thought, since the ancient Greek philosophers and came even more into fashion since the industrial and scientific revolution. Although one of the first European philosophers, Thales of Milete, did coin that water is the primary element that all life begins with, since Socrates and Plato water has not been (philosophically) referred to as the fundamental principle of life (Ten Bos 2015). Since then, western philosophers and thinkers seem to have “attempted to grasp solid ground”: flow and liquid seemed to be too dangerous and dynamic, we cannot rely on it. In this time, bodily senses and the imagination became inferior to the use of logos (ratio) whilst philosophising. In the seventeenth century, senses and imagination in philosophical thought got an even lesser status (Sepper 1989). With the dualist ideas of René Descartes, a binary way of thinking bloomed that conceptually separated the body from the mind, nature from culture, emotion from ratio, and humans from nonhumans (Huggan & Tiffin 2007, Leiss 1994). Descartes argued that the mind is superior over the body, because that is where reason is located, whereas in the body only passion and irrationality are found (Culhane 2016). Following Descartes’ philosophy, the idea became popular that using ratio and critical thinking offers us the best way of knowing the world, and the imagination only distract us from fully comprehending it (Sepper 1989).

Humans in large parts of the world started to believe that we could know, control and use everything in the world by using rational thought. With the invention of the steam engine and the industrial revolution, these ideas of measuring, using and exploiting nature became practiced, amongst other things (but not solely) in the massive extraction of resources for the processes of production. From this revolution onwards, water literally became the lubricant for industrialisation, urbanisation, and agricultural intensification, all processes that required enormous amounts, secure supplies, and fine qualities of water (Bakker 2012). Whilst people had long been using and manipulating water by irrigation systems, redirecting streams and creating water mills, the increasing demands for water in the industrial revolution, the growth of capitalism, and urbanisation – processes that embarked in the seventeenth century and accelerated over the next two hundred years – were of an unprecedented order (Linton 2010).

Not only in relation to water but more generally as well, in the industrial revolution human beings started to change the globe decisively, to such an extent that it marked a turning point in history: the beginning of what scholars widely agree to be a new epoch called the Anthropocene. In this epoch, human beings are directly and indirectly impacting the world unprecedentedly and permanently to such an extent that it is leading to global warming, biodiversity loss and other environmental crises (Crutzen 2002, Zalasiewicz 2013, Lewis & Maslin 2015). There is large scholarly consensus that due to the accelerating use of fossil fuels and rapid societal changes, the industrial revolution marks the Anthropocene’s beginning[2] (Crutzen 2002).

Contested imaginaries

In present times, the urge to ‘do something’ against or mitigate ecological crises is not only felt by scientists but also by many (but far from all) citizens and politicians. According to Anna Tsing, humans started to become aware that they could destroy the liveability of the planet after the bomb on Hiroshima: grasping the atom was “the culmination of humans dreams of controlling nature. It was also the beginning of those dreams’ undoing” (2015: 3). This ‘undoing’ surfaces in the rapid increase of climate marches and student protests (New York Times 2018), investments in technological innovation, climate policies and international treaties (United Nations 2015).

However, thinking of ‘nature’ as usable and controllable for human benefit remains dominant. Infinite economic growth and progress remain the ultimate aims of most states. Politicians, technocrats and scientists attempt to measure effects and predict the impact of current and future environmental crises. They seem to be convinced that better measurements, more efficient use of water and other ‘resources’, and technological solutions will solve the problems (Raworth 2018). Economic growth ought to be a prerequisite to be able to invest in such innovations, and in this logic, consumption and production must continue to increase too (Raworth 2018). The ideas that humans are superior over nonhumans, that water must be tamed and controlled for human’s most efficient use and protection, and that economic growth is crucial for society’s welfare, remain the dominant discourses.

A paradox emerges here: one the one hand, societies are aiming for economic growth as priority, and on the other hand, that growth must be ‘sustainable’, ‘as much as possible’ (source). The paradox, or double-bind (Bateson 1972, Eriksen 2016,), lies in that economic growth inherently requires an increase of production, consumption, energy-use and resource extraction. ‘Sustainable growth’ – often implied by politicians and international institutions like the Sustainable Development Goals – can be called a hoax: ‘economic growth’ and ‘sustainability’ are two inherently incompatible things. Scholars as well as environmental movements therefore suggest that current and future ecological crises are not simply solvable by technological innovations, better measurements, and political policies without breaking with a focus on perennial economic growth, ideas of progress and a rationality of measuring and counting everything, that are dominant in western thinking (see for example Eriksen 2016; Escobar 1995, Acosta 2016, Gudynas 2011).

In the words of Tsing (2015) and Buell (1995), the ecological challenges we are facing today are related to the way we imagine the ecology. Both argue that environmental crises and Western thought are intrinsically interwoven. Buell stresses that “…western metaphysics and ethics need revision before we can address today’s environmental problems. [The] environmental crisis involves a crisis of the imagination the amelioration of which depends on defining better ways of imagining nature and humanity’s relation to it” (1995: 2). Neimanis (2012), in line with Tsing and Buell, wonders how ‘really’ paying attention to water – how it moves, what it does, what it is threatened by, how it organises itself and other bodies – makes her and other people to treat water better. Raworth (2018) suggest that in order to do that, we must ‘unlearn’ the capitalist economic rationales of infinite growth, measurements of GDP as ‘welfare’, and the ‘invisible hand’ of the market. What we need, these scholars imply, is a radical, new way of thinking about human’s place in the world at large, a turn from the discourse of Descartes’ fashion that separates humans from the rest of the earth and all the living and non-living beings in it. We must, they say, problematise ‘anthropocentrism’, that is, the paradigm in which human beings are believed to be the most important beings of the planet.

[1] The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is a renowned international institution which assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services it provides to society. Its reports are approved by 130 governments.

[2] Timothy Morton (2016), amongst others, notes that the Anthropocene already has its roots ten thousand years earlier, with the invention of agriculture. The nature-culture split is the result of a nature-agriculture split, he states (Morton 2016: 43).


Acosta, A. (2016). Buen Vivir, Latijns-Amerikaanse filosofie over goed leven. Ten Have, Amsterdam.

Buell, L. (1995). The environmental imagination. Thoreau, nature, writing, and the formation of Americanculture. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Crutzen, P.J. (2002). Geology of mankind. Nature, 415.

Culhane, D. (2016a). Imagining: an introduction. In Elliot, D. and Culhane, D. (editors). A different kind ofethnography. Imaginative practices and creative methodologies, pp 1-21. University of Toronto Press.

Culhane, D. (2016b). Sensing. In Elliot, D. and Culhane, D. (editors). A different kind ofethnography. Imaginative practices and creative methodologies, pp 1-21. University of Toronto Press.

Eriksen, T.H. (2016). Overheating. An anthropology of accelerated change. Pluto Press, London

Gudynas, E. (2011). Buen Vivir: Today’s tomorrow. Development. 54:4, pp. 441–447.

Huggan, G. and Tiffin, H. (2007). Green postcolonialism. Interventions, 9:1, pp. 1-11.

Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) (2019). GlobalAssessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Retrieved 26 June 2019 from https://www.ipbes.net/global-assessment-report-biodiversity-ecosystem-services

Leiss, W. (1994) The domination of nature. McGill Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston, Lewis, S.L. and Maslin, M.A. (2015). Defining the Anthropocene. Nature, 519, pp. 171-180.

Linton, J.I. (2006). What is water? The history and crisis of an abstraction. Doctoral thesis, department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University.

Morton, T. (2016). Dark ecology. For a logic of future coexistence. Columbia University Press, New York.

Neimanis, A. (2012, May 25). Thinking with water: an aqueous imaginary and an epistemology of unknowability. Paper presented at Entanglements of new materialisms conference, Linkoping, Sweden.

Tsing, A.L. (2015). Mushroom at the end of the world. On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Sepper, D.L. (1989). Descartes and the eclipse of imagination, 1618-1630. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 27:3, pp. 379-403.

Ten Bos, R. (2015). Water. Boom uitgevers, Amsterdam.

Zalasiewicz, J. (2013). The epoch of humans. Nature Geoscience, 6.

El Paro: national protest in Ecuador and framing in the media

This week, I have experienced the specific scent and feel of teargas for the first time. It is in first instance itchy, as if someone put pepper in your nose and eyes. Then it starts to hurt. You cannot breath normally and you start to cry. You want to run away, preferably to the nearest fire. The smoke helps, but it takes time before you’re back to normal. That stuff is not innocent, like you often hear on the news about protests, mostly elsewhere in the world. It doesn’t kill initially, but it does make people blind. It creates panic and people start running in all directions, falling over each other. The police in Ecuador is currently using a lot of teargas.

Initially I intended to write a blog about the climate strike that was organised in Quito on the 27th of September, the day that worldwide people took the streets for “greener” policies and measures of governments and companies. I wanted to write about the reasons why many of my Ecuadorian friends involved in a social-ecological movement were not joining the strike. “It’s organised by people with comfortable lives in rich countries, who are forming the biggest threat to our planet”, was what they told me. It confused me initially, to be honest, because why would they not go to strike for a cause they shared, only because the initiators of the strike are from rich countries? A few days later, whilst writing about the relatively small number of people that showed up (about a thousand), and pondering about why my friends had not joined the strike, I received a message that the city centre was in chaos because of protests. I went outside to have a look, a few-minutes-walk from where I live. That was the 3rd of October and only the beginning.

“Fuera Lenín, Fuera!”

Thousands and thousands of people are on the street. Taxi’s and busses have blocked the main road. Teargas hits my nose and eyes, even from a safe distance. People are scanting “Fuera Lenín, fuera” (away with Lenín Moreno, the president) and spraying “Mierda FMI” (Shit International Monetary Fund, IMF) in graffiti on the walls of the closed shops. People are making fires on the street and others are selling sigarettes, both help against teargas, as I learn. Around the corner I can see confrontations with the police further down. I’ve never seen a mass like that, and so furious. The police uses teargas in order to prevent the protesters from going to the palace, where the president is seated, they respond by throwing stones at the police. The government announced a state of exception for sixty days.

“Away with Lenín” Close to the historical centre of Quito.

The motivation: a stop on fuel subsidies. This might be an example of a “green policy” that was demanded by the climate strikers worldwide last week, but people here are furious and scared. The stop on subsidies is part of a list of measures, announced by President Lenín Moreno a few days earlier, to “improve the Ecuadorian economy”. The budget cuts are ordered by the International Monetary Fund in exchange of a loan. The measures hit people hard, especially the poor who could already hardly get by when the subsidies were still in place. Because of the higher fuel prices, transport and foodprices have increased to such an extent that people cannot afford it anymore.

Actually, this was only the trigger, the so-called last straw that broke the camel’s back. People are angry at Moreno and his government, that in their eyes only enriches its capitalist self, elite classes, and foreign companies. The administration threathens the land of indigenous peoples by giving out mining and oil concessions, even though Moreno in election time promised not to. The fact that the USA military is allowed a basis at the Galapagos Islands, plus the orders by the IMF, is perceived as that the country is sold out. I’ve spoken with many people who feel threathened in their security, not only by the economic measures, but also by enormous police and military agression in the last days. 

Framing and censorship in the media

I find it frustrating that international news media are scarcely and/or inaccurately reporting about the events in Ecuador. One of the first messages I read were written by the Dutch NOS and Algemeen Dagblad, reporting about some tourists that are stuck and that it’s better not to travel here. It embarasses me. Overall, Ecuadorian and international news media predominantly report about“violent protests” and “vandalists” destroying the city. We read about the “economic damage” of the unrest, and that the government is “open for dialogue”. Although (most of it) is not ontrue, it is framing the events in such a way that the protesters are “criminals”, even “terrorists” who destroy the country and don’t want to talk.

We do not read in de media that the police is incredibly aggressive, and violently cracks down on peaceful protesters. The fact that the police intruded a university buidling, used as a refuge for indigenous people who came from the countryside, throwing teargas where old people and women with children were resting, unable to leave the building, remains unreported. Violence by the protesters (that is, only some of them) means fighting by hand, throwing stones found on the street and throwing back the teargas units where they came from, for self-defence. Violence by the police means throwing teargas not only to the frontlines but in the crowds with bystanders too, it means rubber bullets, tanks and armored cars through the streets. Once I was witnessing things from a very safe distance, I thought, close to where children were playing in the park. But suddenly I saw about thirty police officers on motorbikes entering, hunting down the people through the park. There are at least 7 deaths, amongst whom an indigenous leader and a child, more than 500 injured, and more than 700 people in jail without any trial. 

Ecuadorians are forming one big block

I have spoken to dozens of people, from die-hard protesters to people on the street who try to avoid the unrest to go to work, and bystanders, shop owners, my neighbours, taxi-drivers, scientists. I haven’t met a single person who is pro Moreno or against the protests. “La rebellión se justifica”, they all say: the protests are justified, and the president must go. President Moreno’s statement that he is open for dialogue is widely questioned. He has announced not to be willing to change the measurements, and not giving in to “terrorists”.

It is generally known amongst the Ecuadorians that mainstream media are not to be trusted. Instead, a system of civilian “journalism” has been set up through Facebook and Twitter. People forward videos of what happens throughout the country, also at the frontlines of the protest. Which roads are free to go and which ones are blocked is shared on social media platforms. There are posters of “how to prepare against teargas?” and about where and when in the city indigenous people will arrive from the countryside to join the protests, and about people who are wounded by police violence.

At the time of writing, the 9th of October, the largest protest so far has been announced. CONAIE, the national organisation for indigenous people, says that about 40.000 indigenous people have come to Quito to join the protests, and more will come. This morning I woke up by the sound of helicopters. The view over the city is blurred by smoke. Teargas is reaching my terrace. I had never experienced it before, but that smell and feeling is so specific that I will never forget it. In the past week it has become clear to me why my ecologist friends did not join the climate strike: there will simply be no ecological justice without social justice.

Veldonderzoek in Nepal

In april en mei deed ik voor Karuna Foundation kwalitatief onderzoek in een klein plattelandsdorpje in het zuidoosten van Nepal: wat maakte het Inspire2Care programma van Karuna al dan niet succesvol, volgens de lokale bevolking? Hoe kijken dorpsbewoners naar mensen met een beperking en hoe is dat veranderd? Enkele foto’s. Een uitgebreider verslag volgt binnenkort!

Cuban imaginations of the future

DSC_0021Havana is full of small businesses. The most common entrepreneurs are ladies who sell cupcakes and cookies from their front door or window, small cafeterias with coffee and a sandwich for some pesos, people selling the latest American movies and series on copied DVDs, and men walking with carts and shouting in a special loud and low tone that many of them use: “Tengo galletas de mantequillaaaaaaaaaa (I have butter cookies). When there are eggs and/or potatoes – products that are scarce – that is shouted loudly: “Hay papa, hay huevo, hay papa, hay huevo” (there are potatoes, there are eggs). It is almost like a song, or maybe a rap. Together with the roaring engines of vintage cars, and an occasional rumba or reggaeton beat, it forms a cacophony that is typical for the neighborhood.

This cacophony of the street has not always been like it is now. Cuba is in a transition that went from frozen contacts with the United States and a travel and trade embargo since the 1960s to tourist flows and the visit of Obama in 2016; from prohibitions on internet and foreign media and (rock) music to open WiFi-parks and a Rolling Stones concert attended by supposedly half a million people; from socialist labor perceptions and practices of work, in which entrepreneurship was forbidden, to a more open and free landscape with room for self-employment and an adapting working culture; and from politicians seeing as an evil, only necessary to save the Cuban economy from collapsing, to them viewing it as a building stone to even perfect socialism (1).

Ever since Obama and Castro shook hands, Cuba has been a hot item in media worldwide. In general, journalists write in the line of thought that the island is becoming capitalist, and will soon be flooded with franchises of Starbucks and McDonalds. Likewise, tourists are urged (2) to go to Cuba before it loses its ‘authenticity’ (whatever that may mean). In this mostly Western view, entrepreneurs are seen as the key agents who push Cuba towards a free market society. But how do they themselves perceive this role? How do they experience the Cuban transition? And how do they see their own and Cuba’s future?


In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy came in an abrupt crisis due to a high dependency on the Soviet bloc. The Cuban government was confronted with urgent needs for reform: opening up to foreign investments, increasing efficiency and productivity, and… giving space to new small entrepreneurs. In 1993 it became permitted to start a private business, but only in a limited number of professions. In 2010 the government announced new guidelines for entrepreneurs. Self-employment was totally abolished after 1959 and the regulation from 1993 that legalized non-state enterprises was mostly a necessary anti-crisis evil. Now they were supposed to save the economy and peculiarly even appointed to strengthen the revolution. But becoming a capitalist country…?

I found out that Cuban entrepreneurs themselves do not experience a transition from socialism to capitalism, or to put in similarly dichotomous terms: from dictatorship to democracy, from micro-state monitoring to freedom. Entrepreneurs mainly experience a transition between two different working cultures: an old ‘revolutionary’ one with business activities limited to the thriving black market, and a new ‘entrepreneurial’ one with blooming small business and strong entrepreneurs, well adapted to the new policies. Whereas policies are easily changed, the ‘slowness of culture’, as Ton Salman (3) calls it, makes that people’s mindsets and habits stay behind. Culture takes its time to adapt. And the decades of state socialism logically have their impact on the Cuban culture, which we could view as a consequence of governmentality (4).

To discuss Cuba’s future with my informants in terms of socialism versus capitalism appeared inevitable, but this does not mean that Cubans agree with the in the West envisioned capitalist future for Cuba. I heard very different opinions, varying from “Socialism? That is long gone in Cuba” to “We will not become capitalist, but remain on the revolutionary path.” Overall, most Cubans do not see a future for capitalism in Cuba but they find it important to take some of the good aspects, for example more freedom. Most Cubans do derive hope from the recent Cuba-US rapprochement that their country is going to improve economically and some even are preparing for opening businesses when the relations are fully recovered. Apparently, Cubans also have no straightforward answer to what Cuba’s political-economic future contains, which shows diversity and heterogeneity.


The transition is obviously still ongoing and this means that a lot is yet about to change for cuentapropistas. Three days after Obama left Havana and I was waiting for the Rolling Stones concert to begin, I felt the significance of my research more than ever. Everyone around me said it was a historical week that marked the changes that are going on in Cuba. But it remains important to keep in mind that Cuba’s evolving future might take several and unprecedented directions instead of holding on to the ‘evolutionist’ idea that the only possible end goal for Cuba is capitalism as we know it.

I wrote this blog for the platform of my faculty, Social and Cultural Anthropology at VU University: http://www.standplaatswereld.nl

Sprucing up Havana for some special guests

Now, it is all over. I went to Cuba, wrote my MA thesis, and in July received an email that I graduated. It sounds so simple, and quick. Yet when I look through my pictures or lay down in the park (I finally have time for that), I recall some of the great moments. I will share some of them here.


For once I do not smell the pollution of the vintage cars when I cross the street in front of Hotel Capri, because the smell of fresh asphalt is even stronger. We are close to the United States Embassy. The sound of drilling machines hurts my ears. Drips of paint are falling down from above; the facades and balconies are rapidly (but not so carefully) given a fresh color. Park benches and fences too. Suddenly the usual garbage on the street corner is gone. And everyone knows: Obama will pass here, in this street!

During Obama’s visit from Sunday to Tuesday, important government services will be shut down; banks and exchange offices, the Cuban telecommunications store ETECSA and all the museums are closed, just like many important roads. “The next few days are complicated. Watch yourself, and do not plan important meetings for which you need public transport”, I was warned several times. “It is always like this, when anything important happens”, my landlady explains.

I could feel the city’s exciting vibes. The conversations between thrilled Cubans in the stores, at the market, and in the waiting lines were about nothing else in the last few weeks. It was a week that was supposed to become a ‘turning point’ in Cuba’s history, and it put the island in the spotlight of the global media. This and another great event made my final week of fieldwork in Cuba historical: three days after Barrack Obama visited the country as the first United States president in 88 years, the Rolling Stones gave a free concert in the Ciudad Deportiva of Havana, attended by supposedly half a million people. And I think about that moment…

I am standing on a field in the Ciudad Deportiva of Havana with my roommate Rochelle and thousands and thousands of people, the sun burning on our skin. The first big rock concert in Havana by the Rolling Stones is considered historical. The stage is only about ten meters in front of us, as Rochelle and I were among those who were waiting already all day, to start sprinting hand-in-hand at exactly two o’clock in the afternoon, avoiding gates fallen down at the grass. Cuban fans brought their beloved arroz con frijoles (rice and beans) in large buckets for lunch and dinner. It is now about 8.30 pm and people are sweaty before the concert even started. A 42-yeard old Cuban man next to me talks and talks, thrilled and obviously a huge fan, about how much he loves the Rolling Stones. In the middle of a sentence, he suddenly stops and waves my question away; just at the moment that Keith Richard plays the first notes on his electric guitar on Cuban soil.


Aquí estamos finalmente” (Here we are, finally) says Mick Jagger just after the opening song Jumping Jack Flash. And later: “We know that earlier it was difficult for you to listen to our music, but I guess times are changing, aren’t they?” Whereas everyone around us is screaming, singing and jumping, the man next to me is silent and I see him wiping away tears from his face. “After this day, I may die”, he tells me emotionally. “It is unbelievable that I may experience this. You probably cannot understand, as you could already see the Rolling Stones before, but for me, this is like…I don’t know… the first time I have sex, something like that. It is legendary. Finally Cuba is changing.” The crowd bawls and the huge screens show waving United States and Cuban flags, actually, all the flags of the world.

And I think about what one of my informants, Camilo, had said earlier, answering the question whether many Cubans indeed want to leave the island: “I want to stay in my Cuba, of course! I want to be there at the Grand Moment of History. That is, when everyone acknowledges… that a change is possible in this country.” Maybe this week was already that point in history, as Camilo foresaw, that Cubans recognised that things are changing and about to change even more in Cuba. This final week in Havana made very clear to me that people are not only and always thinking economically. Cubans are proud of their country and culture. At this moment of rock-grandeur, maybe this pride is even more important than improving the economy (a goal that is often emphasized by the Western media) or leaving the island to live a ‘better life’. What a great experience my final week on Cuba was!

See the original blog on StandplaatsWereld, the VU University blog platform of the Department of Anthropology. 

Cuba: A new working culture?

Cubans are friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Until you enter a public service building such as a bank or a state-run store, or restaurant. Why is that? An exerpt from my fieldnotes.

In the middle of the city center, just next to the Capitol and in front of ‘El Parque Central’, I find Hotel Inglaterra, one of the most luxurious hotels in town, next to Hotel Parque Central, Hotel Nacional, and Capri, and Havana Libre. In this hotel they have Wi-Fi, and whereas tourists use their smartphones while nipping their cappuccino on the terrace of the hotel, Cubans stand outside against the wall, the Wi-Fi reaches just far enough for them, too. I also use it for that.

Hotel Inglaterra

In contrast with the beauty and luxury of the hotel, and the relatively high prices, the service is horrible (yes, that are my own terms). There is only one waiter for the whole terrace, sometimes two; one for each side. But no one comes to ask you if you want to order anything, you have to call them yourself, and that costs some time and patience. If you have ordered, it can easily take half an hour before you get a drink. If you ordered food, you could wait for an hour, and then in between I have asked a few times how long it takes. When you finally get your food, you find out the drinks are lacking, and after asking that again, it takes another 15 minutes.

When you order, the waiter just looks at you, not even with a smile. After ordering, he just walks away. Also no words are used to bring you the food, he looks around while doing it. If something is not there, and that is even the case in luxury restaurants and hotels, you hear a short ‘no hay’ and nothing further.

In each state-run company or office, Fidel is present.

I was told before that the service in state-run hotels or restaurants is really low, and that could be explained by the fact that for generations, Cubans are not used to work harder, try to be nice to customers, because they did not get paid any more for doing that. They also do not get fired for not doing it. That is why I heard, before I got here, that the service is mostly better in paladares (private run restaurants) or cafeterias. However, also in those places I found the people not nice, and they did not work efficiently either.

But this does not only count for restaurants. Also in stores, no matter state-run, run by cooperatives, or cuentapropistas, people are short, do not make effort to help you further if something is not there (no hay!), refuse to explain why something is as it is, and cannot tell you when something will be available (no sé). People do not really smile either, unfortunately.

I can imagine that if you do not have any incentive to work efficiently or to be friendly to people (which, I find, is an incentive of life itself rather than a money incentive, but not for all people, obviously), it is difficult to just change that, even if now money IS involved and you DO get higher profit by trying harder. So the money-explanation is not accurate. It may be an incorporated, cultural, and social thing, that is thus not easily explained, nor changed.

The presence of the ideals of the revolution in public spaces.

This thought was enforced when this week  I talked to a professor of FLACSO (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences) who investigated micro-entrepreneurs himself, and who also runs a cafeteria on the side, together with his parents. Leonardo told me that exactly because Cubans are not used to work harder, because they earn the same money anyway, they do not have any motivation for being nice to customers. But even if they do have this money motive, it is a habit that is so much incorporated that it became a cultural aspect that is hard to change at once, by just adding the money incentive to their work. He said it probably takes a whole generation to change this attitude.

It may be interesting for me to research this phenomenon more closely. I could link it to philosopher Foucault’s concept of governmentality: a certain system that is introduced by a powerful institute (in this case the Cuban socialist state), makes that people start to act and think in a certain way. A term that fits well in this concept is embodyment. It is, however, a bit different than the classical form of governmentality; they are taught and raised to think in line with socialism, which makes them believe in the system even in an unconscious way. But this lacks the acknowledgement that Cubans have agency and presumes that they are only ‘brainwashed’ by this system. So nuance is necessary here.In my thesis I will keep reflecting on this and cultural difference. Because: what does this tell me about my own assumptions and their influence on my fieldwork?

Cubaanse ondernemers in beeld

Vanaf eind december tot en met eind maart was ik drie maanden in Havana voor mijn veldonderzoek onder Cubaanse ondernemers, over de Cubaanse transitie, strubbelingen, oplossingen en hun toekomstbeeld en -dromen. Momenteel schrijf ik hierover mijn thesis voor de master Social and Cultural Anthropology. Een inkijkje in een prachtige, complexe, niet-volledig-vast-te-leggen stad.

Indrukken van Havana

“31 decemeber is een complexe dag”, had ik al twee dagen van tevoren gehoord. Winkels zijn vroeg gesloten, maar je weet niet hoe laat precies. Transport door de stad is moeilijk, aangezien iedereen, todo el mundo, inclusief taxi- en buschauffeurs, de late middag en avond bij familie doorbrengt. Dus vertrek ik om drie uur vanaf mijn huis in Centro Habana richting San Miguel de Padrón, waar de Cubaanse Alex – die in Nederland woont en studeert – en zijn familie me bij hen thuis uitgenodigd hebben om oud en nieuw te vieren. Alweer twee weken geleden maakte ik voor het eerst kennis met het Cubaanse taxisysteem.

Straatbeeld van Centro Habana, de volksbuurt tussen het oude, toeristische Havana Vieja en het hippe nieuwere Vedado. Hier loopt één van de drukkere taxiroutes doorheen.

Ik kijk wat onwennig om me heen, het is pas mijn derde dag in Havana en ik bevind me op nog onbekend terrein. Op zoek naar een taxi. Vanaf Parque Curita zouden er taxi’s naar de buitenwijk San Miguel de Padrón moeten vertrekken. Het park is meer een soort plein en rotonde ineen, een grote chaos. Ik zoek een bordje, maar dat is nergens te bekennen. Wel vind ik een groep mensen mensen die lijken te wachten. Ik vraag aan de man voor me in de rij waar ik moet gaan staan om richting San Fransisco, te gaan. Mijn Spaans is nog niet top, en het Spaans van de Cubanen is vooral snel, en ze spreken veel letters niet uit. San Fransisco wordt bijvoorbeeld Sa Fra-i-o. Het duurt dus even voor ik, gedeeltelijk, begrijp wat hij zegt. Maar de man is geduldig en helpt me, wanneer de volgende auto aankomt, door me naar voren te duwen, de chauffeur te vragen waar hij heen gaat, en me op de voorbank naast een ander meisje te proppen.

Waar we in Nederland lekker met zijn allen in de file staan, in elke auto vaak maar één persoon, stoppen ze hier alle auto’s vol met mensen die dezelfde kant op moeten. Daar houdt de efficiëntie echter wel op. Er zijn verschillende vaste routes, en alle Cubanen lijken die te kennen, maar het staat nergens opgeschreven. Als nieuwe buitenlander moet je dus gerichte instructies hebben of je suf rondvragen op straat. Als er mensen aan de kant van de weg stil staan en hun hand uitsteken, weet je dat je in ieder geval op de route zit. (Als het echter een wat grotere groep is, wachten ze vaak op een bus.) Alleen weet je nog niet welke kant de auto’s op gaan: ze hebben geen bordje voorop met de route, dus stoppen ze allemaal bij elke persoon die het lift-teken gebruikt, en rijden ze weer door wanneer die ergens anders heen wil. Een bordje zou zo simpel zijn. Voor 80 cent rijd je 20 minuten naar een ander stadsdeel. Deze taxi’s zelf zijn de meest charmante, maar oudste, meest verroeste en hardst rammelende Amerikaanse oldtimers die er zijn, in tegenstelling tot de glimmende cabrio’s met vlaggetjes die voornamelijk toeristen vervoeren voor een veelvoud van de prijs.

Straatbeeld in het toeristische maar vervallen Habana Vieja, met volop vintage auto’s. De glimmende zijn voor de toeristen, de afgeragde voor Cubanen die hem vaak als taxi gebruiken.

Mijn auto richting San Fransisco, een lichtblauwe met mooie rondingen, racet rammelend door de niet zo drukke straten, slingerend om de grote gaten en hobbels in de weg te ontwijken. Het bruine leer met geruit stiksel dat de hele binnenkant bedekt, is afgebladderd, en bijna niks op het dashboard lijkt te werken. De stank van uitlaatgassen dringt door het raam naar binnen. Wat dat betreft fijn dat er niet zó veel auto’s zijn, dat is voor de meeste Cubanen onbetaalbaar.

Met hakkelende reggaeton op de achtergrond – de radio werkt niet goed – razen we voorbij de vervallen maar op een bepaalde manier toch prachtige architectuur van het oude Cuba, elke pilaar en elk kozijn in een andere felle kleur geschilderd. Samen met die heerlijke antieke auto’s een stad naar mijn hart wat dat betreft, dan is Nederland maar grijs en saai. Op de achterbank wordt gezellig geschreeuwd, ik versta er niks van maar het klinkt vrolijk. Langzaamaan komt er steeds meer ruimte voor tuintjes en bomen aan de kant van de weg. Hoe verder we komen hoe kleiner en slechter de huizen eruit zien. Na twintig minuten ben ik bij mijn bestemming: de Etecsa (het telecommunicatie-bedrijf van Cuba) in de wijk La Cumbre. Ik reken 80 cent af en kom tot de conclusie dat dit taxisysteem geniaal is: na even uitzoeken blijkt het snel, makkelijk en goedkoop. En je maakt nog eens een praatje onderweg. Ik ben er meteen weg van!

Het deeltaxisysteem in Cuba werkt goed, maar het is eigenlijk verboden voor chauffeurs om toeristen mee te nemen als ze daar geen bepaalde licentie voor hebben.

Vanavond tijdens het avondeten in mijn nieuwe casa vertelde mijn Italiaanse huisgenoot me dat het taxisysteem ook verder strekt dan deze auto’s. Voor grote afstanden, tussen steden, is de goedkoopste manier om een van de camiones te nemen, eigenlijk gewoon vrachtwagens die eerder op dierenvervoer schijnen te lijken, die ze volproppen met reizende Cubanen. Het is legaal, maar het aantal mensen dat vervoerd wordt zéker niet. Kan nog interessant zijn voor mijn onderzoek.

Doing research in Cuba: ‘You could be a spy!’

I was still a naive foreigner and a naive researcher by the way, when I explained to Alex – a Cuban friend that lives in the Netherlands since he was eleven – that I was looking for stories that exposed the way Cuban entrepreneurs participate in the ‘informal economy’ to solve their daily problems, the creative ways they meander around the rules, and their view of Cuba’s future. When we were celebrating newyears eve in the back yard of his family’s home, while enjoying cheese and beers and the smell of pork from the barbecue, Alex helped me directly and translated this in a private conversation with his step-father, whom he considered to be a potential informant for me.

In first instance, his father agreed to help me, but when Alex explained what exactly it was that I was looking for, still focusing in my formulation on ‘resistance’, ‘creative ways to use or meander around the rules’ to ‘expand their leeway’, he was kind of shocked. He told Alex (who told me later) that people are not eager to talk about that, and that although everybody does it, and everybody knows it, no one is talking about it. On top of that, I could be a spy! And the thought of that possibility only leaves their minds when the opposite is proven; they are ‘obliged’ to not trust foreigners. Ironically, of course, proving I am not a spy is impossible. Moreover, a true communist will just report me, and that is not only dangerous to me, but even more dangerous to my informants and even anyone I spoke to.

I was already made aware by several people before that I should be careful with my subject, but this felt like a slap in the face. The facts directly got to me on my third day in Havana. However, facts… maybe the actual risks are not that high of being caught by the government, but obviously the risk is experienced by some, and therefore it is important anyway.

I heard it more often, that Cubans will not generally talk about political issues, or about forms of resistance, but this experience really got me a bit scared that I would never find the information that I was looking for. Note to self: rewrite research questions and never again explain my research again the way I did!


Musing high in the sky

I look at my new diary, received from my mother-in-law. It’s the perfect diary.  The cover is a colorful spectacle, with golden light balls and red, green and blue peacocks’ eyes, that change into leafs, in between. With some fantasy one could see different things, but it reminds me of citylights and traffic, mixed with a peaceful park maybe. Clearly bored at the airplaine, I think to myself that it is a symbol of my fieldwork as I now expect it to be: mysterious, vague but beautiful, especially when you see the full shining picture. Things you see could mean different things, but I will interpret them in a certain way. Boundaries are not always visible, they could be blurred or moving.


I am on my way to Havana to do anthropological fieldwork for three months for the purpose of my Master thesis. Although I have read pages and pages and spoke to several people beforehand, Cuba is a great mystery to me. In the past few months, when I dived into literature and spoke to people who already know the country from different perspectives, I often felt confused. Everyone says something else. One could say the country is beautiful and rich of culture and ideology, or one could say it is poor and citizens are crying for more freedom and access to material goods. Or both. One could say the people are incredibly creative when dealing with scarcity and state rules, or they could be described as lazy, not wanting to work harder for they still gain the same income of the state when they would. Or again: both. One could say everything is changing fast since Raul Castro got in power in 2008, opening up opportunities for people, especially cuentapropistas (entrepreneurs) and foreign traders, or one could argue the changes are not profound enough and politics slow down necessary economic change. I do not know. And I regret to say it but I think I will not know it either, since Cuba is ‘a complex case’ according to different scholars, ánd the Lonely Planet.

In my imagination, the country must be beautiful, nostalgic and heroic, full of music and nice and tolerant people who are used to take care of each other. But I have also read about the island as being more and more materialistic, with a (to me) new kind of inequality, and furthermore ambiguous and vague. Lines of legality are blurred into some kind of illegality or creative legality. It is within this ambiguous leeway that entrepreneurs, my focus group, need to maneuver. This is what attracts my attention and interest. This is what I will dive into and focus on during the coming three months of ethnografic fieldwork. I hope to learn to understand how Cubans deal with a changing policy landscape and maybe even changing ideologies. I want to know they experience and interpret their leeway of action within the (vague?) boundaries of the Cuban state. And: how Cuban entrepreneurs imagine their own future, and that of their country.

I keep musing, thinking, daydreaming about what those questions involve, how I will do, and how Cubans will react, and in the meantime the sun warms my left cheek. Another plane just crossed our route a few hundred meters underneath us. I can still see the white line the plane leaves in the sky. A Spanish stewardess in Air Europa outfit walks by with beverages, but I already bought a liter of water at Schiphol Airport. In an hour or so I will get off in Madrid, and continue my journey to la Habana, where Marta (changed name) will pick me up at the airport. It is hot and my legs miss some space, but nevertheless the flight is fine. I will need to get used to high temperatures again.

Een rondje Rijksmuseum en de gevolgen van koloniale geschiedschrijving

MASTER ANTROPOLOGIE – Ik loop door het Rijksmuseum, wandel door de gangen met 17e-eeuwse kunst en koloniale geschiedenis van Nederland. Ik bewonder een reconstructie van een groot VOC-schip en de portretten van de helden die de Nederlanders roem en rijkdom brachten eromheen. Teksten op de muren beschrijven de Gouden Eeuw, met zijn slimme koopmannen en handelaren, zeehelden en de gevechten tegen andere koloniale machten voor zilver en specerijen. Er bekruipt me een ongemakkelijk gevoel. De andere kant van het verhaal, de zwarte pagina’s uit diezelfde geschiedenis worden weggelaten: slavernij, uitbuiting, landroof en zelfs massamoord. Wat zegt deze manier van geschiedschrijving over ons, en wat zijn daar nu nog de gevolgen van?

Onderstaand essay schreef ik als onderdeel van de master Sociale en Culturele Antropologie.

A walk in the Rijksmuseum

The reframing of colonial history and its implications

I walk through the 17th century department of the Dutch national art and history museum, the Rijksmuseum. It shows an immense wooden ship on which the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) sailed to what is now called Indonesia. The portraits of the heroes who brought colonial wealth to the Netherlands hang around it. As I walk past the writings on the walls telling about the Golden Age, with its heroes of the sea, battling against other colonial powers, and about smart merchants and traders, a feeling of awkwardness comes over me. It makes Dutch people proud of their history, which brought them so much fame and wealth at the time. But the other side of the story, about the black pages of Dutch colonial history, that tell about slave trade, exploitation, acquisition of land, and even mass murder, are merely neglected.

This museum visit – a few weeks ago –popped into my mind while learning about the (lack of) recognition of cultural wounding (Kearney 2014) and the suffering of indigenous peoples and slaves. In this essay I will focus on the importance of recognition by former colonial governments of the harm done to indigenous peoples, slaves, and their descendants. I use the concepts of governmentality and cultural wounding and healing to analyse the implications of how former colonial powers nowadays delineate their pasts.

Denial, governmentality, and cultural wounding

My experience in the Rijksmuseum seems similar to Ödzil’s (2014) in the Mauritshuis, another relic of the Dutch colonial time, turned into a museum. He states that in this museum, too, there is a lack of attention to the involvement in slave trade of ‘hero’ Johan Maurits, who was the governor-general of Dutch Brazil, which was colonized by the Dutch Republic between 1630 and 1654 (Ödzil 2014:52). In addition, he cites Weiner (2014) about the current history books of children about the colonial time:

Dutch textbooks ‘obscure and distort the Netherlands’ role in enslaving Africans [and] justify their history of colonialism, exploitation, oppression and genocide for profit and labor […] Furthermore, they racialize White Dutch as largely uninvolved with the dehumanization and exploitation of Africans but as good traders, or businessmen […]’ (Weiner 2014:16-17, cited in Ödzil 2014:51). Ödzil uses the metaphor of ‘pasteurization’: the systematic underplaying of the role of the Dutch during slave-trade periods, ‘to not upset’ the Dutch public (2014:50-51).

Similarly, the Australian government mediates the Australian colonial era as a great and a merely positive “contribution to the Australian ethos and character, denying the depth of suffering and wounding experienced by Indigenous people […]” (Kearney 2014:608). Kearney argues that by not recognizing, in historical accounts, the indigenous peoples’ cultural wound of the colonial land acquisition, genocide, loss of social structures and way of life (among other things), achieved even further wounding of many indigenous Australians (ibid:608).

The term ‘cultural wounding’ is introduced by Kearney as providing “an analysis of ethnicity and ethnic identities that have experienced trauma through inter-ethnic conflict” (2014: 597). She states that wounding arose among indigenous peoples in the colonial era, by forced relocation, murder, taking of lands and resource, forced change of languages, etcetera (ibid: 598). Whilst arguing that wounding also implicates the capacity to heal, she delineates different conditions under which ‘cultural healing’ is possible. One is the recognition and acceptance of the wound, by both the wounded (indigenous peoples, slaves) and the wounding (the colonizers, slave traders).

Applying the above on the Dutch case, this links back to the argument of Ödzil (2014) that forasmuch colonial history of slavery is denied – or, in other words, the recognition of the cultural wound of slaves and their descendants – the existence of racism in Dutch society is ignored, neglected, not recognized, leading to a ‘white privilege’ (ibid:58).

The practices of reframing history for the benefit of the colonizers, seems a good practical example of governmentality. That is “the rationality characteristic of the systematic thinking, reflection, or knowledge that is integral to different modes of governing” (Sending and Neumann 2006:657, cited in Tedesco 2015:15). Or, when applied here, it shows that through emphasis on certain topics in history education – through school books and museums – people incorporate an image of history that is determined by the government. As we analyse governmentality in the case of Dutch history writing, as becomes visible in Ödzil’s (2014) argument, people act upon this by the statement that racism does not exists in the Netherlands, and that the colonial times are over. That he calls ‘exceptionalism’: the supposed Dutch exception in the world, where racism does not play a role anymore (ibid:50;54).

The other perspective

The lack of reckoning with indigenous perspectives, not only in history but also in current well-being assessments and laws of the land, is described in different ways by Sangha et al. (2015) and Luk (2014).

Sangha et al. argue that there is a lack of focus on the perspectives of indigenous people when assessing well-being, which mostly overlooks indigenous strong ties to nature and the ecosystem. These assessments are only done by Western standards, according to them (Sangha et al. 2015:199). They argue that, when assessing well-being of indigenous people, or, the ‘culturally wounded’ (Kearney 2014), should be investigated through their own perspectives. In the Dutch racism-discussion as addressed by Ödzil (2014), we should then listen to the victims of racism, instead of denying the existence of it.

Overall, this is also what Luk (2014) advocates. Whereas he has a legal approach on the ownership of indigenous lands in Canada, he concludes by arguing that the indigenous laws and rights should be acknowledged and combined with Canadian state-laws that are now exclusively practiced.

By the acknowledgement, recognition, and implementation of indigenous laws, perspectives on well-being, the process of cultural healing (Kearney 2014) could be enforced, and relations between indigenous and non-indigenous, or, in Dutch society, between colonizers and the colonized, could be reconciled. Governmentality could be used in better ways by the state, I believe, by a different framing of history that recognizes the flaws and black pages of the colonial book, in line with Özdil (2014).


In this essay I focused on the importance of recognition by former colonial governments of the harm done to indigenous peoples, slaves and other ‘culturally wounded’ people. The concept of governmentality in combination with the Ödzil’s (2014) argument on ‘pasteurization’ sheds light on the implications of the framing of history by governments for victims of racism, and accordingly, for the culturally wounded indigenous peoples in the world. Highlighting cultural wounding concept of Kearney (2014) allows for an analysis of what makes ethnicities (still) struggle for healing. Walking through the Rijksmuseum should provide visitors with a complete history of, among other things, the Dutch colonial era, including all its flaws and black pages of harm to other peoples. This is a start in the inclusion of minorities or culturally wounded people, in public debates, their perspectives on the law, and overall well-being.



Dion, J., M. Cantinotti, A. Ross, D. Collin-Vézina (2015). Sexual Abuse, Residential Schooling and Probable Pathological Gambling among Indigenous Peoples. Child Abuse & Neglect 44: 56–65.

Kearney, A. (2014). Ethnicity, Cultural Wounding and the ‘Healing Project’: What Happens When the Wounded Survive? Ethnicities, pp. 1-18.

Luk S. (2014). The Law of the Land: New Jurisprudence on Aboriginal Title. Supreme Court Review 67 S.C.L.R. (2d), pp. 189-317.

MacDonald D. (2014). Aboriginal Peoples and Multicultural Reform in Canada: Prospects for a New Binational society. Canadian Journal of Sociology/Cahiers Canadiens de Sociologie 39(1), pp. 65-85.

Özdil, Z. (2014). ‘Racism is an American problem’: Dutch exceptionalism and its politics of denial. Frame 27(2), pp. 49-64.

Sangha, K., A. LeBrocquea, R. Costanzab, Y. Cadet-James (2015). Ecosystems and Indigenous Well-being: An Integrated Framework. Global Ecology and Conservation 4, pp. 197-206.

Tedesco, D. (2015). American Foundations in the Great Bear Rainforest: Philanthrocapitalism, governmentality, and democracy. Geoforum 65, pp. 12-24.


SCRIPTIE: ‘Objectiviteit’ versus activisme – journalistiek in Syrië

AFSTUDEREN JOURNALISTIEK, 2013 – In de lente van 2011 begon in Syrië de opstand tegen president Bashar al Assad, met de hoop van de Syrische burgers om het land tot een democratie om te vormen. Een bloedige burgeroorlog volgde. Journalistiek bedrijven in een burgeroorlog is een vak apart. Correspondenten uit allerlei landen trachten ‘betrouwbaar’ verslag te doen van de gebeurtenissen, om het publiek dat  in eigen land op de bank zit te informeren. Ze worden bemoeilijkt door een enorm aantal factoren die bij een burgeroorlog komen kijken: culturele en sociale omstandigheden, onveiligheid, personvrijheid, verschillende partijen en belangen. Wat is ‘betrouwbare’ journalistiek in dergelijke omstandigheden? Is dat mogelijk?

Mijn scriptie gaat over de vraag wat een journalist betrouwbaar maakt. Hierover sprak ik met journalisten die ervaring hebben in conflict- en oorlogsgebieden. Journalisten die in een conflictgebied verslag doen, houden zichzelf een bepaald doel en een bepaalde taak voor en daarmee een bepaalde manier van werken. De meningen in het journalistieke en wetenschappelijke veld zijn sterk verdeeld over wat die rol en taak zou moeten zijn. Ik beschrijf de discussie of journalisten objectiviteit en neutraliteit na moeten streven, of dat zij een meer activistische rol mogen aannemen. Is objectiviteit wel mogelijk, en zelfs wenselijk? Wat betekent het als een journalist een activistische rol aanneemt en ons haar beeld van goed en kwaad oplegt? En waar bevindt zich de scheidslijn tussen objectiviteit en activisme?

Voor mijn afstuderen aan de Fontys Hogeschool voor Journalistiek schreef ik een reflectie over betrouwbare journalistiek in burgeroorlogen, met Syrië als case studie.