Anthropologists in the Dutch public sphere
There appears to be a lull on the blog, as my colleagues at Macquarie are (I guess) off to do fieldwork. So, as I have been silent here for a while, I’ll take the opportunity to share my first impressions of anthropology in the public in the Netherlands, as I experience it having just arrived at the Free University (VU) in Amsterdam.
While this is not Norway, where anthropologists are constantly in the news (though Thomas Eriksen did have a guest appointment at this department for a while!) it does seem that the media are more interested than, say, in Australia in what anthropologists have to say. In December alone, my departmental colleagues (including PhD students, who are considered staff) have been interviewed in the media on religion, Gaza, environmentalism, and Suriname. There is also a feature article in the popular Volkskrant of the type that we are by now used to, about corporations hiring anthropologists. This is true also for Philips, one of the Netherlands’ best-known multinationals, which has a Futures, People and Trends team. (The article notes, though, that anthropology students are often unaware of how trendy they are, as are their teachers who sometimes advise them to write in their CV that they studied “social sciences.”)
I guess one reason for this higher profile is that the Dutch press simply has more in-depth debates on social issues than the Australian one. Another may be that PhD students are often treated as authorities on their own right. A third, and perhaps more specific to the VU, is that within this department there is a strong research stream to do with religion, which is clearly a hot topic for journos (even though research here is mostly on neoprotestant conversion rather than Islam; but the VU also is a hub for Muslim students. Apparently, the fact that it is a university that has religion in its charter is considered a plus by many Muslim students, even though that religion is Protestant Christianity). And finally, there is a separate department of organisational research within the faculty of social sciences, whose members define themselves largely as organisational anthropologists. This is interesting, as such departments tend to be within business schools and thus fairly isolated from mainstream anthropology.