week 4: urban ethnography

Introductory note:  

This week we’re taking something of a departure from visual art and objects of design, strictly speaking. Now we’re turning to public culture, the ways people use public spaces–and their bodies, clothing, gestures, and public behavior–to articulate something about identity, whether national, ethnic, religious, political, etc. So in that sense, we’re attending to the ways people make use of the city itself–or, rather, its streets, neighborhoods, markets, and sports arenas–as sites of display, as locations for looking. For this, we’re drawing on scholarship in urban and street ethnography, as well as more popular historical accounts that attend closely to the ways Dutch people use space. There’s also a  little bit more here about public monuments as well.

Note: Kuper, Winner, and Buruma, and Raboteau are all creative non-fiction writers, not scholars. I want you to read them as you would a novel: swiftly and without taking notes. Dibbits and Roodenburg are ethnographers; you know what to do with scholars! Karskens is a photographer–how do we “read” her work?


Read these four (relatively brief) case studies:

Hester Dibbits, “Moroccan Dutch Boys and the Authentication of Clothing Styles,” in Reframing Dutch Culture: Between Otherness and Authenticity, eds. Peter Jan Margry and Herman Roodenburg (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 11-35. PDF on E-Reserves.

Herman Roodenburg, “Their Own Heritage: Women Wearing Traditional Costumes in the Village of Marken,” in Reframing Dutch Culture, 245-258. PDF in Bb> E-Reserves.

Emily Raboteau, “Who is Zwarte Piet?” Virginia Quarterly Review (2014): 142-155. PDF in Bb> E-Reserves (also in GW Library databases).

Arnold Karskens, “One Way to Live: Photographic Essay,” Critique of Anthropology 7.3 (1987): 69-79. PDF in Bb> E-Reserves (also in GW Library databases).

New Post:

What do yo make of the various methods these authors use in analyzing and interpreting their subjects? What similarities and contrast do you see in those methods? What limitations? What do they reveal about how these people are using body, clothing, gesture, and public space to articulate something about identity? Is there anything particularly Dutch about this that you can see (can you relate it back to any of the other concepts from the scholarship you’ve read for this class?). Are there larger patterns or themes that you see running across these articles? Discuss at least two of these case studies above in your post with some specificity.

The usual formatting: give it a title; include your name/handle, add one or more relevant images from online (and cite image/s, please).


Comment on two peers’ posts, as before. Please make sure each peer has two comments. Thanks!



Ian Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), selected sections, PDFs in E-Reserves (part 1 and part 2).

Add a new comment to your own original post:

Respond to peers’ comments and develop it further w/ Buruma:  Does he complicate or clarify any of your ideas from Monday’s post? How would you apply any of his specific context or ideas to those case studies, or vice versa? What specific aspects of B’s narrative are most useful to your understanding? What questions do you still have? What do you think about his narrative itself? (He’s not a scholar, but his book is well-researched and was reviewed quite positively in the US.)


Read one closely, and skim the other:

Simon Kuper, Ajax, the Dutch, the War (New York: Nation Books, 2012): ch. 6, “Sparta: A Soccer Club in Wartime”; ch. 12, “Of Bunkers and Cigars: The Holocaust and the Making of Great Ajax”; & ch. 14 “Soccer Songs of the Netherlands.” [Note: This is about fan behavior and the larger public meanings of sport in Amsterdam.]

David Winner, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer (New York Overlook Press, 2000), 5-41, 44-66, 211-220.  [Note: this is actually about soccer and the ways the players themselves use space–and how “Dutch” the Dutch players’ form of play is. Read this if you’re interested in the kinesthetics of sport.]

New post:

How does Winner &/or Kuper complicate or clarify or add to your thinking about this week’s readings? Neither of them are scholars (nor is Buruma), but what specifically are you most struck by here–what seems most relevant to the methods of this course, “City as Museum”? What do you think about their form of narrative, esp. vis-a-vis the scholars?


New post: Essay 4, as before.

What threads draw together these somewhat disparate works? Here we have work from anthropology, photography, and journalism. What do these different frameworks or purposes for writing bring to the subject of how Dutch people (and I’m including immigrants) negotiate public space, especially urban space in Amsterdam? What common threads can you draw among the case studies? Are the subjects of these studies (the Marken women, the Moroccan Dutch boys, the soccer fans, the politicians and public figures) doing similar or different things–for similar or divergent reasons? What does this tell us about the city itself as a public platform?

Title it, include your name/handle, add relevant image/s, cite everything (including image/s).

Sun 18 June

Review all travel info.

Browse the itinerary below, following links to things that sound interesting. See also free time options.

New Post: Pick two days where you’d like to lead the post-visit online discussion and claim them as your own. (Check prior posts, and claim ones that zero or only one  have already claimed. Max two people per day.) You might know more about this or want to learn more. You don’t need to lead our visit, just our post-visit blog: You’ll create a new post to which everyone else will respond before the next day’s visits. (Hotel has free wifi. You can do this w/ the WordPress app on your phone. I’ll also have a laptop for backup, if you need it.)