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One foot in the Netherlands and the other in Africa

One foot in the Netherlands and the other in Africa


The 50 most important research questions for the Netherlands

Does cultural integration work differently today than in the past?

“When people from other countries settle in the Netherlands, we want them to culturally integrate. We want them to learn the language, familiarise themselves with our attitudes, make acquaintances with Dutch people, even become friends with them. The idea is that people who are more integrated will be better citizens; more productive, better functioning”, explains Professor Valentina Mazzucato from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She studies the social networks of newcomers from Africa. “I follow them here in the Netherlands and their family and friends in their home country.”

Her point is: how people integrate goes beyond the nation state. “Today, because of the internet, mobile phones, text messaging, facebook and MSN it’s so easy to communicate with people all over the world. You need to have frequent contact in your neighbourhood to deal with certain issues and to help each other, but it can be just as important to have contact with family and friends from your home country. I see men and women who are eager to live in the Netherlands, but at the same time to stay in close contact with their families in Africa. They’re living transnationally, with one foot in the Netherlands and the other in Africa. I’ll give you an example. Not so long ago I was walking in Amsterdam with someone from Ghana that I follow. We were going to a teacher meeting. He was telling me that he was afraid that his child wasn’t doing very well at school. At that moment his mobile phone rang. It was his family in Ghana saying that his mother needed medical assistance and could he send some money? He replied that he would do so within an hour, hung up, and we continued our conversation.”

Mazzucato emphasises: “Integration is not a question of ‘either, or’. It’s ‘and, and’. It’s a myth that you can only be integrated in one nation state. In fact, we find that people who are free to live transnationally are the best integrated in Dutch society.”

And what about the inburgerings process (a course that helps foreigners to become Dutch citizens)? “The inburgering presumes that we have one national way of doing things. But if you look at all the debates about what our cultural identity is … We don’t know this ourselves. Of course, it’s very useful to learn the Dutch language and that beating your wife is a punishable offence. But one of the inburgering questions asks when we send a card to our neighbours after they’ve had a child. After one day? A week? Do we send a card at all? If you carry it this far it becomes problematic. The idea that you’re only a good citizen if you know the customs is outmoded.”


Riki Janssen

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has listed the 50 most important research questions for the Netherlands. The 50th is the result of a competition, which was won by two UM researchers.



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