Commonplace Culturalism in Amsterdam

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 132 (University of Glasgow)
Paul Mepschen , Political Sociology / Anthropology, University of Amsterdam / Leiden University
By focusing on what I call the 'culturalization of everyday life' in a neighborhood in the Amsterdam district of New West where I pursued ethnographic research from 2009 to 2011, this paper examines the dialectics of urban super-diversity. Rather than understanding super-diversity in terms of an increasing 'normalcy of diversity', I argue that the contemporary global city is characterized by a 'dialectics of flow and closure' where increasing heterogeneity goes hand in glove with an ever more powerful focus on locality, belonging and identity 'fixture'. In a world characterized by flux, a great deal of energy is invested in fixing, controlling and freezing identities. In this paper, I argue that Dutch culturalism is a mode of controlling and fixing identity: the culturalist 'common sense' produces an increased awareness of the proximity and alterity of others. The resulting focus on autochthony is a process of boundary-making between those who belong and those who are construed as guests or strangers. In this process, a particular anatomo-politics is involved that signifies the continuing centrality of race and racism in the Netherlands. Culturalist boundary dynamics rely on the particular configuration of the sensory, the cultural and the biological which has historically defined the modern category of race.