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Exploring Diversity: Critical ethnographies of belonging and exclusion

Exploring Diversity

We investigate the manifold ways gender, race, class, citizenship, religion, and sexuality are made and unmade in everyday life, including the ways in which differences and similarities among people, communities, and other living things are created, contested, celebrated or distrusted. Our focus is on the quotidian processes of belonging and exclusion, and their lasting effects on subjectivities, institutions, and environments. At the heart of our multimodal explorations lie the politics of this diversity and how people pursue their desires and ambitions within or despite these politics. We investigate the aesthetics of these world making projects, their pasts, presents and futures.

Diversity is a contested and ambiguous term, used simultaneously by emancipatory struggles, and the conservative projects that would domesticate and depoliticize them. It has also been an integral part of anthropological research and theory from its earliest days, motivating the inquiries and concepts that both created and dismantled evolutionism, supported and criticized colonialism, or reinstituted and disassembled gender inequality. We build from these latter, critical histories, and seek to recuperate and re-imagine diversity for an anthropology that attends to the pressing matters of our day.

With empirically grounded ideas of diversity that frame a broad range of social ecologies, we also seek to incorporate diverse ways of living and being into our anthropologically informed research practice. By diversifying our methodological engagements exploring filmmaking and other sensory media, we seek to critically examine and creatively evoke social and political life-worlds.

The research of the group is anchored in a tradition of Socio-Cultural Anthropology; members are committed to the production of critical ethnographies in which the nitty gritty detail of everyday life comes to the fore and in which the dominant frames, processes, and networks of social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental life are critically interrogated, including our own institutions. Through these critical ethnographies of ideas, practices and things we rethink our theoretical repertoires and forge new ones.  The group produces and shares our knowledge of the world in multi-modal ways.

Programme group leader

Dr. R. (Rachel) Spronk

Programme Group Leader

Our staff

Our projects

  • Queerying gender & sexuality from Africa

    The research group Queerying gender & sexuality from Africa argues that African realities suggest innovative analytical directions which are of global heuristic value for studies of sexuality. Different researchers aim to investigate how body, desire and gender intersect so as to critically theorise their interconnectedness as well as problematic assumptions behind sexuality. Whereas, in many Western contexts, “sexuality” is starting to break down under its own conceptual weight, scholars in and from Africa have long recognized its limitations as an analytical frame for understanding various sexual and gendered subject positions. In the spirit of Stella Nyanzi’s call to “queering queer Africa”, the scope is broadened so as to “explore and articulate local nuances of being non-heteronormative and non-gender conforming by widening the thematic focus so as to include … relationships, pleasure, intimacy, parenthood, education, voice and expression, representation and visibility, housing and shelter, movement, migration, exile and asylum, employment, income generation, livelihoods, family, ritual, health, spirituality, religion, faith, ritual, violence, security and safety, nationalism, ethnicity, and globalization” (2014: 63), and more. In other words, we aim to both query and queer (hence querying) the scholarly practice on sexuality. The group will examine the continuum between same-sex and opposite-sex desires, practices and experiences. In short, the different studies provide a productive ground for theorising sexuality from the South: the group aims to re-locate discussions on modernity using the terms “South” and “North” to denote a set of relations rather than geographical locations by incorporating the North as one of many sites and cultures in a world of plurality.   

    The team

    Rachel Spronk is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. She is the principle investigator of the research group Queering (troubling) gender & sexuality from Africa. She works at the intersection of three scholarly fields - anthropology, gender and sexuality studies, and African studies. She is studying the development of the (idea of the) middle classes in Kenya and Ghana and how social transformation relate to changes in gender, sexuality and self-perceptions. In her work she combines the ethnographic study of practices and self-perceptions with the task of rethinking our theoretical repertoires.

    Dr. R. (Rachel) Spronk

    Principal Investigator

    Dilys Amoabeng

    Dilys Amoabeng is a PhD candidate in NWO VIDI team, at the Anthropology Department and at the Amsterdam Institute of the Social Science Research (AISSR), University of Amsterdam. Her research project Marriage across time: Transformation in the ideals and marriage practices among Ghanaian middle class explores marriage as a practice of distinction. She particularly focuses on the emotional and economic aspects of homemaking. She aims to do a three-generation historical perspective that provides a vantage point from which to examine transformations in marriage over the last century in southern Ghana. She is also a Principal Research Assistant with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, where she is part of the team developing the first anthropology programme in Ghana. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Economics and Sociology) and a Master of Arts (Sociology), both from the University of Cape Coast. Dilys is an Australia Awards Fellowship’s Alumni of Flinders University. Her research interest centres around gender, marriage, leadership, gender violence and sexuality. She has written the following papers: M.A. research thesis “Challenges facing women access to banking services in the Cape Coast Metropolis, Case studies from the central region of Ghana”; “Men are men when they can discipline their women: Culture the pathway to gendered phenomenon of violence in Ghana” (with Amanda Odoi); “A fresh policy challenge: Coalition building for women’s leadership in Ghana” (with Amanda Odoi and Esther Pokoo-Aikins ).

    Apostolos Andrikopoulos

    Apostolos Andrikopoulos is a postdoctoral researcher in NWO VIDI team, at the Department of Anthropology and at the Amsterdam Institute of the Social Science Research (AISSR), the University of Amsterdam. His research and teaching focus on kinship and marriage, migration and citizenship, and gender and sexuality. His postdoc research examines the complex articulation of marital aspirations, upward mobility ambitions and sexual desires in contemporary Kenya. He holds a BA in Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies from the University of Macedonia and a MA in Migration and Ethnic Studies from the University of Amsterdam (both cum laude).

    In 2017, he completed his PhD (cum laude) at the University of Amsterdam. His dissertation, Argonauts of West Africa: Migration, Citizenship and Kinship Dynamics in a Changing Europe, received the IMISCOE Maria Baganha Distinguished Dissertation Award. He has also been recipient of the Bennetta Jules-Rosette Graduate Student Award by the Association for Africanist Anthropology. He has been a visiting fellow at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Neuchâtel and will be affiliated with the University of Nairobi while he conducts ethnographic fieldwork in Kenya.

    Amisah Zenabu Bakuri is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research (AISSR), University of Amsterdam. Her PhD research focuses on religion, sexuality and well-being among persons with a Ghanaian and Somali background in the Netherlands. The data gathered over sixteen months of ethnographic research shows how religious, gendered and sexual well-being is a constant struggle rather than a linear path. She thus theorizes well-being as a concept to think through common perceptions of the religious and sexual lives of migrants. She has a Bachelor degree in History with Political Science from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana. Her bachelor’s research was on the making of politicians based on life histories of various Ghanaian politicians. She also holds a Research Master’s degree in Modern History and International Relations, at the University of Groningen. Her thesis “The invisible Ghanaian sex worker active in the Dutch sex industry” focused on persons who had been sex workers and on the way their families related to their (invisible) and temporal work. At the University of Groningen she also acquired a Honours Master’s degree in Leadership with a thesis analysing the various ways that the management concept of Ubuntu could involve young people in entrepreneurship and non-governmental organizations.

    Janine Häbel

    Janine Häbel is a PhD candidate at the Anthropology Department and at the Amsterdam Institute of the Social Science Research (AISSR), University of Amsterdam. Since December 2017 she is a fellow of the Foundation of German Business. Her PhD project Women negotiating gender, desires and intimacies in northern Tanzania investigates the multifaceted intimate lives of single women in northern Tanzania.

    She studies the way normative structures such as heterosexual marriages, economic independence, motherhood and social responsibility, and spatial mobility shape women’s intimate practices. While sometimes these structures hinder women, at other times the changing socio-economic landscape offers ways for women to carve out spaces for personal desires that are at odds with social expectations.

    She holds a Bachelor’s (2013) and Master’s (2016) degree in European Ethnology from the University of Munich, Germany. Since 2011 she has been working extensively in development cooperation in the gender- and education equality sector in Moshi, northern Tanzania.

    Laban Musinguzi Kashaija

    Laban Musinguzi Kashaija is lecturer at the School of Social Sciences at Makerere University, Uganda. His broad research interests include community engagement, community health and sexuality studies.

    His current project aims to include the lived experience of well-being into the concept of sexual health, so as to explore the contours of the concept of sexual well-being in social work and policy(-making). His research investigates the sexual biographies of men aged between 30 to -50 years in Kampala and their experiences of growing up in (post) AIDS/HIV era. Laban graduated with a Doctorate from the University of Amsterdam in 2016.

    He also holds a Master of Arts Degree from Makerere University Kampala and an MPhil from the University of Cambridge. His PhD research focused on exploratory research of existing community health resources that can be used to improve the health of the population. He was part of the team that implemented a community hygiene and sanitation project that showed how non-medical health resources can be used to improve health of communities. He has published various papers on health, gender, and wellbeing in Uganda.

    Peter Miller

    Peter Miller is a PhD candidate in NWO VIDI team, at the Department of Anthropology and at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR), University of Amsterdam. His PhD research project, Dakar’s Desires: Intimacy, Distinction and Gender in Senegal’s Capital, aims to explore desire and practices of distinction amongst middle-income groups in Dakar. 

    Rather than using sexuality as an analytical framework, the notion of intimacy shall be foregrounded enabling the project to investigate practices that go beyond the erotic and identity-based understandings of sexuality. Intimacy provides a space to study the continuum of sociality and sexuality, ranging from friendship to sexual intercourse, from cross-sex to same-sex practices, and from instrumental to affective motivations.

    He obtained his Bachelors and Masters degrees at the Université Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint-Denis. His Masters research focused on how marriage strategies and practices serve as a space of social distinction, interacting with understandings of ethnicity, class, race, and religion, in an upper-middle class neighbourhood of Khartoum, Sudan. 

    S. N. Nyeck

    S. N. Nyeck is an Africanist scholar affiliated as Senior Research Fellow at Canterbury Christ Church University (UK) as well as working as Research associate at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam. Dr. Nyeck has pursued two research tracks to date.

    One research focuses on gender, sexuality and the politics of identity in the public sphere in Africa, and the other research line concentrates on public procurement from both historical and contemporary perspectives. She has recently edited two books: African Queer Dialectics and Politics: Simulation and Simulacra (Palgrave-Macmillan 2019) and Routledge Handbook on Queer African Studies (Routledge 2019).

    Her previous publications include Public Procurement Reform and Governance in Africa (Palgrave 2016), and Sexual Diversity in Africa: Politics, Theory and Citizenship (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013) co-edited with Marc Epprecht. Dr. Nyeck is a Fulbright Roster Scholar (2017-2020).  She has also written multiple articles.

    Loes Oudenhuijsen

    Loes Oudenhuijsen is a PhD candidate at the African Studies Centre at Leiden University. Her PhD project Islam, everyday ethics, and its gendered contestations: ‘’wicked’’ women in Senegal from 1950 to the present, aims to explore historical transformations and continuations of gender norms in Senegal through the figure of sexually transgressive, so-called ‘’wicked’’, women. The biographical narratives of such ‘’wicked’’ women seek to nuance and challenge the dominant existing narrative of gender and sexuality in Senegal. The research will investigate tensions between social transformations, gender norms, and female agency.

    Loes holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies (2015, Wageningen University) and a Master’s degree in African Studies (Leiden University, 2018). She has been the recipient of the ARC-GS prize for the best social science Master’s thesis in the field of gender and sexuality studies, as well as the LOVA/Marjan Rens prize for the best Master thesis in gender- and women studies in anthropology in the Netherlands.

    She also worked for the Voice4Thought (V4T) Foundation, a digital and offline platform that provides a space for critical voices from around the world to co-create new forms of knowledge and reflection. V4T supports artists, academics, journalists, bloggers, and others who are engaged in socio-political change.

  • GLOBALSPORT: Globalization, sports and the precarity of masculinity

    In the last few decades, the erosion of the social and economic structures that previously provided straightforward raison d’être to men have transformed, in all societies of the world, masculinity into a problematic category. In the Global South, deepening economic, political and social insecurities have further compounded the fragility of masculinity. Younger men in particular find it increasingly difficult to secure a productive role in local economies, and many in the world’s more destitute countries are investing their hopes in the possibility of becoming a successful professional athlete.

    But athletic talent can only translate into economic productivity in the industrial North, and athletic migrations have become, for large number of boys, young men, families, villages, nations and states in the Global South, the solution for a masculinity under threat, the way out of economic precarity, and the embodiment of millenarian hope.

    Research method 

    This multi-sited comparative ethnographic project seeks to investigate the migratory dynamics at play between selected developing countries and selected countries in the industrial world in three different sports, soccer-football, rugby union, and cricket. It explores ways in which these three sports represent for young talented hopeful in the Global South various embodiments of hope for the redemption of masculinity and of its productive potentials. 

    The research will open new theoretical avenues for an understanding of the constitution of masculinity in the context of globalisation, changes in the structure of nation-states and the meaning of citizenship, and the constitution of everyday lives in more destitute regions of the world. 

    • Funded by: ERC Advanced Investigator Grant
    • Period: 1-9-2012 until 31-8-2017 
  • MUSLIMMARRIAGES: Problematizing ‘muslim marriages’: ambiguities and contestations

    This ERC funded research main empirical focus is on new forms of Muslim marriage as social practices. 

    During the last two decades, in the North as well as in the global South, new forms of Muslim marriages, such as unregistered, visiting, or temporary marriages, have become the target of public debate. State authorities, religious scholars, women’s organisations, (neo-)nationalists, and parents express concern about youngsters, and especially young and not so young women, entering into such marriages. These new, unconventional marriages, or existing forms in new contexts, are often discursively linked to sexual exploitation and religious radicalisation. But how do those involved in these new marriage forms evaluate them?

    This ethnographic project starts with an investigation of when and how these new marriages have become subject to public debate. What kinds of marriage forms and wedding celebration are emerging, who are participating in them, and how are they performed?  Particular attention is paid to the intersections of gender and religion, and whether and how these new marriage forms are authenticated and authorized as Muslim marriages.

    The wider question this project addresses is what economic, political, religious and cultural work these new Muslim marriages do. Neo-liberalism has turned livelihood increasingly precarious (linking the marriage crisis to that of the male provider), while neo-nationalism has solidified divides between in-groups and out-groups. What kinds of subjectivities and socialities do these new marriage forms produce? How do they shape economic relations, group boundaries, religious ethics, and cultural forms?

    Fieldwork will be conducted in Europe, Kyrgyzstan, the Gulf, Indonesia, Lebanon and Morocco. These sites, linked through the circulation of persons, goods, and ideas, can be productively compared in terms of majority/minority positions, religious traditions, economic and migration histories, state-religion relations, gender structures, and cultural styles. 

    • Funded by: ERC Advanced Grant
    • Period:  1-5-2013 until 31-4-2018
    Prof. dr. A.C.A.E. (Annelies) Moors

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Globalising Culture and the Quest for Belonging

  • Imagining the nation in the classroom: A study of the politics of belonging and nationness on Sint Maarten & Sint Eustatius

    Funded by NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) this research project aims to study and compare the making and remaking of hegemonic ideologies of belonging and nationness in primary schools on the islands of Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten.


    The concrete aim of this project is to study and compare the making and remaking of hegemonic ideologies of belonging and nationness in primary schools on the islands of Sint Maarten & Sint Eustatius. In terms of the relation between setting and epistemology, doing pedagogically sensitive fieldwork in primary schools, and complementing this with a historical understanding of the impact of changing Kingdom relations on these civil institutions, allows for equal recognition of structural constraints and agentive negotiations with these limitations. Through this study the academic community, policy makers, and civil society actors in the Caribbean and the Netherlands will gain a better understanding of how regulations and incentives of local governments and the broader Kingdom are received and transformed on the ground. 

    The study covers three sub-projects:

    • ‘Islands, Nationness and the Imagination: Non-Sovereign States and the Politics of Belonging in the Dutch Caribbean’. Post-doctoral project. Period: July 2014 – July 2017
    • 'Nationness as Transmigrancy: Unmaking and Remaking Hegemonic Ideologies of National Belonging in Primary Schools on Sint Maarten’. PhD-project. Period: September 2014 – September 2018.
    • ‘Learning the Nation: Religious and National Belonging in the Dutch Island of Sint Eustatius’. PhD-project. Period: September 2014 – September 2018

    Islands, nationness and the imagination: non-sovereign states and the politics of belonging in the Dutch Caribbean

    The three-year post doc will draw on archival, anthropological, literary and popular culture sources to explore how feelings for the nation are imagined, narrated and experienced in everyday contexts with the non-sovereign Dutch Caribbean States. Moreover, it will explore the impact that migrancy within the Dutch nation-state has on such feelings of belonging.

    Nationness as transmigrancy: unmaking and remaking hegemonic ideologies of national belonging in primary schools on Sint Maarten

    This project will be fuelled by the first findings from the post-doctoral research from three months earlier. Through participant observation and analysis of the formal curriculum within the primary schools, as well as interviews with policy makers, this research aims to contribute to the promotion of inclusive modes of belonging, particularly in primary schools on the island, by understanding the notion of first comers and newcomers not as fixed entities, but as constantly emerging. 

    Learning the nation: religious and national belonging in the Dutch island of Sint Eustatius

    This project is framed in the context of the recent constitutional changes that occurred in the Dutch Kingdom on 10-10-10, and which gave Sint Eustatius its special statusas an overseas municipality. By studying policies and practices within four primary schools and among government officials, and fuelled by the findings of the post-doctoral research, this study seeks to understand the role that religion plays in structuring feelings for the nation, and especially how such feelings of nationness are taught to, learnt and experienced by younger generations of Statians. 

  • Forces that bind or divide? Muslim interventions in the public realm 1989–2016

    This project focuses on Muslims as active participants in the integration debate and investigates how they have intervened in these debates about the public presence of religion and the extent to which these interventions produce ties that bind or divide both between Muslims and non-Muslims and amongst Muslims.

    Conflicts related to the public presence and representation of Islam have had an enormous impact on European societies over the past decades and have triggered debates about the binding or dividing function of religion in secular societies. Most research considers Muslims as an object of integration policies. This project, however, focuses on Muslims as active participants and investigates how they have intervened in debates about the public presence of religion and the extent to which these interventions produce ties that bind or divide both between Muslims and non-Muslims and amongst Muslims. In short, it aims to investigate how they claim ‘a Muslim voice’.

    Employing a historical, comparative and transnational perspective, it addresses the question whether and how such Muslim interventions and their societal effects are specific to the Dutch context or an expression of a far wider European or even global trend. Therein the following questions play a central role:

    • Have such interventions contributed to development of a Muslim public sphere?
    • To what extent and along which lines is this public sphere fractured?
    • How does such a Muslim public intersect with other religious and non-religious publics?
    • What transformations have taken place in the binding or dividing force of Islam in the Netherlands? 

    Instead of categorizing Muslims in terms of ethnicity, religious conviction and so on, this project maps out the variety of positions that Muslims, including Muslim youth and women, have taken up both in terms of the substance of their interventions and with reference to their styles of presentation and the impact of particular forms of mediation. 


    In order to gain insight in historical transformations, this project employs a diachronic perspective that takes the year 1989, the year of the Rushdie affair and the fall of the Berlin wall, as its starting point. It aims to map and analyze how ‘migrants’ or ‘ethnic minorities’ were increasingly defined as Muslims in the context of a turn against multi-culturalism, and the extent to which these shifts have affected Muslim interventions in public debate. By looking into the question how debates among Muslim activists influence their interventions of conflicts over the representation and public presence of Islam and vice versa, this project intends to contribute to the wider discussion about shifting relations between the secular and the religious, the emergence of new Muslim public spheres and the manner in which these intersect with other religious and non-religious publics. 

    • Funding: NWO

    • Period: 01/12/2013 until 01/02/2018

    Prof. dr. A.C.A.E. (Annelies) Moors

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Globalising Culture and the Quest for Belonging

    F. (Fouzia) Outmany MSc

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Globalising Culture and the Quest for Belonging

  • Sexuality, religion and secularism: cultural encounters in the African diaspora in the Netherlands

    Among Dutch sexual health organisations funded by the state, a secular approach is dominant. In contrast, among religious leaders and migrants in the African diaspora, religion often plays an important role in the ways people shape their lives and the choices they make concerning sexuality and sexual well-being.

    How do these different ways of understanding health and sexual well-being interact? What contradictions arise in practice? Do the different approaches clash, or do they merge? What power dynamics take place? Can we see a new common ground emerging through these cultural encounters? These are the questions we address in this project.

    Dr. R. (Rachel) Spronk