The Anthropocene: Ecologies, Tensions, Futures

The Anthropocene – or Human Age – is a proposed geological and cultural epoch, marked by wide scale human intervention on our planet. But what are the costs of such ‘dominance’ for our common future, and for the future of all forms of life on Earth? How do these tensions implicate us all, as well as the corporations, governments, and entities that drastically impact our environment? This graduate level winter programme will bring together diverse participants from a variety of fields from across the world, and is the ideal opportunity to broaden your (academic and professional) network.

Dr. Nadina Galle is an award-winning ecological engineer and entrepreneur dedicated to applying emerging technologies to improve the health of urban ecosystems for future generations of city dwellers, something she calls the “Internet of Nature” (IoN).

Nadina specializes in the translation of scientific discovery into public knowledge. She works with urban ecologists and planners on applying today’s technology, so they can make better decisions to secure a greener urban future for all.

Her award-winning Ph.D. research in ecological engineering, the design of ecosystems for the mutual benefit of humans and nature, uses soil sensing and remote sensing technologies in an attempt to track the city’s underground communication network of microbes that connect trees.

As a Fulbright Scholar at the MIT Senseable City Lab, under the supervision of Prof. Carlo Ratti, Nadina iterated several IoN applications such as soil sensors to account for soil spatial variability; high-resolution satellite imagery to quantify tree health; algorithms to understand citizens’ opinions about urban parks through TripAdvisor reviews; and diversity indices for urban forests.

Nadina co-founded Green City Watch, an open-source geoAI collective, and led the development of an urban tree-detecting algorithm. The work has been recognized by the World Bank, Maxar Technologies, Planet, and in 2019, was awarded two Space Oscars by the European Space Agency.

Nadina is an environmental scientist, tech enthusiast, associate editor for Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, and advisor to start-ups and universities. Her work has been recognized by National Geographic, The Next Web, TEDx, Newsweek, ELLE, and the European Space Agency. In 2020, she was featured on the #ForbesUnder30 list for Science and Healthcare.


Unhinging the National Framework: Platform for the Study of Transnational Life Writing

Unhinging the National Framework: Platform for the Study of Transnational Life Writing
Fifth Annual Symposium

Friday 4 December 2020 9.00 – 17.00
Location: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Main Building 5A00 + online via Zoom Webinar
Free of charge, but please register before 1 December. How to register:


Keynote speakers:

Prof. dr. Halleh Ghorashi, Professor of Diversity and Integration, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Dr. Anna Poletti, Associate Professor Comparative Literature, Utrecht University
Prof. dr. Gloria Wekker, Professor Emerita, Gender and Ethnicity, Utrecht University


Dr. Vera Alexander, Senior Lecturer in European Cultures and Literatures, Groningen University
Prof. dr. Susan Legêne, Professor of Political History, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Dr. Vilan van de Loo, independent writer and researcher.
Prof. dr. Giles Scott-Smith, Professor of Diplomatic History, Leiden University

Speakers and abstracts (in order of appearance)

Anna Poletti, Associate Professor Comparative Literature, Utrecht University

Autobiography, mediation and transnationalism: Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains

Behrouz Boochani’s award-winning No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison is a hybrid work of life writing, composed on illicit mobile phones and secretly transmitted to a team of translators and supporters via WhatsApp. Documenting and theorizing the violence of Australia’s indefinite mandatory detention in camps on remote Pacific nations of people seeking asylum, No Friend But the Mountains is a uniquely transnational intellectual and aesthetic project. Its composition was enabled by digitally networked technologies that were able to evade the blanket of censorship imposed on Australia’s offshore detention centres by Government policies that limited access to the prisons by journalists, human rights organizations, and international monitors. The book’s title—a Kurdish saying that refers to the powerful connection between the Kurdish people and the mountains of their homelands—signals that the writing and thinking of the book is imbedded in and enabled by Boochani’s identity as a Kurdish journalist forced to flee Iran. At the same time, No Friend But the Mountains is a work of theory and life writing that is profoundly transnational; it responds to and seeks to understand the logics of the nation state, citizenship and border policing as techniques of power that produce new forms of violence which transcend national boundaries and jurisdictions, creating complex networks of implication, responsibility, and hierarchies.
Drawing on my arguments about autobiography and mediation in my recent book (Stories of the Self (NYU Press, 2020)), a forthcoming collection of essays I commissioned on No Friend But the Mountains for Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, and my experience teaching the book in an international classroom in the Netherlands, I will examine No Friend But the Mountains as a work that exemplifies therole of media technologies in the act of living—and the emergence of—transnational life.

Vera Alexander, Senior Lecturer in European Cultures and Literatures, Groningen University

Figures of Mobility and the Crisis of Connection

In this presentation I locate life stories of mobility in an ongoing crisis of connection and connectivity. I read figures of mobility such as the visitor, the tourist and the refugee as ambivalent signifiers of place and belonging that problematise any simple dichotomy of Self versus Other and Here versus There. Making reference to contemporary poetic travel writings by Warsan Shire and Kapka Kassabova as well as photography and other media, I argue that the relational nature of life narratives needs to be considered not only in binary terms of social connections between human beings, but as a triad that embraces the precarious relationship that connects human beings to place as well as notions of time
and duration. Place relations are subject to utopian idealisation and polarised affective projections as they are constitutive of identity construction. Since these are subject to constant change and reconfiguration, the notion of mobility and its obverse, stagnation, need to be reconceptualised as fundamental dynamic aspects of belonging.

Giles Scott-Smith, Professor of Diplomatic History, Leiden University

Between Colonial and Post-Colonial? Ivan Kats and the Perils of Cultural Diplomacy in Cold War Indonesia

Is it possible to overcome colonial legacies if you promote post-independence cultural autonomy? Ivan Kats was a Flemish/American cultural entrepreneur who developed a profound interest in Indonesia and the development of its national cultural identity. From the 1960s to the 1990s he pursued a book publishing project through his Obor Foundation, that looked to bridge the ethical gap between the resources of Western cultural imperialism and the poverty of the post-colonial culture industry. This presentation places Kats as a ‘double personage’ (Bourdieu) between different worlds, to explore both his projects and motivations.

Gloria Wekker, Professor Emerita, Gender and Ethnicity, Utrecht University

Families navigating Empire

In my presentation I will present excerpts from recent, autobiographical work, which emphatically is work – in – progress. These excerpts will eventually become part of a mixed genre work, based on historical and anthropological knowledge, on non- fiction and fiction. This type of work is currently understood under several different headings, among which “critical fabulation” is prominent. It is a term used by Saidiya Hartman, signifying a writing methodology that combines historical and archival research with critical theory and fictional narrative. Central in my presentation will be different migrations within my multi-ethnic Surinamese family, which encompasses enslaved people, Jewish plantation owners, Native Surinamese. I will talk about transnational, geographical migrations but also about migrations of the heart, where individuals overstepped ethnic boundaries which had long been understood as foundational to empire, to plural societies, which needed to be governed as if the boundaries around different ethnic groups were “natural”. Concretely I will read prose and poetry and reflect on the nature of “critical fabulation”.

Vilan van de Loo, independent writer and researcher
Exploring the New Political Correct: Colonial Violence in Aceh

Central in my presentation is the possibility of creating a transnational understanding of heroism. To answer this question I will focus on the military Aceh expedition of 1904. Nowadays the Dutch East Indies seems to be reduced to a narrative of military violence during the process of decolonisation, although there is an awareness of the tradition of colonial violence as well, especially in Aceh. The framing of both histories of violence is the same: the officers of the KNIL were more or less war criminals, and the Acehnese were helpless victims. This leads to a postcolonial selfimage of superiority among the Dutch: ‘look how good we are to be able to see how bad we have been’. With the exploration of contemporary sources and with the use of a specific military view, the original framing is now fading. My presentation will focus on a new way of looking at the history of the military Aceh expedition of 1904, commanded by Frits van Daalen (1863-1930). I will place this new approach in the context of the early twentieth century’s national need for colonial heroes—from which the Acehnese were excluded. I will also discuss how this related to the making of a civil servant (Van Daalen became governor of Aceh) and take a look at the vulnerable position of Van Daalen. As the highestranking Indo-European officer he stood out. What do we see, if we look at the expedition through his eyes, and what does that mean in the way the colonial past is judged? Would it be possible to create a transnational understanding of heroism during this expedition?

Halleh Ghorashi, Professor of Diversity and Integration, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

BLM: A transnational movement that changed the Dutch landscape

In this lecture I will discuss how Black Lives Matter, as a transnational movement, has changed the Dutch landscape regarding the existence of institutional racism and cross-racial solidarities. In the last 25 years, I have been engaging with the life experiences of refugee and migrant women (through various forms of narratives methodology). In these studies these women narrate a strong presence of exclusionary mechanisms (both blatant and subtle) within the Dutch context. Yet, until recently, the existing implicit and growing explicit forms of racism in the Dutch public space had not led to a public recognition of the existence of structural forms of racism in the Netherlands. In an earlier work, I showed the historical and societal reasons behind the denial of racism in the Dutch context despite the fact that racist acts and statements in the public space had gained a strong presence. I argued that this was partly based on the historically rooted idea of the superiority of Dutch culture in the Dutch migration discourse (which Wekker conceptualized as cultural archive) and its link to the categorical framing of migrants as ‘a problem’ in Dutch society. This history together with a positive self-image of the Dutch as progressive had made it almost impossible for people to accept the notion that racism was part of the Dutch self-image. But something shifted with the arrival of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the Netherlands. I argue that Dutch society can take advantage of this momentum to transform its non-reflective progressive image into critical self-reflection and actions aimed at the inclusion of diverse groups by addressing institutional racism beyond “good intentions”.

CALL for Benelux students interested in the Environmental Humanities

CALL for Benelux students interested in the Environmental Humanities

BASCE, the Benelux Association for the Study of Culture and the Environment (, is back! We are looking for Phd, RMA and MA students interested in joining a new BASCE events committee. The goal of the events committee is to bring together people interested in the Environmental Humanities -including fields like ecocriticism, environmental history, and environmental philosophy- as well as those working outside of academia on topics relevant to the Environmental Humanities.

We aim to create a team of students who will work together to organize an event in the Spring of 2021, and preferably stay on the committee to design a program with two or more events in the academic year 2021-2021. Candidates should ideally live in the Benelux or have a close link to the Benelux, and should have relevant experience in the Environmental Humanities. There will be a high degree of freedom to pursue formats and topics of your own interest.

If you’re interested in joining the BASCE events committee, please send a concise (informal) email outlining your relevant experience and motivating your interest to Tom Idema at no later than 4 December. Please note that these are unpaid positions.

Spellbound: Magic and Spiritual Rituals


Managing Editors: the Editorial Team

Deadline for proposals: December 15, 2020

There is no doubt that the magical*, as well as the spiritual, is a point of perennial interest in pop-culture. Currently it has returned in a neoliberal disguise urging the purchase of crystals, essential oils, and the burning of Palo Santo, promising a balanced state of mind. The consumerist frenzy surrounding such objects often disregards the labour conditions under which these objects are produced, as well as the ecological devastation their manufacturing or extraction brings about. This new-age spiritualism mixes a variety of practices from far-reaching geo-zones often as an aesthetic addition to Western life. Moreover, in its focus on consumerism, it seems to be the twenty-first century version of indulgence. Such an indulgence, promising protection from suffering in purgatory, was usually granted by the Catholic Church in exchange for good deeds or the recital of prayers. However, in the late Middle Ages, the Catholic Church monetized this exchange, earning the church a fortune. This practice – although outlawed in 1567 – remains present in the current hype encouraging us all to ‘indulge’ in a plethora of spiritual objects. In return for an investment of capital, the myriad benefits of such objects can be ours.

This critique draws on critical academia of colonialism, capitalism, ecology and gender studies. As much as the current interest emphasises the continued manifestation of these systems of hierarchy, exploitation and control, these spiritual and magical practices can also be weaponised. Recently, in academia there has been a focus on European witches and Indigenous practices to draw up histories of violence and carve out space for future ecologically aware practices. Such academic practices propose ‘the magical’ (or spiritual, religious, esoteric) to be a fundamental threat to the logic of colonialism, capitalism, ecocides, and gender constructs, and attempt to enchant a disenchanted world. The magical, in essence, also describes the unexplainable, the undefinable, that might arise out of thin air as slight promise of change.

In the twenty-first century, we have witnessed a steady increase in interest in magic within contemporary art practices around the world. Through the performance Drift (2020), Jennifer Tee proposes new rituals to discuss the intersectional relationship between the climate crisis and its impact on marginalized communities. Using performed poetry and movement, she mimics the ecological processes of recycling and looping. Another artist that comes to mind is L, whose practice revolves around making ‘spells’. They fill glass bottles with mineral oil and objects such as light bulbs, flower petals, plastic dinosaur toys that either sink or float, as in the work Spell for Divine Presence (2019). Additionally, the artist Tabitha Rezaire incorporates teaching on auras, the power of intuition, and tarot readings into her installation Satellite Devotion (2019). Artists uncover and highlight ancestral knowledges and suggest new rituals for a dying Earth. While on one hand, the surge of spiritualism can be interpreted as cruel appropriation, on the other, artists make room for the magical and the spiritual to counter colonial-scientific knowledges, and to build bridges to the nonhuman.

Installation view of Satellite Devotion, Tabita Rezaire, 2019, arebyte Gallery, London. Image: Christopher MacInnes.
Installation view of Satellite Devotion, Tabita Rezaire, 2019, arebyte Gallery, London. Image: Christopher MacInnes.

This issue of Kunstlicht begins with the observation that practitioners of ‘magic’ in the widest interpretation of the word, adhere to rules, rituals, spells, recipes, or instructions. Written down, carefully translated, or transferred orally, these rituals tie magic to cyclical behaviours, bound in tradition. Whereas magic is often viewed as an invisible power, it often requires physical tools. Hence, object and performance, tool and ritual, parallel one another tying the spiritual and the magical to art. At this intersection, this Call for Papers raises the question of which rituals we need now.

To elaborate, we welcome writing on contemporary magical engagements, whether that be artistic practices that spark new magic rituals, essays which expound why our contemporary society is in need of some magic, or articles that critique this current within art history itself. Do you want to question how fleeting magic can provide meaning and certainty, or how the format of rituals and spells can create pathways for change? Perhaps you are interested in the enchanted objects used in contemporary rituals, or critical of their commodification and provenance. What does it mean to write a spell, cast a spell, or make a tool for the practice of magic?

Proposals (200-300 words) with attached résumés can be submitted until December 15th  2020 via Selected authors will be invited to write a 2000–3,000-word paper (excluding footnotes).

Authors and artists who publish in Kunstlicht will receive three complimentary copies. Unfortunately, Kunstlicht is not able to provide an author’s honorarium. Two articles will be selected to be available online. Two years following publication, papers will be submitted to the freely accessible online archive. The editorial board reserves the right to decline contributions.

Kunstlicht is a volunteer-run academic journal for visual art, visual culture, and architecture, founded in 1980. It is affiliated with the Arts & Culture department of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, but operates from an independent foundation. Kunstlicht is published three times a year, and features both scholarly and artistic contributions.

List for further research: 

  • Sara Shin and Rebecca Tamás (eds), Spells: 21st Century Occult Poetry, 2018
  • Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the body and Primitive Accumulation, 1998
  • Dale Turner, This is not a Peace Pipe: Towards Critical Indigenous Philosophy, 2006
  • Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin (eds), Queer Magic: Power Beyond Boundaries, 2018
  • Mark Pilkington(ed), Strange Attractor Journal Four, 2011
  • Federico Campagna, Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality, 2018
  • 13th Gwagnju Biennale: Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning, Bi-Monthly Journal

* In this Call for Papers, we refer to ‘magic’ rather than ‘the magick’. We are aware that the spelling of ‘magick’ is sometimes used to make the distinction between ‘stage magic’ (illusionism) or ‘Harry Potter Magic’ and magic as spiritual practice.

Synergy Award

Calling all PhDs in the Social Sciences and the Humanities: are you ready to make an impact on society?

Scientific impact matters

Young researchers often are at the forefront of scientific innovation, but don’t always have the time, network or financial means to translate those innovative insights into societal impact. NWO offers a helping hand. Each year, NWO hands out the Synergy Award for the most enticing, daring or compelling societal impact idea in the Social Sciences and the Humanities. Are you a PhD-candidate, or have you recently attained your PhD degree? And do you think your research can positively impact society? Then sign up before November 16th!

“It took my scientific experience to a much higher level”

Daudi van Veen and Tessa van de Rozenberg (Leiden University) took part in the previous Synergy Award and won the finale. Tessa urges all PhD students to take part. “It boosted my motivation for my own PhD research and gave me an opportunity to fine-tune the impact of my research. The pitch training session, preparing my speech: it was intensive, exciting and, above all, a valuable experience.” Tessa and Daudi won the finale with their strategy for introducing more diversity into school textbooks (Ethnicity and Gender in Schoolbooks). “It’s great to be given an opportunity to do something practical with your research. Distinctly nerve-racking, but also really interesting to hear what other people think of it. It took my scientific experience to a much higher level,” says Daudi.

About the Award

With the Synergy Award, NWO offers PhD candidate a head start in employing their research ideas for a better society. Four candidates will be offered the opportunity to further enhance their communicative skills during an intensive workshop. The four candidates will then pitch their idea during the online edition of Synergy ’21, on February 4th 2021. Both a jury and the public will vote for the most enticing and impressive idea. The winner will receive a prize of €2.500 and will get the opportunity to present their progress during Synergy ‘22.

Questions? Contact us at

Wondering how to join? Sign up now via!