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Linde Trommel


What drives people to get a tattoo and how are persons with a tattoo viewed by society? These questions intrigue me, as I have been thinking about getting a tattoo for probably two years now, but the permanence factor keeps me from doing it. What I found interesting is how my parents thought about the possibility of me getting a tattoo. They were very strongly against it. In their eyes a tattoo was something only rough or rebellious people would get on their body. They also commented that they thought a tattoo was kind of masculine. This surprised me because youth right now are very much into tattoos, and the tattoos that I’ve seen among my peers are usually very small, feminine and minimalist. This made me wonder if there is a generation gap in how tattoos are considered between young people today, the so-called “Generation Y,” and the parental generation, “Generation X.”

Getting a tattoo is a big trend right now. In the media, movies and pop culture, tattoos are seen everywhere. But not so long ago a tattoo was considered only something for bad guys and a huge stigma was attached to it. I wanted to find out how these perceptions on tattoos have changed, how it was perceived a generation ago and how it is perceived now. It seems that tattoos have become normalized, going from being deviant and stigmatized to a huge trend in a short time. Existing research mostly focuses on the motivational aspect of the tattoo, but I want to focus on the aspect of social perceptions, and how this differs between the two generations.

These days, even as tattoos have become a trend, in some situations people with tattoos can still feel stigmatized. For instance, in work situations, it is not appropriate to show a tattoo and it is not desirable to have an employee with a tattoo. “Visible tattoos still carry a negative connotation among employers and could be hurting your chances of getting hired,” so one study showed (Huffington Post, 2013). Some people, mostly older people, don’t get the whole trend and still stigmatize people with tattoos. But this also applies for young people; imagine being in a dark alley and a man covered in tattoos approaches you, you’d probably more scared than if that persons didn’t have any tattoos.

Tattoos are linked and used to be linked to multiple deviant youth cultures, such as punkers, rockers and goths. A tattoo is a way of showing who you are, what you stand for, and a way to show which youth culture you relate to. For instance, gangs usually have their gang name tattooed and goths have skulls tattooed. Tattoos have also been a form of rebellion; it’s a way of showing, I can do with my body what I want, parents or society can’t stop me. That’s why some parents dislike tattoos so much, they’re permanent and an act of rebellion in their eyes. Tattoos are most desirable when you’re young because then you deal with peer pressure and the need to fit in. A tattoo is mostly considered a badass thing by youth so if you have one you’re cool and badass. It’s easier to fit in if you’re cool and badass and people look up to you because of your tattoo. Also, youth are more impulsive, and would get a tattoo sooner than an adult. I do feel like it used to be a deviant youth culture thing and is now a trend for the masses.

This research paper attempts to answer the following main research question: What are the perceptions of two tattooed generations on tattoo stigmas and the seeming normalization of tattoos as a trend? The accompanying sub-questions are: What are the similarities and differences between the two generations’ perceptions? How do they feel about their tattoos and tattoos in general? Has their opinion changed over the years? In what way are the generations stigmatized? How does gender fit in that stigmatization? How is it possible that tattoo stigmas and the process of tattoo normalization simultaneously exist? How did generation X (and maybe Y) experience the process from a tattoo being stigmatized to becoming a trend?

The research consisted of six qualitative semi-structured interviews with six Dutch respondents with tattoos. Of these six respondents three were from generation X (respondent 1, 2 and 3) and three from generations Y (respondent 4,5 and 6). The age categories are for generation X: 45-55 years, and for generation Y: 18-22 years. The respondents consisted of 1 male (generation X) and 5 females. The researcher’s network was used to recruit respondents, with the use of the snowball method. The interviews were each about 45 minutes long and more of a conversation about their tattoos. The respondents’ names have been changed and their tattoos are not shown in this paper to achieve full anonymity.

Personal stories and experiences

Every respondent that has been interviewed has meaning or a personal story behind their tattoo. The meanings were all very personal and individual focused; only one respondent, Jesse, had a collective meaning to his tattoo. Respondent 1, Stephanie (48) has this beautiful, large tattoo of a koi carp embellished with flowers on her back and her arms with an extraordinary myth behind it which she got at the age of 32.

It is a tattoo about courage and perseverance. There once was a koi carp that was the most courageous of all, he tried to swim up a waterfall to fight a black dragon that was terrorizing a village. He failed after a hard, long struggle and was incorporated by the gods. They turned him into a white dragon so he could fight the black dragon and save the village.” (Stephanie)

She said that she hadn’t defeated her big, black dragon in her life yet but she had defeated multiple little black dragons. Her koi swims down, “as if he is searching for a new black dragon” (Stephanie).

Respondent 2, Jesse (53) has a tattoo of the logo of his year club of his fraternity on his bottom, which he got at the age of 25. The men of this club decided to give this as a present to each other when they graduated. “We thought about a present for the first graduating boys and could not think of anything other than a tattoo. It’s for fun, and I still think it’s fun” (Jesse). This I found truly interesting because he and his club distinguish themselves from the other year clubs and the fraternity trough this tattoo. In this sense his tattoo is adding to his self-identity and his group identity. And since a tattoo is forever he will always be remembered of his group identity and that part of his life.

Respondent 3, Anne (50) has a tattoo of a small sun on her shoulder which she got at the age of 30. “The meaning behind this tattoo is that I’m a very joyful person and I always knew that if I ever got a tattoo, it would be a sun. However, I mostly cover it up” (Anne). She has had similar necklaces for her daughters made so they could also wear them and be reminded of their mother and to sort of carry on the tradition without her kids having to have the same tattoo. She does strongly discourage her daughters to get tattoos, especially on a young age. When I asked her if she ever regretted her tattoo she had to think for a minute but after all said no, even though I saw some hesitation to some extent in her reaction. She was also the most against tattoos from all the respondents and had the most prejudges, from my point of view.

Respondent 4, Evelyn (21) has tattoos of three elephants on her ankle, a hummingbird on her shoulder and an arrow on her side which she got when she was 19, 20 and 21 years.

All these tattoos represent the hard battle that I struggled, and still am struggling. The three elephants represent my family and that I’m so lucky that I still have them. The hummingbird represents a personal battle that I’m still battling. And last the arrow represents a fun holiday but also to always look forward.” (Evelyn)

She grew up in a very tattoo-friendly environment, her parents have tattoos and supported her in her decision to get inked. She thinks that being in such an environment influenced her views on tattoos. She does think that she got tattoos easier because of the normalization of tattoos in her family. To her, her tattoos were not an act of rebellion but a way to remind herself how strong she is and that she already overcame so much on a young age.

Respondent 5, Monique (20) also has three tattoos which she got when she was 18 and 19 years old. She has an elephant on her side, a moth on her arm and an abstract picture of her and her best friend on her ankle. “The elephant and the one on my ankle are truly personal and meaningful but the moth on my arm is because I really wanted to have a tattoo of this particular artist and I really love it now” (Monique). The story behind the elephant on her side is very personal. The elephant tattoo that she has, has a prosthetic. This is an elephant that her father saved and nursed back to good health. After that he began a business to help other elephants as well and this elephant became face of the brand. Monique visited this specific elephant a lot of times and found this so unique and because of the connection with her father, that she wanted that elephant, with prosthetic and all, on her side. She now also works for this company so it’s truly a family business.

Respondent 6, Megan (19) has a tattoo of three little stars and one big star above them on her ankle which she got when she was 18 years old.“The big star stands for my father, who passed away and is now watching over us, her and her brothers, from heaven.” (Megan) When her father passed at a young age, she was struggling very much with it. To this day, she misses her father a lot, so on the age of 18 she decided she wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate him. This tattoo helps her in times when life is hard and she misses her father. In this way, she knows that he will always be there for her. Her mother wasn’t too happy with it at first, but now she accepted it and finds it a beautiful idea to immortalize her father.

The reactions that these respondents received from society on their tattoo are very different. Some almost only had friendly reactions; “People mostly react very positively because they think my tattoo is beautiful” (Stephanie). “Most people don’t see my tattoo so I don’t really get any reactions. But when I tell them most are impressed” (Jesse). Others also received negative reactions; The reactions I get are mostly very nice, a lot of compliments, but I have received a lot of negative reactions too, such as people who said I was too young to have a tattoo or they stared and stared. That makes me quite uncomfortable” (Evelyn). “In the spheres in which I find myself, more of a high-class scene, a tattoo really isn’t appreciated” (Anne).

The weirdest reactions that the respondents got were things like: “You should really cover that up” (Megan) and “It is such a shame because you have such a classical face” (Stephanie). This also connects to the stigma that tattoos aren’t feminine, further discussed below. The respondents do acknowledge that they became stronger because of their tattoos, the corresponding stigmas and the reactions. Stephanie also said that she thought that to have a tattoo you must “be confident and strong, because having a tattoo is for some people an invitation to give their unsolicited opinion” (Stephanie). Others think that their tattoo is a starting point to break the ice and start random conversations: “I really like it that people comment (positively) on my tattoos and ask stuff about them. I also randomly start conversations with people about their tattoos” (Evelyn).

Further, Evelyn and Monique felt they had some sort of link to other tattooed people, “you went through the same thing and you have some sort of unconditional respect for each other. I also think that tattoos are pretty badass and I like it when people see me as badass so that’s also where this mutual feeling of respect and bond comes from” (Monique). I found this rare bonding process very interesting. It seems they feel the tattoos are something that overcomes race, background an age and creates a mutual understanding and respect that I have never witnessed before by something else.

Generational differences

The differences between the two generations were very noticeable. What stands out is that when the older generation, generation X, got a tattoo they were relatively old, 25 and up. The younger generation, generation Y, all had their tattoos when they were under the age of 20. So, what’s interesting is that the older generation got their tattoo when I would consider them as adults and not youth anymore. When I asked the older generation why that was, they said; I think I’ve thought longer and harder about my tattoos than the new generation” (Anne). “I’ve thought ten years about my tattoo before I was sure enough that I wanted it forever on my back. You don’t see that much anymore” (Stephanie). So, in this sense tattoos are not only part of the youth culture and in the older respondents lives it was only part of their ‘adult culture’. In this way, their tattoo helped less with their shaping of their identities because they felt they already to some level knew who they were. But the tattoo helped them to be stronger in their own identity and the older generation does identify themselves with their tattoo.

The older generation feels that nowadays youth from the age of sixteen get tattoos just because they feel like it and because of the cool factor. They feel they were more original because back then tattoos were something rare and they really thought it through. Even though they were adults when they got their tattoo they still feel that with them it was more of big deal to get a tattoo and all three of them said that it was an act of rebellion. “But even though it was an act of rebellion, I got my tattoo at the age of thirty so you would say by then that you’re out of the rebellious stage of your life, haha” (Anne). “Mine was an act of rebellion because it was the first time I went on vacation without my kids because I was just divorced and it was a bit like “lekker puh”, and the start of a new time” (Stephanie).

The older respondents also feel there is a difference in reactions from the older and younger generations. Younger generations tend to think that tattoos are cool and something to look up to, a status icon. With society becoming more and more open to tattoos, the older respondents were raised with stricter parents and parents who were more influenced by the stigmas than the parents of the younger generation. Also, the surroundings where the older respondents found themselves where older, because they had their tattoos at a later stage of their lives. They feel back then the stigmas were really set in stone in society. There was a lot of parochialism. But now that stigmas in other fields are decreasing too, such as sexuality, gender and so on, society is more open to deviance and much less parochial. So currently they still get more negative reactions from people from their own generation and more positive reactions from the youth.

The younger generation also notices that it is more and more normalized to get a tattoo and some admit that if tattoos weren’t so normalized they wouldn’t have gotten one. “I have my tattoo because I think it’s cool, and of course this has something to do with the stigmatization but If I was to be characterized as a hooker, I wouldn’t have gotten one” (Evelyn). Evelyn said this after I told her about the prior stigmatization that tattoos were only for criminals, sailors and hookers. “When I see someone older with a tattoo I find them instantly three times cooler than a young tattooed person, just because in those days it was really hard to one” (Megan). Evelyn and Monique also felt similar. So, they do acknowledge that old people with tattoos had to face so much more stigmatization and they admire that a lot. They feel like when they got their tattoos it’s wasn’t really an act of rebellion. “Maybe against my parents a little, they still don’t really like my tattoo. But I definitely got my tattoos for myself and because I think tattoos are beautiful and not to break free from the system or something” (Monique).

The younger generation felt their tattoos helped form their identities more. This might be because youth are in the midst of trying to figure out who they are. It is why people always say that you should experiment with new things in your youth, because you don’t know exactly who you are yet, can have phases of who or what you identify yourself with (different youth cultures for example) and have few responsibilities. But with all these factors, including peer pressure, pressure from parents, pressure to live without worries and to experiment, it can still be hard to form an identity without getting influenced by the surroundings. The link between identity formation and tattoos is often more personal. Especially Evelyn, who got her tattoos after a difficult personal and family crisis, felt she found herself and her strength again after she endured the pain of the tattoo. “Even though the hard times of course formed me and who I am a lot, the tattoos were prove of what I overcame and I made me realize who I want to be and even more who I am now, after everything that has happened” (Evelyn). Monique felt like all the experiences in her life construct her identity and her tattoos are one of them. “[the elephant] made me feel closer to my family than I had before and made me realize how important my family and animals are to me” (Monique).


Stigmas are a major part of youth struggles, as youth need to deals with fitting in, being in- and excluded and defining their identity trough others. It is only when people get older that it is suddenly desirable to be original and different, but when you’re young you desire to be like your peers. Goffman defines stigma as “an attribute, behavior, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way: it causes an individual to be mentally classified by others in an undesirable, rejected stereotype rather than in an accepted, normal one” (1963, p. 3). Thus, others are the ones who create a stigma, because of some social discrediting that would make us less human than the ones who create the stigma. The stigmatized mostly share the same societal norms, “he wants to be normal too”, and internalizes the deviant part of himself and that’s why it’s hard to break a stigma” (Goffman, 1963, p. 7). But while the stigma is thus individualized, all these individuals together also form a group of “deviant people” being stigmatized.

The stigmatization of tattooed people started with lower class professions such as sailors having tattoos so that, when they drowned, people could identify the body when it washed ashore (Irwin, 2001). Furthermore, it was a sign of being a real thug, used by criminals, gangs and motorcycle gangs. It was a way to distinguish themselves as real criminals and show how dangerous they were. Think of a teardrop tattoo on the cheek as a symbol for having killed someone or another symbol for going to prison. Gangs also use tattoos to show which gang they belong to, as a way of identifying which collective they identified themselves with (Irwin, 2001). It was also a way to show “that an individual possesses an attribute communicating their lack of conformity to societal norms” (Yang, Kleinman, Link, Phelan, Lee & Good, 2007, cited by Horne, Know, Zusman & Zusman, 2007). The gangs and criminals desperately wanted to show ‘the finger’ to society and its norms and showing their deviance as something that made other thugs fear them more. In that world fear meant power. Tattoos were a way to accomplish this. But in the late 1800s this rapidly changed. All of a sudden elites were interested in smaller, more elegant tattoos, but still, they were interested in tattoos! But then especially after World War I tattoos were associated with the deviant groups listed above again (Irwin, 2001).

In the 21st century, my respondents felt they were still struggling with stigmas. They do feel that people who have tattoos are considered being rough. Although they wouldn’t consider themselves as deviant persons or someone who falls outside of society’s norms, they still sometimes are being seen like that. “I never think something like: I wish I was normal, because I really don’t think that I’m abnormal. But in some parts of this country, especially conformed regions such as the bible belt, I am seen as deviant” (Stephanie). The other respondents also noticed that in rural areas, people are more narrow-minded and restricted about stigmas in general. “Besides my tattoo, they also stigmatize me there when I’m a female alone with my children” (Stephanie). “When I go to my grandma for instance, people there react so different from when I’m in the city. People are much more conservative in rural areas in my opinion” (Monique). Anne did feel like she was deviant, because in her surroundings there is still such a big taboo on tattoos. “I don’t show mine often, also because I think it’s not really classy to wear a shirt without sleeves.

Furthermore, they feel that in work areas tattoos are mostly not appropriate. “When I’m at work, even though I work at my dad’s company I always wear something to cover my tattoo. I didn’t the first day that I worked there, and people, mostly older ones, stared a lot” (Monique). “I work at a restaurant, and since my tattoo is on my ankle it barely ever shows. But I know that a tattoo on for instance my arm would not be appreciated” (Megan). “That’s the reason I always worked somewhere where my tattoos would be appreciated or at least accepted” (Stephanie).

All the respondents do feel the stigmatization is decreasing, especially the older generation. “In my line of work [tattoo journalism] stigmatization is a big part of the business. But when we talk about it, I notice that everyone in the business notices the decrease in stigmatization. Even the older generation: I know a 90-year-old woman who used to be against tattoo but is now ‘infected by the tattoo disease’ and started getting inked by the age of 90” (Stephanie). “I still feel stigmatized sometimes, but only by older people or my age. The youth only thinks tattoos are cool” (Anne). That is something that more respondents said, that they feel like the stigma is mostly decreasing because of the younger generations in society. The older people tend to hold on to the past and still feel like a tattoo shouldn’t be for a classy man or woman.

The youth is also still holding on a little to that stigma, because they are attracted to the rebellious appearance that a tattoo still has. Because the youth likes to deviate from the social norms, it is considered something to look up to if they do something taboo-breaking such as getting a tattoo. But if a tattoo’s stigmatization is decreasing, the cool-factor and the rebellious element also decrease. I noticed in the reactions from the respondents that they didn’t like the process of a tattoo not becoming rebellious anymore. “It’s too bad that the whole threshold to get inked is mostly gone now, nowadays people don’t really think that much about getting a tattoo anymore because it is almost seen as normal. The whole dangerous, exciting element of going in to some shady tattoo shop to get something you know people will find badass, is gone” (Stephanie). I already found this in the difference that the older generation feel like they had to overcome thing when having a tattoo and it being a rebellious act, and that the younger generation does not feel like that at all. The older generation also feels more stigmatized than the younger generation.

All the respondents also still stigmatize people with tattoos even though they have tattoos themselves. Most of them are aware of that: “When a tattooed person approaches me the first thing that still comes to mind is that they’re thugs. I think it’s something implemented in society, education and my upbringing” (Stephanie). “I still think that tattoos are low culture, something for the lower classes” (Anne). “I am aware that I don’t really like tattoos a lot, because they stand out so much on your skin. But maybe that’s also because I have mine on my butt” (Jesse).  It seems like this stigmatization is something so set in society and your upbringing that even when you are a part of this stigmatized group, you also stigmatize the same group yourself. This confirms Goffman’s argument about the stigmatized having the same societal norms and therefore internalizing the stigmas and stigmatizing others (1963, p. 7). It is very hard to lose prejudges, even if you are the prejudged individual yourself. These stigmas and prejudges are things that happen unconsciously in a split-second when you meet someone, the only way to get rid of this is to actively train this (Irwin, 2001). The younger generation, except Monique, felt they didn’t stigmatize tattooed people and thought that they were cool and they liked the rebellious act. This might have something to do with the stigma being decreasing and with the youth the norms are less set in stone so they have less prejudges.

Carroll, Riffenburgh, Roberts and Myhre (2002) also found in their research that “males having tattoos are associated with violence.” In this research females with tattoos weren’t considered violent. All the respondents mentioned they think that tattoos are more appropriate for men than for women. That aspect of toughness which a tattoo used to carry out, it being only for criminals, sailors, or gangs, is still visible. In research “women compared to men were more likely to report that their parents would never truly accept a visible tattoo. That women perceived less approval by their parents is consistent with research which documents that daughters have traditionally been viewed as needing more parental protection” (Gill, 1997, cited by Horne, Know, Zusman & Zusman, 2007). The female respondents felt more stigmatized than the male respondent. The female respondents felt they sometimes had to cover up their tattoos or have heard things like: it just doesn’t fit because you’re a lady, it’s not classy etc. Even tattooed people or tattoo artists are still influenced by this stigma. “The artists that tattooed me actually at first didn’t think that my tattoos fit me and said that they were too big for a woman.” (Stephanie). The interesting thing is that I gained respondent 1, Stephanie, because of the interview appointment with Jesse, so they knew each other. Jesse actually stigmatized Stephanie, saying: “I think that her tattoo is too big, it just takes over her entire appearance. You only see her tattoo and not her, no I don’t like her tattoo at all and don’t think it’s feminine” (Jesse). This also shows that the stigmatized stigmatize. All the respondents think that a tattoo can make a female more feminine, but even then, there are still norms about a tattoo then not being too big, not too dark and not too harsh but small and elegant.


As the great “tattoo king” said: “All this new knowledge from the Internet actually leads to some sort of superficiality. Everybody has the same tattoo” (De Lange, 2016). The paradox of tattoos these days is that tattoo stigmatization still exists but tattoos burst into a huge trend in pop culture suddenly. The moment of tattoos becoming a trend was the commence of the show “Miami ink”. These tattoo artists became known all over the world and celebrities suddenly wanted to be tattooed by these artists. And since many people look up to celebrities, that’s how tattoos flowed through to the masses (Thobo-Carlsen, 2014).

The respondents noticed this sudden change all quite consciously. They were aware that more and more celebrities openly displayed their tattoos and that more and more tattoo shops popped up, not only in big cities. Stephanie was actually a tattoo journalist at that time, so she experienced the rapid change very consciously. “On the tattoo conventions, more and more tattoo artists showed up that we [the ‘old’ community or gang] didn’t know” (Stephanie). Furthermore, she mentioned that “the old gang” has been more and more exclusive and excluding others. The young artists want to learn from the older ones, but since this normalization process the latter are afraid that they will lose business and they no longer want to share their knowledge. These old tattooists look down on this normalization process, this new trend of everybody having a tattoo.  They feel they are “the badass old tattoo artists” and that these new, young, trendy tattoo artists don’t belong to the true tattoo community. This has a classic feel of Elias and Scotson’s book The Established and the Outsiders (1996), in which the concept of exclusion plays a major part. The book describes the ‘old families’; close-knit families who lived in the city since it was founded. These are the established and the newcomers are the outsiders. Similarly, in this tattoo community, “the old gang” are the established and the new tattoo artists are the outsiders, simply based on who was there first. Just like in Elias & Scotson the “old gang” are the ones being looked up to by the new tattoo artists. But “the old gang” had a close-knit community where everybody knew everybody, and don’t want outsiders to destroy that community (Elias & Scotson, 1996).

Here the generation gap between the older and younger generation is also noticeable. The older generation, in this case tattoo artists, find it a shame that the tattoo trend is for the masses now. “Sure, it is nice that the stigmatization has lessened, but it has become way too mainstream” (Jesse). Tattoos used to be a medium to distinguish yourself from the masses and be unique. But now suddenly it seems to be more unique to not have a tattoo. The older generation feel they were unique when they got a tattoo and the youth right now is just following the masses like a sheep.

But the older generation does feel more socially accepted now than when they got a tattoo. Jesse and Anne also like the new trends of tiny tattoos, such as just the outlines of objects. Stephanie still likes the big tattoos more and thinks that it’s a shame that these are also fading away. The older generation also did experience the transition from stigma to trend more consciously, probably because they already had a tattoo at the time. The younger generation doesn’t really know any better and feels that the old fashion tattoos are just that, old fashioned. The rebellious part of getting a tattoo is gone for some of them. All the respondents do really like that because of this normalization process the stigma keeps shrinking.


The main goal of this research was to find out how tattooed people feel society judges them, or not all, and how they experienced tattoos suddenly being a huge trend and the start of de-stigmatization. This is called the start of de-stigmatization because the respondents still experienced stigmatization because of their tattoos. They feel the stigmas around tattoos are decreasing but are not absent yet. Yet because they think that in a few years, maybe a decade, the stigmatization around tattoos is completely gone or worse, that there would be a new movement of people who like their skin blank. Then the stigmatization of tattoo changes to first being rough to being a sheep that follows the masses. I was also interested in the difference between generations in how they experienced the process of stigma, normalization and the tattoo community. I was very interested in this because I don’t have a tattoo and am very curious how it must feel to have one and all of a sudden, the whole world judging and stigmatizing you.

In this research, there are a few paradoxes to detect. Firstly, the stigmatized tattooed persons also stigmatize people with tattoos. This surprised me, because it doesn’t seem to make sense. But if related to Goffman’s theory, it makes more sense. Stigmatized people have the same standards as the “normals” taught by society and upbringing. These norms are internalized; therefore, and even though you might have a tattoo yourself, you still stigmatize others just because those norms are so dominant and built in very deep (Goffman, 1963, p.7).

Secondly, even though the new generation is the reason that the stigmatization is decreasing and the older generation profits from that, the older generations stigmatizes the younger generation. But with a new stigma: them being a sheep following the masses with tattoos now being a global trend. They feel the youth are just taking tattoos because they feel like it and don’t think it through enough, considering that it’s on your body forever. The older generation also feel they had to go through so much to get a tattoo and face all these stigmas, and that the youth do not see it as a big step.

Thirdly, both generations feel positive about the stigma decreasing, as they feel more socially accepted and no longer an outcast. But, they also dislike that the rebellious and unique elements of getting a tattoo are weakened. This links to the paradox above, that tattoos are now more for the masses, that there is no special element to it anymore. Because it is something that you have on your body your whole life (most of the time), people like to have something unique. Of course, the meaning is very personal and unique to you, but if you see someone with the same tattoo you do feel a little bit like a copycat.

Lastly, overall there is still stigmatization about tattoos but at the same time they’re also a huge trend. This seems contradictive. Because of the tattoo bursting into pop culture, the stigma is decreasing and it has become more and more socially acceptable to get a tattoo. But since prejudges are so hard to lose it is questionable whether the stigmatization around tattoos will truly disappear.

During the research, I also found that I had quite some prejudges myself about the people who have tattoos. Previously, I didn’t know that Anne, Jesse and Megan had a tattoo and I was surprised that they did. Especially because two of them, Anne and Jesse, are from the older generation and are very refined people who I thought would be against tattoos. Anne as a matter of fact likes her own tattoos but doesn’t like tattoos in general. That was a hard thing to understand for me, why have one when you feel like tattoos are low culture. Moreover, she said she had never regretted her tattoo before. But after the interview when I thought it over, it made sense to some extent. She barely showed her tattoo to others, she has it on her shoulder, and really got it for herself and not to show off to others.

When I looked online for similar pictures of tattoos of the respondents (not featured in this paper), it only took me five seconds to find almost perfectly similar tattoos on google. This shows just how tattoos are no longer original. Respondents picked a tattoo because it stands for something truly personal for them, but there are thousands of people on the world with the exact same tattoo. This is what I see as the downside of the popularization of tattoos, although there were exceptions, like the ‘abstract picture of two friends tattoo’ of Monique. If I would get a tattoo I would also want something that is still original. Although in the past you could only pick tattoos from a picture book, even more people had the same tattoos probably. This research did make me more excited about tattoos and left me desiring for one more than ever.


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Irwin, K. (2001). Legitimating the First Tattoo: Moral Passage through Informal Interaction. Symbolic Interaction, 24(1), 49-73. doi:10.1525/si.2001.24.1.49

Larsen, G. & Patterson, M. (2014) “A Deviant Art: Tattoo-Related Stigma in an Era of Commodification” Published on

Taibi, C. (5 September 2013). Tattoos Still Reduce Chances Of Getting Hired, Study Finds. Huffington Post. Published on

Thobo-Carlsen, M. (27 October 2014). How Tattoos Went From Subculture to Pop Culture. Huffington Post. Published on

Elias, N. & Scotson, J. L. (1994). The Established and the Outsiders. Sage: Londen



Global Youth Papers



It’s Friday night 5.00 AM in the weekend of Amsterdam Dance Event. I used to sleep at this time, but today I’m visiting a DGTL, one of the many dance events which is organized this weekend. I’m there with two of friends dancing the whole night on fantastic techno beats. Due to the late time I feel that I actually have no energy left, and my body says that we should better head home. I looked one my friends in his eyes and while we are having eye contact, it seems clear that we are thinking the same at this moment. The environment is too beautiful to go home now. The music is too good to go home now. And most of all, the people who are here now at this party are too pretty and kind to go home now. When I realise what a beautiful place this is, my tiredness vanishes suddenly. We have to stay here till 8.00 PM till the party is over.

The narrative as described above, is about my most recent techno rave party which I have visited. Every now and then I visit techno raves. In my opinion, the experience of such a techno rave is magnificent. This experience is not only the result of the fantastic music which is thrilling through your body, but also the whole atmosphere at these parties contribute to this impressive experience. Since I can say for myself that visiting techno raves is one of my greatest passions, this theme triggered me to discover more about it.

Raves and music festivals are becoming more and more popular. This is not only the case within the techno scene, but festivals in other music genres are growing as well. Especially in the summer season more and more festivals take place. Young people and students in particular seem to be the most important target group for these festivals and parties. Furthermore, festivals (and rave parties) are not only about the music and the artists who are performing. The whole total experience also plays an important role.

The growing popularity of (techno) festivals and raves goes hand in hand with another development. Techno raves are well-known about the high degree of drug use at these parties. The stimulating drug XTC, which is often described as a ‘love drug’, is the most commonly used drug at techno parties. But also other drugs as speed, cocaine or ketamine are used frequently in the clubbing scene. The current clubbing generation is often portrayed as a ‘chemical generation’ (Nabben & Korf, 2011). The number of young people who has ever tried an illicit drug at least once seems to grow as well (Nabben & Korf, 2011). This high degree of drug use can contribute to a terrifying image for an outsider who is not familiar with the techno scene. Mainstream thoughts about illicit drugs are usually quite negative, where drugs is seen as something scary and dangerous. There seems to be some truth in this thought, because the use of (illicit) drugs can indeed be dangerous. The use of XTC for example, can lead to sweating tremendously, depersonalization or an acute depression (Freese et al., 2002).  However, these probable dangers are negligible apparently in the eyes of a raver, since many ravers are using drugs frequently.

Judging from my own experience, I can confirm that there is a lot of drug use within the techno scene. When I’m attending a techno rave, it is striking to notice how many people are influenced by a stimulating drug. You don’t have to be a fortune teller to know whether someone has used a hard drug. Facial expressions of ravers betray usually if one has used a drug. All my friends who visit techno raves frequently, also admit that they use a drug most of the times when visiting a rave. Although it is still illegal to use XTC or other drugs at raves, it has become normalized to take a drug on such occasions. Techno raves seem unimaginable without drugs.

Research question & methodology

At first sight, there seems to exist an inextricable relationship between the techno scene and drug use. But what does this mean exactly? If a techno rave is an appropriate place for using drugs, there should be a reason for this phenomenon. In addition, people should have some feelings with this relationship. Therefore, the following research question will be the main point of this essay: ‘’How do young people within the techno scene experience the relationship between drug use and techno raves?’’ In order to answer this research question, I have conducted five depth-interviews with techno ravers. All research participants are aged between 19-24, three male and two female, and are all students at the University of Amsterdam. In order to guarantee the anonymity of my respondents, fake names will be used in the rest of this essay when quotes of my research participants are used.

The main reason for using depth-interviews as research method is because the stories of techno ravers should be understood. These life stories can create a valuable insider perspective of the techno scene. What exactly is the position which a raver takes within the techno scene? Once this position of techno ravers is explored, the next step is to investigate more deeply the research question. Does there really exist a relationship between techno raves and drug use? And what does it mean for a raver to take a stimulating drug on a rave?

The techno scene

Firstly, I will give a general description about the techno music in order to create a clear image of this world. This description is based on both my own experience and the interviews which I have conducted for this research. Let’s begin with the techno music itself: techno is a form of electronic dance music, in which the rhythm of a techno number has the same speed. The melody is often dark, in which the sound if often experienced as ‘space music’. At a techno party, there are several stages where the DJ’s play their music. Depending on the size of a techno party, there are several music stages. There is a dancing floor at each stage, where people dance to the music beats. At one stage sometimes ‘hard’ techno is played, while on the other stage a ‘softer’ form of techno is played. Dance floors are usually decorated with visual art, and laser shows are used in order to give a boost to the atmosphere. Besides the dance floor, there is usually also a ‘chill area’. Dancing the whole time on music beats can be quite tiring, so chill areas are appropriate places to rebuild your energy level.

In the techno scene, an important distinction can be made between festivals and indoor parties. Festivals take place during the summer season in open air, and are characterized by a more complete picture. Besides several stages where music is played by the DJ, festivals consist also of some areas with other attractions. There are hammocks, some extra chill areas at the lake, or you can do a spiritual session in a tent. In other words, festivals are characterized by a more complete image, where the experience of a party is much bigger than just dancing on the dance floor. The ‘dancing’ aspect comes forward more prominently at indoor parties. The dance floor is usually very dark in which light shows have a bigger emphasis than at outdoor festivals. There are fewer opportunities to relax, so a visitor is often bound up to the dance floor and the music which is being played by the DJ. It was mentioned in my interviews that ravers have a slight preference for festivals over indoor parties. Robbert explained that in this way:

I like indoor parties too, but festivals are for me something more special. I’m entering another world, everyone is free, the weather is good, and everyone is in a good mood. And it’s not just about the music at a festival, there are also other attractions. If I’m done for a while with the music, I can go play twister. All those aspects are not available at an indoor party.

During my interviews one of my first questions was usually how ravers ended up in the techno scene. The answers to this question were quite similar. All of my respondents were part of a circle of friends. Those friends were already visiting techno raves on a regular basis, and this consequently raised a curiosity to visit techno parties and festivals too. In other words, initially there were no specific characteristics of techno raves which attracted my respondents. Their involvement in techno raves happened because friends were doing that as well. Though my respondents were introduced into the techno scene by coincidence, they all mentioned that they were still visiting techno parties on a regular basis. Therefore, there should be some motivations why people visit raves. Two motivations came up in my interviews several times. These motivations are the music played at raves, and the good atmosphere experienced at a techno rave. I will elaborate these two aspects now, and it will become clear that ravers experience a strong relationship between drugs and these two aspects.

The music

A first aspect which came up in my interviews was the music played at techno parties. At first sight, it seems obvious that music plays an important role at techno raves. During the time you’re present on a techno party, you’re bound to the music which is played at the stages. As already mentioned, there are usually also some other attractions at techno parties. Nevertheless, the musical and dancing aspect is often seen as the main activity of techno raves. Because of this, one should think that almost all ravers do like techno music. However, three of my research participants mentioned that they do not experience any affinity with techno music itself. Sofie explained that in this way:

I actually hate techno, I even think that you cannot see it as a real music style. It’s just the same beat for 10 minutes long, without any song in the music.

Statements such as this are quite remarkable. There is no any affinity with techno music, but nevertheless Sofie loves it to visit techno parties frequently. Further, Sofie (and other raves too) has to spend approximately 40 euros in order to attend a techno party. Simultaneously, all respondents saw the music as an important factor to visit techno parties, even if an aversion with techno music is experienced. How can this be explained? The answer on to this question can be found in the drug experience of a raver. Out of my interviews became clear (and I can confirm that from my own experience as well), that XTC, among other things, gives you an effect in which music and sounds are experienced in a much more pleasant way than without XTC. Techno music isn’t just music anymore then, but the music turns into the best sound you’ve ever experienced. When my interview with Sofie continued, she mentioned in addition to the previous quote:

I don’t know, if I’m taking XTC the world changes completely. I do not like techno, but at a party the situation is so different. Normally, you dance on a music beat, but when I have used XTC, the music adapts to your dance moves. And that feeling is incredible.

The example of Sofie illustrates that by using drugs the meaning of techno music changes. This changing function of music is experienced as one of the main ingredients of techno raves. For that reason, Sofie and other ravers see drug use indeed as a condition to visit techno parties, and therefore experience a strong relationship between drug use and raves. Without the drugs, they won’t be able to enjoy the party. However, not all of my research participants shared the view of Sofie. Some of them have more appreciation for techno music in daily life. Dewi and Bram mentioned that they listened to techno music in their spare time too, and that this music can help them to get through the day. Therefore, Dewi and Bram don’t need drugs necessarily. This was caused, among other things, by the fact that they’re able to enjoy the techno music without using a drug, and experience to a lesser extent a changing function of music. That doesn’t mean that people such as Dewi and Bram don’t take drugs. They brought up that taking a pill on a techno rave can contribute to a magnificent experience, but they do not see it as a main condition. Bram looked a bit astonished when I asked him whether taking drugs is a condition to visit a techno party:

Of course it is not an obligation. Don’t get me wrong, I love the effects of some drugs. But the day before a festival I’m busier with other things such as the line-up. I’m thinking then, oohw I would like to see him, ooh and I would like to see him too! I get more excited about the music than the probable effects of the drug which I’m going to experience. And sometimes I even do not take a drug, because I’m satisfied with the situation as it is at that moment.

Bram remarked in addition that the musical experience at a rave is the most significant factor whether a rave is a successful rave. Drugs can strengthen the musical experience, and in that sense Bram also experience a ‘changing function of music.’ But this changing function of music and other positive effects of drugs are obviously not the most significant things on a rave for Bram. Thus, there is a clear division between techno music lovers and non-techno music lovers. The first group does not see a necessity to take a drug on a rave. That does not mean that the techno lovers do not take drugs most of the time on raves. The motivations for taking drugs only differs sharply with the non-techno music lovers, who see the drug experience as the main ingredient, which allows them to enjoy the music.

Considering this sharp division within the techno scene, it may be interesting to cite the concept of ‘cultural hierarchies’ (Thornton, 1995). This means that in each subculture exist a hierarchy of their members. This hierarchy is determined, among other things, by a division of the ‘hip’ and the ‘mainstream’ within the subculture (Thornton, 1995). Although the division of the hip and the mainstream was originally introduced to define a particular subculture against another subculture, it can be applied now within one subculture, namely the techno subculture. There seem to be two different groups within the techno scene. On the one hand, the group of ravers who do like techno music, and on the other hand, the group of ravers who do not have any affinity with techno music. The ‘techno music lovers’ see themselves as the leaders of the subculture, and can therefore be viewed as the ‘hip’ category. Dewi, who identifies herself as techno music lover (just like Bram), explained that in the following way:

I’m disappointed in some people who are visiting a techno rave. I’m there with my friends for a musical experience, but some people are taking too much drug, don’t have self –control anymore, and are primarily on a rave to go as ‘hard as possible’. I’m thinking then, ‘what are you doing here’?  These kinds of people are messing up the atmosphere on parties.

Dewi seems to have little understanding for some groups of people who attend techno parties. In that sense, she appropriates for herself a higher status within the techno scene on grounds of her advanced musical knowledge in comparison with others. In terms of Thornton’s theory, Dewi appropriates for herself a ‘hip’ status, whereas she gives other people within the scene an inferior status, which can be seen as the mainstream group.


Another aspect which came up often in my interviews was the atmosphere experienced at a techno rave. A few general quotes which were often mentioned in my interviews are ‘everyone is so pretty’, ‘ nobody is judging each other’ and ‘ it’s one big spacing community’. Thus, the good atmosphere primarily is expressed in terms of a ‘good click’ with other people. For this reason, the concept of ‘solidarity’ is applicable in this situation. Ravers experience at techno raves a high degree of solidarity towards other ravers. Many different theories about solidarity exist, but a general definition is that ‘’solidarity generally refers to the degree or type of integration in a society or within a social group’’ (Kavanaugh & Anderson, 2008, pp. 184). A high degree of solidarity can result consequently in a stronger collective identity of certain music scenes (Bennett, 1999).

The link between raves and solidarity within the electronic dance music style has been researched before (Kavanaugh & Anderson, 2008). This relationship seems to be complicated, but anyway, exist out of two components. On the one hand, solidarity within the techno scene seems to be caused by the ‘sense of belonging for other participants’ (Thornton, 1995; Kavanaugh & Anderson, 2008). This means that by being together, and dancing with each other, a certain connection with other ravers is created. Some studies even suggest that raves can function as a ‘meaningful spiritual experience’, which can contribute to an even greater solidarity (Hutson, 2000). On the other hand, solidarity within the techno scene is seen as a direct consequence of drug use. XTC in particular, is well-known for the emphatic effects towards other people. Due to the effects of XTC or other drugs, the solidarity towards other people should increase tremendously (Kavanaugh & Anderson, 2008). From this perspective, drug-use is seen as the primary cause of solidarity. This should mean that without drugs, solidarity won’t be imaginable within the techno scene.

Thus, there is ongoing debate about the role of drugs in creating solidarity within the clubbing scene. Since all of my research participants do experience a high degree of solidarity, it may be interesting in which way they experience the role of drugs towards solidarity. So, when a research participant mentioned something about solidarity, I tried to anticipate on this. I would like to show one example of that. During an interview with Thijs, he was very enthusiastic about ‘Pleinvrees’, a techno rave which Thijs visited one week ago. He couldn’t stop talking about all the beautiful experiences on Pleinvrees:

Thijs: Everyone was my best friend on Pleinvrees. Everyone had beautiful haircuts and beautiful shoes. And the music was soo wauuww magnificent. Everything was just so beautiful.

Me: Do you think that’s because of the XTC that you liked everything?

Thijs: Yeah, definitely. If I wouldn’t use XTC, there wouldn’t be any chance that I like all the shoes and haircuts and all that kind of stuff. But because of that, I was talking with unfamiliar people about the most useless and funny things. A certain interaction arose because of the effects of XTC.

This quote makes clear that solidarity may indeed be a consequence of drug use. Thijs emphasizes that XTC causes several effects which cannot be experienced when you haven’t used drugs. Those effects determine, among other things, what Thijs was doing and feeling on Pleinvrees. Those activities (such as talking with people about their ‘beautiful haircuts’), contributes to a certain interaction which this person wouldn’t do when he hasn’t used XTC. As a result, a stronger solidarity is being created with other ravers. This was one example of how solidarity emerges as consequence of using drugs. However, my interviews show that solidarity can be created in other ways too. Bram mentioned passionately:

If I meet people on parties who are vague acquaintances of mine, people of which you don’t expect that they visit those kinds of parties, then I’m hanging out with these people for the rest of the day sometimes. I even maintained extra friendships with these people after a techno party.

Another side of solidarity is shown here. This quote makes clear that solidarity at techno raves isn’t only caused by the use of drugs, but that also other circumstances can play a role here. This is an example where it is demonstrated that a raver meets familiar people by coincidence. Bram hadn’t expected those people here, which contributes to a higher degree of solidarity. This kind of solidarity fits well with the ‘sense of belonging for other participants’ theory of Thornton (1995). A friendship is created due to being together at one place, in which the solidarity increases.

Thus, both forms of solidarity of Kavanaugh and Anderson (2008) seem to play a role within the techno scene. Solidarity seems to be caused for a large part by the use of drugs, but the ‘sense of belonging’ felt with other participants is at least as important.

The meaning of visiting techno raves

Up till now I have described how ravers experience a techno party, in which the music and the atmosphere were the two most important elements of a rave. But perhaps more interesting is what this really means now. As Thornton (1995, pp. 5) argued, ‘’belonging to a club culture gives alternative interpretations and values to young people; it re-interprets the social world’’. One can wonder whether this reinterpretation of the social world also takes place at techno raves, because it is doubtful whether the techno scene is a subculture. Many visitors are just going to these parties by occasion, and have little affinity with techno music itself. Rather, the concept of a neo-tribe (Bennett, 1999) is better applicable in this case. According to Bennett (1999), youth’s musical and stylistic preferences are fluid and are constantly shifting between different youth culture groups. Since many ravers (at least in this research) are feeling that they’re not a full member of the techno scene, the concept of neo-tribe can be applied perfectly to the techno scene.

If the techno scene is a neo-tribe, what does it mean for the visitors to be part of this neo-tribe? My interviews show that the meaning of raving seems to differ again for each person. On the one hand, techno raves are primarily seen as an experience, which never will be experienced in other settings. Three research participants (Robbert, Sofie and Thijs) view it as an escape from the world, in which only the happening of a techno rave is important at that moment. Robbert explained that in the following way:

You’re having a dream night, where you’re dancing constantly. At this pink cloud you’re escaping from the world for a few hours, where only the party is important then. And that feeling that you don’t have any responsibilities is so enjoyable.

Robbert doesn’t experience any extra meaning in a techno party. He views a techno party as a world where there isn’t any connection with the ordinary world. In that sense, the techno scene isn’t a real subculture, but rather a place where you can release some emotions. Techno raves are experienced as if these parties don’t have a connection with the ordinary world, but rather as separate occasions. This view was shared by Sofie and Thijs, but not by Dewi and Bram. Bram, who attempts to visit techno raves every week, doesn’t see techno raves as an escape from the social world, but rather something which is connected with the ‘ordinary’ world.

From the moment that I started visiting techno parties, my life has changed completely. First I was a bit insecure about myself and was dealing with social problems, but due to raves I noticed there are also other forms of hanging out with other people in a more pleasant way. I’ve gotten more self-confident because of this, and I take this along to daily life.

This quote makes clear that a techno rave can be experienced in several ways. Besides the rave itself, Bram experiences several other aspects such as an increasing self-confidence. This is perhaps an individual case, which decidedly isn’t applicable for each raver. But this example shows the diversity of the techno scene, and that each raver can experience it in their own way. Each raver can give an alternative interpretation to the techno scene. The fact that someone can gain self-confidence from visiting techno raves, is in my opinion a beautiful phenomenon. It was also very surprising for me that someone mentions this. This goes to show that the techno scene is very multidimensional, as I argue in the conclusion.


In order to answer the research question, ‘’How do young people within the techno scene experience the relationship between drug use and techno raves?’’, I have attempted to outline a general image of the techno scene and the role that drugs plays in this scene. Outlining this image was a bit more difficult than I had expected, due to the fact that each respondent within my research had different opinions about the scene, and the position which they take within the scene differed too. Nevertheless, this research has demonstrated that the relationship between drug use and the techno scene is a strong one, but that there are large differences in how this relationship is experienced.

Broadly, there is a division within the techno scene, and this division is a determinant factor for how drugs plays a role within the techno scene. On the one hand, there is group of ravers who every now and then visit techno parties. Robbert, Sofie and Thijs were part of that group within my research. This group has less affinity with techno music and the techno scene in itself. Nevertheless, this group of people enjoys to visit techno parties every now and then. By visiting techno parties, they are able to step out of the ordinary world and to enter a dream world. But in fact, the techno scene doesn’t mean anything special for them. Techno parties are just occasions which this group of people just visit a few times a year. Because these people are visiting these raves just by occasion, drug is something which is inextricable related to this occasion. Drugs, in particular XTC, can make a techno experience much more intense. This intensification of a rave is expressed, among other things, by a changing function of music. This changing function of music is experienced as one of the main ingredients of techno raves for Robbert, Thijs and Sofie. Therefore, taking drugs is seen as necessary in the eyes of this group.

On the other hand, there is also a group of people who see the techno scene as an important part of their identity. Bram and Dewi were part of that group within this research. This group has a strong preference for techno music in daily life, and techno parties are the best occasions to find a sense of belonging. Because of this, they see raves as an alternative lifestyle, where you are together with people with the same preferences as them. Just like the first group, this group also uses drugs at techno raves, but the motivations for using drugs are quite different. There isn’t any necessity to use drugs, but rather the use of drugs can enhance the wonderful experience which it already is.

Because of the fact that the techno scene has grown enormously and just five interviews were conducted, it is quite hard to outline a general image of the techno scene. Each research participant seems to have other motivations for visiting techno raves. This was also the main obstacle during the research process. I was forced to look very far in the research data in order to look for similarities.  But perhaps, that’s a characteristic of the techno scene that it is so multidimensional and complex. Nevertheless, techno raves are offering something special for each visitor. Each visitor enjoys these kinds of parties, only the type of this pleasant experience differs strongly.

I look back to this research with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I did this research with much pleasure. The fact I am part of the techno scene myself definitely contributed to this. Conducting the interviews was the most pleasant part of this research by far. I noticed that my research participants shared this view, because I noticed a smile on their face during the interviews constantly. This was true for Bram in particular, who was talking sometimes passionately for a few minutes without I wasn’t able to interrupt him. That shows that people are willing to talk about this topic, and that all of them enjoy it to visit techno raves.

On the other hand, I have experienced difficulties while conducting this research. This was caused primarily because I’m part of the scene myself. Before I started this research, I had expected that being part of this scene would help me, but that was not the case. I had several assumptions when I started this research and especially in the starting point of my research I experienced difficulties with releasing my assumptions. However, the more I continued in my research, the more I realised that the techno scene is multidimensional. All in all, I have conducted this research with pleasure where I have learned a lot.


Nabben, T. & Korf, D.J. (2011). Drugstrends in het Amsterdamse uitgaansleven. NARCIS (National Academic Research and Collaborations Information System).

Hutson, R. (2000). The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures. Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 35-49.

Thornton, S. (1995). The distinctions of cultures without distinction. In Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital (pp. 1-25). Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Bennett, A. (1999). Subcultures or neo-tribes? Rethinking the relationship between youth, style and musical taste. Sociology, 33, 599-617.

Freese, T. Miotto, K. Reback, C. (2002). The effects and consequences of selected club drugs. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Volume 23, Issue 2, September 2002, Pages 151–156.

Philip R. Kavanaugh, P.R. & Anderson, T.L. (2008). Solidarity and drug use in the electronic dance music scene. Sociological Quarterly, Vol.49(1), pp.181-208.

Global Youth Papers

Milio van de Kamp

In 2010 beschreef Mick Matthys in zijn werk ‘Doorzetters’ de ervaringen van universitair geschoolde individuen die uit een laagopgeleid milieu kwamen. Zij waren de eerste generatie studenten in de familie en het boek geeft prachtig weer hoe ze balanceerden tussen twee werelden, de wereld thuis en de wereld op de universiteit. Toen ik met dit boek in aanraking kwam, viel er een enorme last van mijn schouders; ik was niet de enige. Ook ik kom namelijk uit een laagopgeleid gezin. Mijn vader en moeder hebben beide de middelbare school niet afgemaakt en ik ben inmiddels tweedejaars student aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam. Gezien mijn kenmerken ben ik aanzienlijk gestegen in sociale status, ik val nu onder de categorie ‘hoog opgeleid’ en daar horen bepaalde verwachtingen, normen en waarden bij.

Enerzijds is het mooi dat ik in een samenleving leef waarin het mogelijk is om de maatschappelijke ladder te bestijgen, anderzijds zorgt het voor ontzettend veel verwarring en, zoals Goffman (1959/2012) zo prachtig beschreef, ‘impression management’. Met impression management doelde Goffman op het idee dat mensen constant de beste versie van zichzelf willen laten zien binnen een bepaalde situatie. Hier begon dan ook mijn probleem. Op de universiteit wordt verwacht dat je leergierig bent, kritisch bent, vragen stelt en een zekere passie hebt voor wetenschap. Bij mijn ouders thuis wordt precies het tegenovergestelde verwacht. Je moet geen wijsneus zijn en vooral niet doen alsof je alles weet. Deze tweesplitsing bleek in het begin erg lastig. Als een soort acteur moest ik twee verschillende rollen inzetten om in beide werelden te kunnen manoeuvreren. Vragen stellen en nieuwsgierig durven zijn was nieuw voor mij. Gesprekken voeren over politiek, het milieu en grote denkers was ook volledig nieuw voor mij. Echter voelde ik me op intellectueel gebied eindelijk thuis op de universiteit. Er zijn mensen die dezelfde interesse voor de wetenschap delen en met wie ik open gesprekken kan voeren over allerlei onderwerpen. Op sociaal gebied had ik echter gigantische aansluitingsproblemen. Ik sprak geen accentloos of ABN Nederlands, kwam niet van het VWO of Gymnasium en had een compleet andere achtergrond dan het grootste deel van de studenten. Het voelde alsof ik op geen enkel vlak kon relateren aan mijn medestudenten. Eén van de mogelijke oorzaken van mijn ervaring leerde ik van Bourdieu. Hij schreef in navolging van Weber over het bezitten van verschillende soorten kapitaal. Geen kapitaal in de alledaagse betekenis van kapitaal, geld, maar over cultureel kapitaal.

Met cultureel kapitaal doelt Bourdieu (1986) op zekere elementen die een bepaalde groep in de samenleving deelt. Het gaat om lifestyle, taalvaardigheid, muzieksmaak, beoefende sport, et cetera. Een combinatie van kapitaal die ik zelf niet bezat. Het gebrek aan cultureel kapitaal maakte dat ik moeilijk aansluiting kon vinden binnen de universiteit. Ik kon niet meepraten over dezelfde ervaringen, bekeek niet dezelfde televisieprogramma’s, luisterde niet dezelfde muziek en beoefen een sport die veelal als gevaarlijk en barbaars wordt ervaren. Dit zorgde voor een zekere ongelijkheid. Het leven op de universiteit is immers gebouwd rondom het cultureel kapitaal dat ik niet had waardoor ik vanaf het begin een achterstand voelde.

Naast cultureel kapitaal heeft Bourdieu ook andere soorten kapitaal gedefinieerd, één daarvan was sociaal kapitaal (Bourdieu, 1986). Sociaal kapitaal betekent de mate waarin mensen deel uitmaken van netwerken en daarbinnen relaties onderhouden, kortom: het sociale netwerk dat een individu heeft. Dankzij het gebrek aan cultureel kapitaal ondervond ik ook een gebrek aan sociaal kapitaal. De eerdergenoemde aansluitingsproblemen zijn hier een goed voorbeeld van. Nu is het met mij persoonlijk (gelukkig) goed afgelopen, langzaamaan heb ik de achterstand in sociaal- en cultureel kapitaal verkleind en ben ik een expert geworden in het balanceren in twee werelden. Mijn impression management is vlijmscherp en ik kan zonder veel moeite wisselen tussen de verschillende rollen in mijn dagelijks leven.

Bourdieu legt echter wel een belangrijk probleem bloot. In Nederland (en elders in westerse landen) prijzen wij de meritocratische invulling van de samenleving. Mensen hebben de mogelijkheid te bereiken wat ze willen, mits ze hier hard genoeg voor werken. Hierdoor ontstaat er echter ongelijkheid op nieuwe plekken. Het is van belang dat men inziet dat sociale mobiliteit veelzijdig is en niet alleen maar voordelen kent, maar ook uitdagingen. Mensen die de maatschappelijke ladder beklimmen ondervinden niet alleen succes maar ook twijfel en onzekerheid als gevolg van het gebrek aan sociaal- en cultureel kapitaal. Als maatschappij dienen wij er alles aan te doen om deze twijfel en onzekerheid weg te nemen. Men dient zich bewust te worden van de positie waarin zij zitten en vanuit de dominante groep dient begrip en aandacht te komen. Het is geen eenzijdig proces van aanpassing, maar een relatie. Een relatie die gigantische voordelen kan bieden mits ze van twee zijden worden erkend.

(Blog geschreven voor Visies op Sociale Ongelijkheid)


Bourdieu, P. (1986). The Forms of Capital. Opgehaald op 9 februari 2017 van:

Goffman, E. (1959/2012). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. In: C. Calhoun et al. (3rd ed.),  Contemporary Sociological Theory (pp. 46-61). Chichester: Blackwell.

Matthys, M. (2010). Doorzetters. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij AKSANT. Opgehaald op 9 februari 2017 van:

Afbeelding: Een poster uit de UvA Master campagne

ASW core courses

Elke Berens


I moved from Rotterdam to Amsterdam in July 2015. I went from a twenty-one-square meter room to a room the size of a tiny walk-in closet. I was about to start my study in Social Sciences and there was not even enough space in my new room for a desk. Despite this drastic downgrade in size, my new room was 160 euros per month more expensive. The location is similar in both cities, not in the city center but quite close to it. Recently, I moved to another room in the same apartment, which is five square meters bigger than my previous room. This ‘upgrade’ in size costs me an extra 75 euros a month. This amounts to a 235-euro difference from my room in Rotterdam which was still seven square meters bigger than my current room in Amsterdam.

One could argue it was my own choice to pay this ridiculous amount of money in order to live in Amsterdam. This is true, but what strikes me most is not the cost in terms of money but in terms of effort and energy to get a room like this in Amsterdam. I was one of the very lucky few that got a room quite easily. I sent out several messages and got invited to a couple of viewings (what viewings in Amsterdam exactly entail will be discussed below). The first viewing I went to I was chosen straight away to become the new room tenant. But this sounds like a dream to many students in search of a room in Amsterdam. I am aware of the fact that I was extremely lucky and an exception to the rule.

This is not how it usually goes when searching for a room in Amsterdam. I see friends and others around me struggling to find a room or even get invited to viewings. For example, one of my German friends did not have a room before his study started, so he stayed over at my place for a couple of weeks. The same applies to my boyfriend who stayed over for a month until he found a room for himself. My new roommate from Belgium stayed in hostels for a month until she got the room in our apartment. Furthermore, many of my friends are still living with their parents, even though they no longer want to. It is simply because they have not yet succeeded in finding a room. They are all at the age of gradually becoming an adult, and living on their own is key in the process of transition to adulthood. It concerns me to see that so many young people are held back in doing so, therefore I decided to focus my research project on the difficulties of student housing in Amsterdam. The topic is particularly interesting to me because I have been on both sides, I have been one in search of a room and I have been one renting out a room.

Renting a room in Amsterdam

Renting a room in Amsterdam is usually a long and intensive process in terms of effort. For example, I have been at a point that I found my room too small and did not like my former roommates, but I chose to stay instead of looking for a new room because I knew that pursuing the dream of a new room would give me an extra daily ‘task’, which was a bit too much next to my study, job, friends, sports, and so on. The same applies to one of my friends who lives at Uilenstede, which is a student housing campus in Amstelveen, right outside Amsterdam. She does not like to live outside of Amsterdam at all, but she did not find the time to try and get a room in Amsterdam, because she is really busy with her Medicine study. Besides the effort it will take to get a room, a major hurdle is the high cost of a room in Amsterdam. Rents of 600 euros for a tiny eight square meter room in the center of Amsterdam are common. I would say the average price of a room in Amsterdam lies between 500 and 650 euros.

After considering all this, the Facebook advert hunt begins. There are other ways than Facebook to find a room, but since all my respondents, apart from one, got their room via Facebook, I will focus on that. When responding to a room advert on Facebook, it is not unusual to be one of 250 candidates. To be one of those 250, typically, you must meet several requirements, such as a specific gender, age, nationality, or lifestyle. It is a very common requirement that you are either a woman, speak Dutch, or that you are at the end of your studies. This makes renting a room all the more difficult for men, international students, anybody just starting their studies and students in general. When you do meet all the requirements you must still compete with around ten others who also fit the criteria. Thus, as one of my respondents said, there is only a one out of ten chance of being the “perfect fit for the future housemates” after going through all the previous stuff.

I will cite a real advert to give an impression of what they ask for. With ‘they’, I mean other students who are searching for a new roommate. In some cases, they are working people instead of students, who do not mind having students in their house or apartment. The students and working people are all renting as well, so none of them really owns the house or apartment. In very rare cases it is an individual or a couple who do own a house or apartment and have a spare room that they would like to rent out. The last option is that parents of a (new) student buy a house in Amsterdam for their daughter or son and that they can rent out rooms in that house. When this happens the rooms usually go to the daughter’s or son’s friends, so adverts like these are rare on Facebook. But December 11th one of these adverts popped up on the Facebook page ‘Zoekt kamer in Amsterdam community’ (‘Searching for a room in Amsterdam community’, 2016). Two girls, who just started their studies in September, are looking for another girl. It was quite a long advert, demanding that their new roommate should be a girl and should be around the same age as them. In addition, the advert stated: “We are searching for someone who does not mind having a drink or ten, likes to go out seven times a week, is a really good cook, can sing every top40-hit and someone who likes to clean up after us”. Of course, they are being a bit sarcastic, but this shows how serious and detailed requirements for a new roommate can be.

When meeting the requirements asked for, the candidate must send them a message to let them know that she is interested and would like to come to the viewing. She should tell a bit about herself in the message, such as what she studies, what her hobbies are, and why she would be a good roommate for them. She must make sure that she is convincing and funny, because they will probably get around 250 messages. So stand out! Once the ones renting out a room have made a first selection, they will send around ten invitations to a viewing. A viewing is an evening where the candidate can go and check out the room and meet the potential new roommates. During this viewing, it is very common to be seated in a circle with all the others; there will be drinks and the ‘landlords’ will ask questions. This usually lasts about one or two hours. Thereafter, the ‘landlords’ will choose who they liked the most and they will send this person an email or phone call to ask them as their new roommate. Overall, then, the search for a room in Amsterdam takes much effort, money, and persistence, and once selected for a viewing it is very important for the candidates to stand out, speak up and make sure they are being noticed and liked. This stressful reality is what many students in Amsterdam go through.

The research

The aim of my research is to find out how the process of renting a room for students works, what problems they come across and what they do when they do not succeed straight away. How do students, wanting to rent a room in Amsterdam, cope with the scarce supply of student rooms? With ‘student rooms’ I mean the rooms available for students in shared apartments in Amsterdam. Considering the many requirements that a student must meet in order to be selected for a room, I will also examine how discrimination plays a role in the process of student housing, and whether it is more difficult for international students than for Dutch students to get a room for that reason. Finally, I will examine what alternatives there are for students who do not succeed in finding a room straight away. Since there must be many students who are practically ‘homeless’, in the sense of not having a room for themselves, I am curious to see what they do about their situation.

First, I will explain three concepts that are relevant for my research: transition to adulthood, shelter, and discrimination. Transition to adulthood is the phase one goes through from being a youngster to becoming an adult. The period and length of this phase depends on various factors, including cultural and national context, while it can also vary among friends. Parents and upbringing play an important role in this process, too, as parents transmit personal values on what they find appropriate for their children at what certain age. Overall, being able to make one’s own decisions and living on one’s own are important matters in the transition. But are students at the age of 21, who are legally adult, really adults now? This is being doubted since the age of marriage and other traditional markers of adulthood, as well as length of education, got pushed back. Arnett calls this ‘emerging adulthood’:

This period is not simply an “extended adolescence,” because it is much different from adolescence, much freer from parental control, much more a period of independent exploration. Nor is it really “young adulthood,” since this term implies that an early stage of adulthood has been reached, […] and many of them feel they have not yet reached adulthood. (Arnett, 2004)

According to Arnett, there is ‘a longer road to adulthood’ for youth nowadays, which resembles the notion of ‘waithood’ coined by Muldering (2013). Although Arnett and Muldering use these terms to describe other youth issues, both can be used to describe an aspect of student housing in Amsterdam as well. Living on your own is a major part of becoming an adult or at least starting the phase of transition to adulthood. The scarce supply of student rooms in Amsterdam hampers students in this process, which means this period can be seen as ‘waithood’ and therefore ‘a longer road to adulthood’.

Second, I wish to highlight the concept of shelter. Having shelter may seem very normal to us Dutch youth in our twenties. But the world is bigger than our own and there are many exceptions to this rule. While it is part of our general knowledge that there are certain poor countries, cities or even specific neighbourhoods where having shelter is not a given, we are less aware that this lack of shelter can happen to middle-class youth as well. For example, in Japan, where ‘the socioeconomic equilibrium […] has been shaken’ due to several factors (Allison, 2012), material or social security for many of its citizens is no longer guaranteed, which leads to homelessness among significant numbers of people, including youth. Allison points to the phenomenon of ‘net cafe refugees’, or homeless people who do not have shelter and thus live in 24-hour internet cafes, and the prevalence of (young) adults who continue to live at the parental home. These are all middle-class people that had to change their dreams because of the negative change in the socioeconomic equilibrium (Allison, 2012). The situation in Japan is worse than in the Netherlands, but in theoretical terms this homelessness can be linked to the situation of student housing in Amsterdam. Due to the shortage of student rooms and the discrimination that comes along with the process, there are many Dutch youth who simply do not have shelter and therefore must solve this otherwise. They will stay at their parents’ house longer than they would have wanted, or stay at friends’ houses or hostels. This can hardly be compared to really poor people because these Dutch youth will never have to sleep on the streets. Still, it is striking that so many (mostly white) middle-class youth cannot find shelter in Amsterdam.

Finally, I wish to highlight that discrimination is a major problem in the student housing process. It strikes me that many Facebook adverts demand that the new roommate is an older or nearly finished student rather than a new student. While these are all students in Amsterdam, and thus part of the same ‘scene’ in a way, there seems to be a conflict within this scene nonetheless. During my research, I got the feeling that older students tend to stereotype younger students as “party animals or trouble makers,” as one of my respondents put it. This conflict within the same scene resembles Barone’s  (2016) description of a conflict between old guard Tunisian metal fans and new or younger Tunisian metal fans. The old guard does not accept the new group, even though the old and the new are part of the same scene (Barone, 2016). This is interesting to me as I used to see discrimination as something that only occurs between different groups, scenes, or classes, and not so much something that also occurs within one and the same category of people – in this case, students in Amsterdam. As I found out, within this category, discrimination in terms of gender, language, personality and appearance is quite prevalent, and it affects the student housing process.

To investigate how students experience these processes in their quest for a room in Amsterdam, I interviewed three Dutch students (two female and one male) and three international students (again, two female and one male), from Belgium, Austria and Germany. All the interviewees are between the age of 21 and 24, and currently have a room in Amsterdam. Besides these six interviewees, I discussed the topic with two other students who were struggling to find a room at the time of my research; I found their experiences to be very similar to those my interviewees went through.

Research findings

“Appearance and personality” was the most common answer my respondents gave to the question ‘what does it take to get chosen as the new tenant of a room?’ I noticed that this question really made them enthusiastic; they sat up, laughed and started a speech on how ‘nice’ or ‘cool’ you need to be to get a room. All of them mentioned to have paid extra attention to their appearance, like clothing, hairdo or makeup, on the night of a viewing. Interviewee 3 told me: “you have to be social and you are probably getting judged on your appearance, so it totally depends on what they like and you have to apply to their taste […] you only have one moment to shine”. This suggests people who are renting out a room are extremely picky in terms of personality and appearance, but who can blame them? They usually have the option of choosing between 250 persons, so how are they supposed to be ‘not picky’?

Being picky about appearance or personality looks a lot like discrimination, but now I’ve done my research I have a hard time really calling it that. In a sense, it is discrimination, because they are literally treating one person differently from another. But there are simply too many students wanting to rent a room, so how is it even possible for the ‘landlords’ to be objective. In terms of personality or behaviour I would like to cite interviewee 4, who made me laugh hard with her answer to the question above:

You need to be nice, actually you need to be so nice that it seems fake to you, but it shouldn’t look fake to them. So, you should pay attention on coming across sincere, although you are secretly exaggerating how nice you are. You cannot be boring either […] What is really important is that you adapt to what they like, but you shouldn’t nod at everything they say either because it is important that you show them that you are independent as well. It really depends on the people and it can be different at every viewing. Some people want a super spontaneous new roommate and others prefer a calm roommate, you never know. Every viewing is a new adventure where you must adapt to the situation and the people.

All the contradictions on how to behave made me think of Goffman’s dramaturgical theory of everyday performance. Goffman states that every individual is an actor, who prepares his role at a backstage (e.g. the bedroom or other private place) and performs it at the front stage (the viewing). He points out that life is all about impressing others (Ritzer, 2011). Amusing situations aside, it also proves the seriousness of the problem of student housing in Amsterdam. It is almost impossible for any individual to meet all the requirements asked for, let alone people who are introvert or shy.

In order to get invited to this kind of test, one should write a fantastic email or Facebook message in response to the advert. Interviewee 6 told me he had spent over two hours putting up a standard message, even though he had to adapt it a little every time he sends it to a new advert:

I wrote a message on how nice, how good of a cook I am and how I love to clean the house […] apart from that you really have to stand out, so for example, you send a picture with the message if you are really good looking, or you make funny jokes in the message.

Besides writing a great message, one should also pay attention to the impression made on one’s Facebook profile. My interviewees were one hundred percent certain that future ‘landlords’ will check out the candidates’ Facebook before inviting them to a viewing. Interviewee 1 mentioned:

Well, my brother for example, he is a really great, spontaneous and good looking boy, but his Facebook profile does not show that at all […] so he probably comes along very boring and I guess people would never invite him to a viewing because of that.

Evidently, then, searching a room through Facebook is not for everybody. Because of this and the effort it takes to get a room, all my interviewees agreed on the fact that it is easiest to get a room in Amsterdam via others. But this is only feasible for students who already have an extensive social network in Amsterdam.

This makes it all the harder for international students. I interviewed three international students and found that the process of renting a room in Amsterdam takes them much longer even than it does for Dutch students. All three international students had to find temporary shelter when their studies started, before finding a proper room. Interviewee 1 stayed at a friends’ house for three weeks before he got a room for himself, interviewee 2 rented two different Airbnb’s for a month before getting a room herself, and interviewee 5 stayed in a hostel for about five weeks. Furthermore, interviewees 1 and 2 experienced discrimination, as they came across many adverts that required them to speak Dutch, and they did not speak Dutch very well at the point of searching a room. Interestingly, interviewee 5, who is from Belgium, experienced discrimination in a different manner. Since she speaks Flemish, which of course Dutch people can understand, she did not have trouble with the language requirement. Rather, she experienced discrimination in the fact that many adverts demand that the candidates have a life of their own in Amsterdam, so that they would not be dependent on the roommates. Since she did not know a single person in Amsterdam just yet, so she knew she would be home a lot of the time, she did not dare to respond to adverts that demanded the ‘life of your own’.

These international students thus experienced a stage of ‘waithood’, having to wait to dive into the process of transition to adulthood (Muldering, 2013). Nothing is more adultlike than to go and live on one’s own, but these students had to wait for that. Contradictory to this, I feel this whole process of renting a room helps them develop in becoming an adult. Renting a room and everything that comes with it is something they never had to worry about before, because shelter is something their parents provided for them. Interviewee 5 had lived on her own before in Belgium, but one of her friends’ parents bought that house for her and three friends. So, finding a room there was not a problem at all. She said:

Renting a room in Amsterdam, and especially having to stay in hostels before that, really made me realise what comes to living on your own […] this was so hard compared to [my experience in] Belgium.


The process of renting a room in Amsterdam can be intense. My research findings further suggest that a form of discrimination does play a role in the process of student housing. By this I mean discrimination on the basis of gender, age, personality, appearance, lifestyle or language. Most of this discrimination occurs at the very beginning of the process, namely through the requirements found in the Facebook adverts. In most cases these adverts ask for girls, who are nearly finished with their study, speak Dutch, and have a ‘life of their own’ in Amsterdam. Personality and appearance are being ‘tested’ by the landlords through the messages to these adverts and the viewings. It is best to act very social and outgoing at viewings. Yet it is extremely difficult for students to stand out like that and get chosen for a room. There are simply too many students searching for a room in Amsterdam, which allows landlords to be picky and discriminating. I interviewed only white middle class students, and thus I am not able to say anything about discrimination on race. Therefore, my recommendation for future researchers would be to do interviews with people from different backgrounds. At this moment students have to come up with alternatives, like staying at hostels, friends’ houses or Airbnb’s. Of course, this is undesirable situation and much too expensive for students, who after all do not have a lot of money.

Concluding, there is indeed discrimination in the process of renting a room and there is not much students can do about it. Throughout this research, I got the strong feeling that all of this would be different if there were more student rooms, because we simply cannot expect landlords to be objective when choosing a new roommate out of 250. I feel like the Amsterdam government could and should try to realize this. After all it is extremely important that every youngster on this planet has shelter and gets the opportunity of developing themselves into an adult. For now, Amsterdam students respond to each and every advert on Facebook, take time in writing a nice message and do everything they can to leave a good impression at viewings. As interviewee 4 put it: Be strong, do not give up and most of all, be ‘so nice that it seems fake to you’!


Allison, A. (2012). Ordinary refugees: Social precarity and soul in 21st century Japan. Anthropological       Quarterly, 85, 345-370.

Arnett, J.J. (2004). A longer road to adulthood. In Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties (pp. 3-26). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barone, S. (2016). Fragile scenes, fractured communities: Tunisian metal and sceneness. Journal of Youth Studies, 19, 20-35.

Muldering, M. Ch. (2013). An uncertain future: Youth frustration and the Arab Spring. Pardee Papers, Boston University Pardee Center for the Study of the Long-Range Future, No. 16.

Ritzer, G. (2011). Sociological theory. New York: McGraw-Hill (pp. 218-219).

Zoekt kamer in Amsterdam community (2016, december 11).

Global Youth Papers

Kirsten Gutter

Few people don’t know that I have been playing water polo since I was 8 years old. In fact, the first thing people often know about me is the fact that I’m a water polo freak. That’s how much water polo means to me. Over the years, it has become such a huge part of my life, that I can state that I have two social lives: college and water polo. When I’m not at university, I’m either with my college friends doing some homework, or with my water polo friends at the swimming pool. When I was younger, people at school often called me crazy, telling me I needed to rest and needed to have a day off. It didn’t make sense to me. After a long day at school, all I wanted to do was just be with my friends at the swimming pool and play water polo! Why couldn’t they understand that?

Now that I’m older, I can understand why they always told me that. They just didn’t know what it means, dedicating such a huge part of your life to doing what you love most. They didn’t know about the other kids in my water polo team who were at the swimming pool every day. It often frustrated me that they just wouldn’t understand me. That’s why I loved being with my water polo friends even more. They knew what it was like, we all understood each other.

My team was great. We were all close friends and liked being together so much that we even saw each other in our spare time. Most of us still play water polo and we often see each other at the swimming pool. Although we are no longer together as a team, we will always have a special connection, remembering the times when we had so much fun. These days, most of us play water polo as a hobby, giving priority to work or school. But two of my former team mates still consider water polo their main priority. They train every day during a regular school week and often even give priority to water polo over school. They are part of the Dutch female water polo team under 19, which won the gold medal in the European Championship under 19 tournament in the summer of 2016.

When I think about what I had to sacrifice when I was younger, I almost can’t imagine what it’s like for these girls, dedicating their whole life to water polo. The people in my class back in the days couldn’t even understand me, let alone that people can understand these girls. Therefore, this research paper is about their (and their team’s) lives as gold medal winners: How does the collective experience of the Dutch female water polo team under 19 of 2016 contribute to their success story and their personal attachments? It focuses on how they’ve experienced being a professional water polo player and what role the team has played in this. Based on these experiences, it tries to understand how they’ve changed individually during this journey, how they stayed motivated to dedicate a huge part of their daily lives to water polo, and which factors contributed to their success.

Two girls were interviewed: Hester and Sarah. To guarantee their privacy, these are not their actual names. Hester, who was 15 years old during this research, has been a member of several Dutch youth water polo teams before she was chosen to be part of this one. She didn’t make the tournament but still has gone through almost the entire process. Sarah, who was 18 years old during this research, has been playing water polo ever since she could swim. In 2015, she was selected for the Dutch Olympic team but the team missed the Olympic Games the following year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I know the girls personally, which made them talk about their experiences relatively easily and made me understand their stories better. Although I have never played water polo professionally, in many ways I could relate to what they were telling me. Therefore, this research is partly based on some of my own thoughts and experiences. Sometimes reference will be made to them, to show where my interpretation might be guided by my own involvement.

I will begin with a detailed description of the team. What does a day in the life of a professional water polo player look like? Next, I will discuss what motivated them to sacrifice so much to be professional water polo players and what role has the team played in this? I will end with how this experience changed them as a person.

One team, one dream

These girls’ individual water polo journeys started years ago. They were part of several Dutch water polo teams before they joined this one. The first time they were chosen to be part of a national team, I was still part of the same team as Sarah (she was thus part of two teams). When I first heard about it, I wasn’t surprised at all. I was happy for her because I knew this was what she had always wanted.

From the very first moment I got to know these girls, I knew they were destined for something bigger. Both girls were so talented and very ambitious. I liked water polo and definitely had to sacrifice a lot of my time, but these girls were different. My teammates and I sometimes had to cancel a training because of school, but these girls were always present. Even then, when we were just kids playing water polo for fun.

At the time, the first step to a professional water polo career was WOCNH (Waterpolo Opleidings Centrum Noord Holland), a training centre for selected girls and boys in several age categories in the province of North Holland. For me, this was the first and only step towards a professional water polo career I took with them. We trained every Sunday for 2 to 3 hours. I loved that I was chosen and that I finally was part of something special in the water polo world, but I hated the training and to sacrifice my relaxed Sunday with my family for it. That’s why I quit early, the thought of being part of a special team wasn’t enough to keep me going. But these girls continued, they made the team and it was the start of their ultimate dream: to join the national female water polo team.

Shortly before this research took place, these girls were part of the Dutch female team under 19 that won the gold medal in the European Championship under 19 tournament in the summer of 2016, which means that they were almost living their dream. They were now dedicating their lives to water polo at a whole other level. The team was together for about one whole year (2016). Some of them have been training together for about six years, but they started training as a team at the beginning of 2016. During that year, Sarah’s weekly schedule consisted almost entirely of water polo. Four days a week she had to get up early to drive to the training centre with some of her teammates who lived nearby. Sometimes one of their mothers drove them, since they didn’t have their driver’s license yet. On Sundays she usually had a day off and the remaining two days were filled with training and matches with her team at her original water polo club. Although she was 18 years old and hadn’t finished high school yet, she fully focused on water polo and stopped going to school for a while.

During the summer of 2016, to prepare for the tournament, their schedules became even more professional. During the school year, not everyone could cancel school for training. So when school was finally over, the team started training five and sometimes six days a week. Hester told me about their daily schedule:

“In the mornings we did weight training for one and a half hour, then we got to rest for about fifteen minutes. Afterwards we got in the water for one and a half hour, then rest again for about two or three hours and then back in the water again for the last two hours. Really all day nothing but training. Only on Wednesdays we had the afternoon off. Oh and on Saturdays and Sundays of course.”

Training five to six hours a day and getting some rest in between shows that their weeks during that summer were filled with training. Some of them even stayed the whole week because they had to travel too far. They lived by the saying almost every water polo player (in the Netherlands) knows: “Water polo [is] a way of life”.

Both girls mentioned how close they were as a team. During the summer, they all got to know each other well and Hester told me that they really became friends. They liked being together so much that some girls spent more time together after a long training day. When I asked why they became good friends, Hester and Sarah both mentioned the goal they all shared. Everyone wanted to win the gold medal at the tournament. Moreover, they all understood each other. Hester told me that she could finally be her true self. At school, as I also experienced, she felt like no one understood her:

“Here, I am a different person than I am at school, because at school I am much more quiet because… At school everyone has different priorities, everyone goes to parties, drinks alcohol and smokes… But I absolutely don’t do that because I’m focused on water polo and at school nobody is. Here [with the team] I can totally be myself and at school I sometimes can’t talk about certain topics [with her friends at school] because I can’t relate to them.”

Hester points out their shared identities by telling that, in comparison with the people at school, the girls in this team can talk about relatable topics with each other. At school, everyone has their own hobbies and their own (conflicting) personalities. But everyone in this team shared the same dreams: to win the gold medal (together) in the short-term, and to become a professional water polo player in the long-term. They all knew what it’s like to sacrifice a huge part of their life to try to fulfill their dreams and that is what made them so close. Thus, the team provided a sense of belonging; they were finally surrounded by the people they have so much in common with.

Perhaps owing to this sense of belonging, they didn’t feel any competition between them, despite the fact that they started with fifteen girls but could only play the tournament with thirteen. While twelve of them knew from the start that they would make the team, three girls had to compete for the remaining position. Hester was one of them, yet she told me that there wasn’t any competition between them, because they cared about each other and knew how much they all wanted this.

The cohesion based on their shared goals and their shared understanding can be seen as a form of mechanical solidarity, a concept by Durkheim, which is solidarity based on similarities between people (Ritzer, 2014). It is this type of solidarity these girls showed. They not only shared the same goal, they also understood each other as a result of going through the same process. Although Durkheim states that in modern society people unify because of differences between them (organic solidarity), this shows that mechanical solidarity still exists nowadays.

Moreover, the team as a basis of a sense of belonging is in line with other studies about sport teams (Chin, 2016; Walseth, 2006; Spaaij, 2015). Sport teams can, for example, create feelings of belonging within minority groups by providing social support, by creating feelings of reciprocity and by creating feelings of identity confirmation (Walseth, 2006). Although the girls in this team aren’t a minority group as they are all white middle-class youth, the reasons for their feelings of belonging are similar. The minority group created a ‘we’ feeling through shared identities based on practicing the same sport (identity confirmation) (Walseth, 2006). This is exactly what Hester described; their shared identities are based on everyone being professional water polo players.

But this is not just a function of a sport team. Other youth groups can, for example by listening to the same music together, also provide a sense of connection (O’Brien, 2013). This shows, once again, that a feeling of belonging is constructed by shared activities. This team thus provided a sense of belonging as a result of spending the majority of their time playing water polo together, which resulted in shared identities.


My greatest motivation back in the days was the team. I loved water polo, but I loved it even more because of the fun we had. We played several Dutch Championships and of course, that was a great motivator. Thinking about being number one in your own country makes you want to train even harder. But I still could not have done it without my team. That was also one of the reasons why I stopped training at the WOCNH, as mentioned previously. I only knew some of these girls and even after a few weeks I still didn’t feel like I was a part of the team since we didn’t get along very well.

My own story shows that one goal is not enough to keep you going. So with this in mind, I asked the girls about their motivation to keep going. Dedicating your whole life to water polo is difficult, especially when you’re young and when you’re at the age of possibilities since many opportunities to change your future remain open (Arnett, 2004). So what makes them want to continue?

In analysing this strong dedication, I use a framework provided by Ryan and Deci (2000). They distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from within: an individual wants to do something because it is amusing of satisfying. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from the outside: an individual wants to do something because it is rewarding. While intrinsic motivation is important, it is certainly not the most prominent. In my research I found that both types motivated these girls to achieve their goals and that the distinction is not as clear as it may seem.

As stated earlier, these girls shared two dreams: to win the gold medal and to become a part of the Dutch Olympic team when they are older. Both are extrinsic motivators. Their gold medal is a reward for all their hard work. Hester mentioned: “Precisely because we’ve been training for so long, precisely because we have been working towards our goal, we can keep going. You really work towards the tournament.” And Sarah told me: “That goal is very important. More important than your whole summer”. Besides, while Sarah is already part of the Dutch Olympic team, this team brought Hester (and the other girls) a bit closer to her ultimate dream. It can therefore be seen as a form of extrinsic motivation through identification (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Hester knew she had to go through this to get a chance to fulfill her dream, so she identified with the importance of her behaviour.

Their shared dream was only one of three motivators. The second motivator is important; it’s intrinsic. Hester mentioned that she liked to be around the girls:

H: “Being there for each other, to support each other when things get you down and telling each other that we can do this and that we will go for it together when someone is having a tough time… that’s a thing in team sports. Because if you ice skate for example, and you really don’t feel like going to the training, there’s no one to motivate you. And in a team, you tell each other that you all can do it.”

Me: “Has the team made it [this experience] more enjoyable?”

H: “Yes, without a doubt. I don’t think I could train on my own the whole summer. That’s just it…. I can do this, because I like it so much. I like it with these girls. That’s it especially, I just…. I often don’t feel like going to the training again. But as soon as I’m there, as soon as I’m with the girls I think, yes! This is fun!”.

Hester explains how important the team was to keep them going. She could not have trained on her own the whole summer; she needed the team to accomplish this. She further states that they supported each other by expressing their faith in each other and by emphasizing that they would accomplish their goals together. Moreover, the girls became close friends and just enjoyed being together. The training was not just about training, but about hanging out with each other. Sarah also mentioned that during the summer, they sometimes felt like everyone in the country was enjoying the hot summer days on the beach, while they were inside all day. But to her it was fine because she was with the girls; the fact that they were in this together made them forget about the downsides of sacrificing a summer. For Hester, who didn’t make the team in the end, it was the reason that she would do this all over again:

Me: “Would you do this all over again?”

H: “Yes, without a doubt [She smiles]! I think it’s nice to see that a group of girls all have the same goal, that they want to achieve that together and now…. in the end they win the gold medal. That’s of course the greatest thing ever. And if you win that… then… yeah they just did it you know. You really have that feeling like… I can’t really describe it. It’s just really beautiful.

Me: “Proud?”

H: “Yes! Very, very proud.”

The fact that Hester would sacrifice so much again, even if she knew she wasn’t going to make the team, shows how close these girls were. She’s proud to have been a part of this team. Thus, the second motivator was the team itself and this is an intrinsic motivator, since it’s not about any reward. It’s about being together and enjoying the solidarity and sense of belonging.

The third motivator was again an external one: these girls established a strong reciprocal relationship. They knew that they could only get through this together. Water polo is a team sport; you can’t win a gold medal on your own. Everyone in a team is important since everyone has her own tasks during a match. Winning a game is not a result of a talented individual player, but of the whole team working together. This is something the girls began to realise by training together for a long time, discovering everyone’s individual talents and by having faith in each other. This realisation entailed an introjected regulation, a form of extrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). There was a certain amount of pressure to behave as desired to avoid feelings of guilt. By not showing up on a training or by breaking the rules these girls not only let themselves down, but also their teammates. Everyone had to develop their own talents in order to make the team as a whole preform at its best. So they knew that they all, individually, had a major influence on the fulfillment of their collective dreams, realising that each team member can make a difference.

Thus, because of the cohesion, these girls developed a reciprocal relationship, which increased their cohesion. This didn’t happen overnight; Hester mentioned that there used to be some problems before they could work in unison. Some girls liked to party on the weekends, which was strongly frowned upon. The team talked to them and they slowly came to the realisation that their behaviour influenced the whole team, which made them stop the undesired behaviour.

These reciprocal relationships were a very important aspect of this particular team, because Hester and Sarah both mentioned that such relationships barely existed in their club teams. Both girls didn’t share their dreams with their teammates from the club. They played water polo for fun and didn’t sacrifice as much. Cancelling a training was allowed and happened rather often. Thus, in the club team, there was less cohesion, which meant that there was less reciprocity, which lessened the cohesion.

The extrinsic and intrinsic motivators overlap. First of all, the intrinsic motivator was an important one. Hester showed that it was a motivator in itself, but it also strengthened the second extrinsic motivator: the reciprocal relationship. It they weren’t such great friends the feelings of guilt wouldn’t have been as strong. Moreover, their shared goal (the first extrinsic motivator) was one of the initial reasons for becoming so close. But it was impossible to fulfill this dream without everybody working hard for it, so the reciprocal relationship was needed to keep them motivated. Moreover, this relationship increased their cohesion even more. Thus, because these motivators were mutually reinforcing, it can be stated that all motivators were needed to keep these girls going. These motivators contributed to the cohesion and thereby to the sense of belonging. One motivator was the cohesion itself, but the other two, the reciprocal relationships and their shared goals, contributed to the cohesion in the way that they created commonalities between the girls and that they supported cooperation.

Individual learning process

Before I started this research, I thought a lot about who I was. While writing this, I still don’t know who I truly am, but I do know that water polo has mostly made me the person I am today. The people, the disappointments, the victories, the hard times; I learned a lot from it. I learned that not everything will always go as planned and that sometimes things go wrong, but that this doesn’t mean that you have failed. Especially these harder times taught me how to handle disappointments and how to respect other’s individual way of handling these things. It can be stated that water polo has become a huge part of my identity, even though I just played it for fun. That’s one of the reasons why I asked the girls about how this experience changed them.

The other reason is that during their journey, all girls were between 15 and 19 years old, which means that they were at the age of identity formation (Gray, 2014; Arnett, 2004). According to Erikson, adolescence is the period when adolescents give up their childhood identity and form a new identity, which may cause an identity crisis (Erikson, [1968]; discussed in Gray, 2014, pp. 483). Arnett (2004), on the other hand, states that identity formation takes place during emerging adulthood, the period between adolescence and adulthood. This particular period is one of trying out various possibilities, which influences the emerging adult’s identity. Moreover, forming an identity is mostly a social process (Best, 2011). Goffman (as discussed in Best, 2011) states that one’s personal identity is formed by one’s social identity.

Another relevant theory for this section is Goffman’s frontstage and backstage theory (Goffman, 1956/2012; Ritzer, 2014). He states that people want to present themselves in a certain way (a presentation that will be accepted in the particular situation) by suppressing certain facts that don’t fit the situation (Ritzer, 2014). This is part of what he calls the front: “that part of the individual’s performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance” (Goffman, 1956/2012, pp. 49). In contrast to the frontstage, there is the backstage (Ritzer, 2014). The suppressed facts may show up here, because there is no need to perform at the backstage. Goffman further states that this performance influences the self: “In the end, our conception of our role becomes second nature and an integral part of our personality. We come into the world as individuals, achieve character, and become persons (Goffman, 1956/2012, pp.48).

The distinction between the frontstage and backstage, as well as the social aspect of identity formation, are closely related to the girls’ experiences. Because of the high team cohesion, this team was a backstage and frontstage at the same time. As stated earlier, Hester could finally be herself around the girls. She further explained:

I feel like I’m really a part of this team, that I can do something, that I’m good at something. Therefore, I am more confident here than at school, here everyone respects each other because everyone’s good at this”.

Thus, Hester felt respected here. She felt confident around these girls and therefore felt like she could be her true self. She didn’t have to hide her feelings, because the team understood her, unlike her friends at school. In Goffman’s terms, she didn’t have to suppress certain facts about herself here, which made the team function as a backstage.

But the team also operated as a frontstage. Sarah had to play the role of a leader. She was among the oldest and most experienced players, so she had to lead the younger and less experienced players. Sarah named it a role herself because she had to, it was a task assigned to her. And to fulfil a task properly, it is sometimes needed to hide feelings or personality traits (Ritzer, 2014), which makes this a performance (and thus a frontstage). But not only Sarah played a role. These girls had to be professional. They had to follow the rules, and sometimes had to set aside their emotions in order to keep functioning as a cohesive team. When things went wrong during matches for example, they couldn’t just give in to their emotions (like anger towards themselves or another player for making a mistake), but had to stay focused in order to perform at their best.

Both Hester and Sarah considered this positive: both learned from what happened at the frontstage. The age gap between the oldest and the youngest girls was relatively big: Hester and Sarah were respectively 15 and 18 years old. Hester considered this difficult at first: “I got pushed to talk to these older girls when I didn’t really know them”. But as soon as she got to know them, she learned from it; she now easily talks to people who are older than she is, especially in her team at her club. The age gap there is even bigger; some girls are above the age of 25, but Hester now talks to them more easily than she did before. Sarah experienced it in a similar way: because of her leading role, she felt like she became more extrovert. Thus, Sarah’s role became part of her personality.

This experience made Hester and Sarah stronger. They stated that they now have more perseverance, because they’ve experienced that they can push themselves to their limits. I already knew that they had much more perseverance than me, which was the reason I quit while they continued, but apparently the experience heightened their perseverance even more. Hester stated that this was also needed to make the team; giving up is never an option when you want to fulfill your dream. This led Hester to mention another crucial point: their similar personalities. They shared not only a goal, but also some personality traits. Not only perseverance was needed, but extroversion and ambition were crucial too. Without an ambitious personality, the girls would have never made the team as their goals could not be fulfilled within a short period of time.

Hester’s statement about her increased perseverance shows that existing personality traits were strengthened during their journey. Both Hester and Sarah also admitted that they already were extrovert. They didn’t consider themselves shy when they started this journey, but, as mentioned, did feel that they became more extrovert. So perseverance and extroversion were not only needed to make the team, but these shared personality traits were also strengthened during this experience as a result of it being the desired behaviour. Nevertheless, Sarah also stated that it’s very important to have different personalities in a team:

“You need opposites in a team. (…) There are negative and positive people, and if you look at everything positively, you won’t improve yourself. And if you look at everything negatively, you won’t improve yourself either. But if you sometimes look at things negatively and sometimes positively, you can improve yourself. You really learn from that. I experienced that myself. (…) I have experienced this personally, in my daily life. I look at things differently when I’ve been with the team. Because I notice that whenever I’ve been with Jong Oranje [Dutch Youth team] I look at things differently than when I’ve been with my team at the water polo club. These are very little differences, but I do change. (…) I have an example: because of the team [the Olympic team] missing the Olympic games, I became negative, I got into a downward spiral. I became very negative, a little too negative. And when I got back with the girls, I became a lot more positive because they told me to stop.”

Sarah tried to learn from the opposite personalities in her team by finding a way between positivity and negativity in order to improve herself. Sarah acknowledged that they all needed perseverance and ambition to keep going, but still stressed the importance of having opposites in one team to learn from. She continued:

“I now know what my weaknesses and strengths are, for water polo but also in my daily life. I can be quite hard on myself and on others, and my friend confronted me with that this summer. I sometimes… I expect a lot from myself and sometimes I can, unconsciously, expect the same from others. But if they are having a hard time, they can’t meet these expectations. They might feel like they have let me down then, when the opposite is true. (…) I now have a better understanding of who I am.”

This reveals a lot. First of all, note how she calls her teammate a friend. Second, the fact that her friend confronted her with her behaviour shows that they were utterly honest with each other, which allowed them to learn from their behaviour and gain a better understanding of themselves. This shows once again how close these girls were and how this played a huge role, also in their learning process.


The Dutch female water polo team under 19 of 2016 showed great team cohesion as a result of the sense of belonging, which kept them motivated and played an important role in their individual learning processes. Their shared goal to become a professional water polo player and to win the gold medal during the tournament was a huge motivator, which further strengthened the team cohesion. They realised they could only accomplish this together. This laid the foundation for the two other, closely linked, motivators: the team itself and their reciprocal relationships. The team turned out to be a central intrinsic motivator; these girls simply liked to be together and became close friends. This friendship established a strong reciprocal relationship, which was the second external motivator. To not devote all they had to their goal resulted in guilty feelings towards each other. This shows that extrinsic and intrinsic motivators overlap and influence one another.

Moreover, the girls’ shared feelings and experiences and their mutual respect made the team a place where they could be their true self, which made the team function as a backstage. They finally were surrounded by people that share the same feelings about water polo, the team provided a sense of belonging. But at the same time the team functioned as a frontstage, as they all had to play certain roles to make the team function like a real, professional team that could win the gold medal.

To make the team, they had to possess certain personality traits: perseverance, ambition and extroversion. It can be stated that these traits were strengthened during the experience, because of the desired behaviour. They are now more extrovert, as they felt they had no other option, they needed to be honest and tell each other everything in order to become and stay close. Moreover, they gained more perseverance as this experience pushed them to their limits. But the individual characters in this team also differed. This has proven to be desired, since this allowed them to learn from each other and about themselves.

The mechanical solidarity which these girls attest to is of particular importance in a broader context. This research illustrates one way in which youth seek togetherness in contemporary neoliberal and individualistic society (Ritzer, 2014). The team as an intrinsic motivator for providing a sense of belonging demonstrates how important it is for these young people to experience togetherness. Their experiences show that finding similarities between people can be an effective way of creating a strong sense of solidarity, even in this individualistic society.

Thus, in all aspects of this research, the team cohesion proved to be a key factor. It contributed to a safe environment where these girls could be themselves, which allowed them to improve themselves and made them more aware of themselves. It also made this experience a very positive one by keeping the girls motivated, which contributed to their successful story of winning the gold medal. It can be stated that this was a life-changing experience, since they fulfilled their shared dream, got a little closer to their other, more individual dream of being a part of the Dutch Olympic Team and since it was an individual learning process.

In the introduction I stated that water polo is a huge part of my life and that I am happy to share this with others. This feeling became even stronger during this research. Although I’m not a professional and probably won’t ever be (as I also came to realise during this research), I am proud to be a part of this community and share the love for this sport with these girls. Therefore, the sense of belonging is something not only these girls share, but I share with them too. Events like this, when people you know achieve something that’s not only important to them, but also to you (in a way that you are a part of the community) makes you realise how beautiful it is to be a part of a community like this. This research made me realise that I should never give up on something that has been a such a huge part of my life and I want to thank these girls for that.

(Written for Youth Cultures in a Transnational Context)


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Global Youth Papers

Sanne Kroon

Social media: many teenagers grew up with it. Facebook, SnapChat and Instagram slowly became an important part of their daily lives. As an 18-year-old respondent mentioned during our interview: “Though it might sound sad, I think it’s true; I’m pretty sure we can’t live without it anymore.”

It is fascinating that many people are willing to share their lives on social media; sometimes even strangers are allowed to see what users are doing at a particular moment. I saw many of my friends (mostly girls) being constantly active on popular sites like Facebook or Instagram. This made me wonder about the influence of social media on their lives. If it plays such a big role in their everyday lives, then what is its impact on, for example, their self-esteem? Perhaps they experience insecurities when they don’t get rewarding feedback from peers when posting something on their profile, or they feel the need to change their behaviour and appearances when seeing beautiful pictures from other girls. How important is it for teenage girls to represent themselves well to others? Are others’ opinions important for them?

Social media such as Facebook are often perceived as an environment that provides social support and positive reinforcement (PsychCentral, 2016). But what are the downsides to these platforms? What happens when people do have bad experiences with it, such as negative interactions? What are the risks of using it? In this paper, I am specifically interested in young teenage girls in the age category of 16-19 years. To what extent do they feel pressure due to social media? And are the younger girls more likely to struggle with insecurities, or conversely, are the older girls more sensitive to that?

My first reason for focusing on this particular group, is that teenage girls can be seen as a vulnerable group. The teenage years are crucial for girls in developing an identity of their own. This process of forming an identity can be a difficult one. As Ollech and McCarthy (1997) point out, girls experience a greater increase in anxiety, conflict, shame and self-doubt when faced with choice, in comparison with boys. Besides, we often hear stories that the internet can be a dangerous place for these girls. Not only because they can get in touch with people they don’t even know, but also because of the fact that that they might experience bullying, misunderstandings and meanness. But is this even true, according to these girls? Maybe they don’t see any dangers at all.

Secondly, this group is most active on various forms of social media. According to CBS, the Dutch Bureau of Statistics, girls spend much more time on social media than boys. So, for many young girls, social media play an important role in their lives. Another important conclusion was that most girls are very sensitive to rewarding feedback from peers; much more sensitive than boys (CBS, 2015). In my research I examined whether it is really true that their self-esteem gets a little boost when they receive many comments or likes on a picture or video posted on their profile. And whether it makes them feel insecure when they get negative comments, or whether this doesn’t bother them at all. Another question I wished to examine is how they respond to perfect pictures of good-looking models, so-called ‘fitgirls’ and celebrities. There might be a potential influence of social media on girls’ body dissatisfaction, because of the fact that they compare themselves to these models and celebrities.

Finally, I am part of this specific group myself. So I think it would be interesting to find out what girls who are (more or less) of the same age think and feel about the power of social media. In this paper I will describe teenage girls’ experiences and perceptions of social media. How do they act and feel, when they are (not) happy with the amount of attention they received on a particular post? How do they respond to positive and/or negative comments?  I will also describe how they respond to the constant exposure to beautiful pictures of others.

The research

To collect my data, I interviewed five teenage girls. I wanted to get in touch with girls of different ages, to see if there are differences between them, so eventually I interviewed 16-year-old Emily (I use pseudonyms to guarantee their anonymity), 17-year-old Monique, 18-year-old Nina, 19-year old Hanah and 19-year-old Sophie. Emily and Nina live in a city; the other respondents live in a close-knit village. All the interviews took about 30 to 40 minutes. I wanted the interviews to take place in a private setting, so I invited my respondents to my place or I went to theirs, if they asked me to. I was able to do so, because I selected respondents whom I already knew. As this can be considered a sensitive topic, I made sure no other people were in the same room during the interview, in order to create a setting in which they felt comfortable to talk freely. I tried to let them tell me a story about their experiences, and not to interrupt. While I had prepared some questions beforehand, I chose not to work through these questions, but tried to have a natural conversation with my respondents. I think that it was to the benefit of my research that I already knew my respondents, because sometimes it is more difficult to talk to a stranger about personal insecurities or feelings, than to talk about this to someone they already know.

I noticed that most of the girls found it an interesting topic to talk about, because social media is indeed an important part of their daily lives. Every day, they spend much time checking their Timeline. I was slightly shocked by what my 17-year-old respondent said. She admitted, while giggling, that social media is a very important part of her daily life: she spends four hours a day on social media. Her giggling made me think she was a little ashamed to admit that. Surprisingly, as it seems contradictory, this was also the girl who felt that social media has no influence whatsoever on her actions, thoughts and feelings. During the interviews I further noticed that, after the introduction and some easy and common questions, once I started to ask sensitive questions (for example about their insecurities and their self-esteem) some of my respondents, especially those I didn’t know very well, at first started to act a little detached. Some of them tried, for example, to avoid those questions. This reaction is of course understandable, and I had expected it beforehand. Therefore, I prepared vignette questions, in order to circumvent possible unease about sensitive issues. I told them to imagine a certain situation, and asked what they would do, or how they would feel if something like that happened to them. I noticed that it was easier for my respondents to answer these kinds of questions honestly, than answering questions which were about events that happened to them in ‘real life’.  This method certainly helped to obtain information about situations which were considered awkward and painful.

‘How do you represent yourself?”

The first question I asked all my respondents, was what kind of platforms of social media they currently use. It turned out that all of them used Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. Second, I asked them how much time they spend on social media per day. How active are they exactly? What stood out to me, was the fact that social media play a bigger role in the lives of the younger girls; they spend much more time checking their timeline than the older girls I interviewed. For example, while 17-year-old Monique admitted that she’s active on social media about four hours a day, 16-year-old Emily said she checks her timeline about 3 hours a day. I see a significant difference when I compare this to the social media use of 18-year-old Nina, 19-year-old Sophie and 19-year-old Hanah; they all told me that they are active on social media for about 1,5 hours a day.

I was also curious what my respondents exactly post on social media. So I asked them if they only post pictures and video’s, or whether they also ‘inform’ their friends and followers what keeps them busy, and how they live their lives. In other words: in what way do they represent themselves to others? Most respondents answered that they only post pictures or videos.  I also asked them what kind of pictures and videos they post on their profile. How do they want others to see them? Do they, for example, only upload pictures, videos or posts of nice and pleasant events in their lives?  By ‘nice and pleasent events’ I mean, for example, pictures of themselves when having fun at a party, or enjoying a vacation. It is also possible that they do not only post pictures of nice events, but also show others their activities on a regular day. The former seemed the case with most of my respondents. As 19-year-old Sophie said:

I only post pictures of special occasions and nice events. When I’m going out with my friends for example. You want others to think you’re living a nice life. Or at least, I do.”

This idea of ‘showing others you’re living a nice life’, can be linked to Erving Goffman’s theory about the Presentation of the Self (Ritzer, 2014). People try to influence (and even manipulate) other people’s opinions about them. They want to impress others and in order to do so, they try to present themselves in a good way. They are performing, and therefore constantly play roles, sometimes even try to show characteristics which they don’t even have. This is called ‘impression management’: they want others to like them, and so they modify (consciously and unconsciously) their behaviour according to the real or imagined audience (Ritzer, 2014). This can also explain why many girls edit their photo by, for instance, applying an effect to it, or using a filter; to make it look more beautiful than it really is, in order to make a good impression on other people. This brings me to my next concept.

‘What do you think of my picture?’

Although not all girls mentioned it explicitly, I noticed that most of them found other people’s opinions very important. Some of them explained that they sometimes ask their friends’ opinions before posting a picture or video on social media. They said they think very well before posting a picture or video, because they have to be completely sure about it. They don’t want others to talk about them behind their backs. They want social approval.  As 19-year old Hanah said during our interview:

“I don’t want to be the talk of the town. That’s why I never post ‘risky’ pictures, like selfies, or other photos of myself. I don’t want others to think I’m full of myself or something. Typically, I only post pictures with my friends, and I only post it when I’m completely sure I look nice on it. I try to avoid gossip and negative stereotypes.”

These concerns can be linked to the problem of social pressure. In order to be accepted, and to be part of a group, individuals have to live up to certain expectations and judgements. If they fail to do so, there is a chance that they will be rejected by other members of the group. They can be excluded, and therefore no longer be part of the group; they become outsiders (Gray & Bjorklund, 2014). This also relates to larger debates in youth cultures studies on the relevance of ‘sense of belonging’; whether people see themselves as part of a group, scene, community or subculture, to be part of a certain group entails living up to certain expectations. People want to form an identity of their own, and be able to distinguish themselves from people from other (sub)groups. They want to show who they are and what is valuable to them.

One interesting finding of my research is that there seemed to be much more anxiety for exclusion and gossip with the respondents who live in a close-knit community. I saw clear differences among the respondents who live in a village, where everybody knows one another, compared with the respondents who live in a city. This anxiety for exclusion and gossip resulted from the strong social cohesion and social control in these communities. During the interviews, the respondents who live in a close-knit village talked more about gossip and stereotypes than Nina and Emily, who live in a city. Hanah, and the other respondents who live in a village, told me that they don’t want others to talk about them. This, for them, is a strong reason to be careful about their social media performance. They only post a picture when they are completely sure about it. The two respondents who live in a city did not even bring up this topic. Thus, feelings of anxiety differ among my respondents, depending on the community they live in.

This made me realize even more that the expectations of people close to a person determine (in a certain way) how one behaves – whether in real life or on social media – and what kind of behaviour is or is not considered permissible in a specific context. The difference I noticed corresponds to Elias and Scotson’s argument in The Established and the Outsiders, in which they analyse the differences between two communities. The one is a close-knit community, in which everyone knows each other (comparable to the village); the other community, or ‘zone’ as they describe it, is completely different, as people with many different ‘roots’ live here. There is no such thing as social cohesion in the latter type of community (comparable to a big city); many people don’t even know each other, and they all have different values. According to Elias and Scotson (1994), this accounts for the difference in the amount of gossip in these two zones, and also what social control can accomplish.

‘Can you like my picture, please?’

What I also tried to find out, is how the girls respond to the number of likes and comments they get. Is it really important to them, to have many likes on a post? And do they delete their post when this is not the case? 19-year-old Sophie came with an interesting answer to this question:

I don’t think it is very important that you get as many likes as possible on a picture you post on Social Media. Like what is the difference when you have 60 or 70 likes? Nothing. But when I get less than 10 likes, I’m asking my friends if they want to like my picture. Like, otherwise it’s kind of shameful. But I would never delete it, once I have posted it. Then everybody has seen it already. That’s even more embarrassing.”

Most of my respondents, irrespective of their age, had more or less the same opinion about this; getting many likes is nice, but it is not their main goal. It is not an obsession for them to get as many likes as possible. But, like Sophie also mentioned, getting almost no likes at all on a post is kind of embarrassing. Sophie told me that she has a way to fix this problem. She sometimes asks her friends for ‘help’. She does this, to avoid ‘these awkward and embarrassing situations’. So she asks her friends to help her (by liking her picture) in order to not make her look like someone ‘who doesn’t have an interesting life’, as she puts it. This made clear to me that Facebook is not just about individual self-presentation. Actually, real-life friends can help with one’s self-presentation. So what I found is that in order to impress others, some girls ask their friends to ‘help’ them. In this way, these friends enable them to present themselves in a ‘better’ way.

Getting few likes or comments can also be a learning process. They wouldn’t post a similar picture in the future, because then it is clear to them that others don’t pay much attention to these kind of posts. As 17-year-old Monique explained to me:

I’m definitely sure that I wouldn’t take the risk again, if such a situation [getting few likes] occurs. I just wouldn’t post such a picture again.’

The same applies to the number of followers on Instagram, or friends on Facebook; it is not that they very badly want to reach thousands  of people; they just want to keep in touch with people they know.  However, they think it is nice and interesting to have many followers, and a bit painful (and embarrassing) to have only a few followers. This is just ‘not done’, as 17-year-old Monique claimed. In other words: having many friends, followers or likes is not considered necessary, but still it is important to them, because having few is perceived as  embarrassing.

Apparently, young people don’t want to feel ashamed. Shame is considered an ugly, negative and painful emotion; an emotion that we often try to avoid (Kristjánsson,2014). When I asked my respondents indirectly (by using a vignette question) if their ego, or self-esteem gets a little boost when they receive many likes or comments, all of them said yes. Sophie mentioned during our conversation: “You get an idea of how other people look at you at that particular moment”. Self-esteem, as Gray and Bjorklund (2014) explain, is one’s feeling of approval, acceptance and liking oneself. They illustrate that we experience self-esteem as deriving from our own judgements about ourselves, but these judgements actually derive primarily from our perceptions of others’ attitudes toward us (Gray & Bjorklund, 2014). This could explain why getting many likes, or positive comments, could be valuable for these young girls. They develop certain perceptions and images of others’ attitudes towards them. And when they get many likes and positive comments on a post, they get the idea that others like them, or find them interesting. This could give their self-esteem a boost, and could help them with developing a confident attitude (Gray & Bjorklund, 2014). But what happens when they get negative comments? How do they feel about that? How do they fix those situations?

I asked the girls to imagine a situation in which they received a negative comment from a friend on a picture. I asked them a vignette question: what would they do? And how would they feel? Most of them answered that they wouldn’t delete it, except when it’s too embarrassing, and don’t want others to see it. Almost all of my respondents answered that they would feel a little uncomfortable, and some of them answered that they even would feel a little insecure. 16-year-old Emily describes:

“I wouldn’t delete it, but I think, depending of course on how ‘bad’ this reaction is, that it can make me feel a little insecure, especially when I wasn’t really sure about that picture or video in the first place. And besides, I really think it depends on who posted that comment. When it is, for instance, not a friend but someone else I don’t know very well; that would make it even more awkward.”

What I also found interesting (and didn’t know before I started this research) is that some of my respondents think carefully about whose picture on Social Media they like and whose not; they have a so called ‘like-strategy’ (an exception of this is 16-year-old Emily, she told me she likes everything she sees). So it is not the case that they only like pictures they actually enjoy. Like Monique explained to me:

“I only like posts of people I know personally, sometimes even without really enjoying it. I just think they deserve those likes. And maybe they will like your picture ‘back’ in the future, as some kind of return. I never like posts of famous people. Like, I think that feels useless; they already have so many likes. You don’t make a difference or something.”

This made me aware of the fact that girls do want to achieve something with their ‘like-strategy’; they use it as some sort of ‘agency’. Like Monique mentioned, she wants to make a difference, so she only likes posts of people she knows personally, who actually ‘need’ it. 18-year-old Nina also told me about this:

“I never like, or post a comment on a picture of someone I don’t like. Those people just don’t deserve it, even if their picture is very beautiful. But when I see a post of one of my friends, I almost immediately like it; that is just what friends do, you know. Besides, I know that they also like my picture most of the time, so I just feel like I have to do that.”

This ‘like-strategy’ reminded me of a psychological phenomenon; the reciprocity norm. As Gray and Bjorklund (2014) explain: “people everywhere feel obliged to return favors. This norm is so ingrained that people may even feel driven to reciprocate favors that they didn’t want in the first place” (p. 555-556).  As someone likes these girls’ pictures, they feel kind of obliged to like their picture ‘back’, as some kind of favor.

Models and celebrities

I also wanted to find out what happens when girls are constantly exposed to  pictures of good-looking girls. This could be models, but also celebrities, or ‘fitgirls’. Maybe their style inspires them. What is the influence of those pictures on their behaviour and their body satisfaction? Do they try to copy them in a certain way? And what happens when these girls compare themselves to others who live a ‘better’ life? Perhaps this comparison could lead to changing their actions. Or do they become, at a certain point, painfully aware of their own situation?

I realized that many girls mentioned that those pictures of videos of fitgirls give them motivation. What stood out to me, was the fact that older respondents (18 en 19 years old) admitted that they do feel the influence of these pictures and videos. This was different with my 16-year-old and my 17-year-old respondents. 16-year-old Emily even told me that she doesn’t even ‘follow’ all those models en celebrities, and 17-year-old Monique told me that those images don’t bother her at all.

Some of my older respondents catch themselves, sometimes unconsciously, comparing themselves to famous girls like Kylie Jenner or Gigi Hadid, and sometimes even (although they realize it is impossible) try to copy them. 19-year-old Hanah said:

“Of course I know that I can’t afford their way of life, but I do think it is nice to see how they live their lives. Sometimes their style inspires me. Then I think: wow, I want that too.”

She is realistic, and immediately says that she is aware of the fact that she won’t be able to copy them; she can’t afford to do so. She is well aware of her situation. But, as she added, that doesn’t mean that she also wouldn’t copy them if she did have the resources; then she probably would act the same as them. 18-year-old Nina admitted that those girls inspire her:

I do think I see those famous girls as some kind of role model, because I definitely feel some influence. They give me new ideas, about clothing, or make-up for example. But also those fitgirls; I want to look the same as them, so sometimes I watch the videos they post on their profile, and then I try to copy their sport exercises.”  

Nina admits that those pictures and videos of good-looking girls do have an influence on her body (dis)satisfaction; she isn’t completely satisfied with her own body, because her goal is to look as good as them. Thus, late teenagers are still very sensitive to those images on social media. Beforehand, I would expect it to be the other way round; it seemed more likely to me that the younger girls were more sensitive for these images on social media. I had this idea because these young girls still have to form an identity of their own. Besides, I thought that they would be less realistic and more sensitive to this kind of images. One reason for this  surprising outcome could be, that the older respondents are more likely to compare themselves to famous girls like Kylie Jenner or Gigi Hadid because these models are more or less the same age as them. They see that other girls their age live their lives completely different (with much more glamour).  This does impress them; some of them even want to copy those models. This in contrast to the younger girls, who told me that those images don’t bother them at all. Maybe the younger girls are more focused on themselves and their own life stage right now. Perhaps they will also experience these feelings of pressure when they get a little older.


All the girls I interviewed during my research told me that it makes them feel good when they receive many comments on a post on social media. They do appreciate it when people make an effort to post a positive comment on their post. They explained to me that their self-esteem does get a little boost, because they think it is important that others like them. Some of them even found it important that others think they’re living a nice life.  The same applies for the number of likes they get; it is nice to have many likes on a post, and a little awkward to have almost no likes at all. Sometimes, in order to avoid those awkward situations, they even ask their friends to like their picture. This feeling of awkwardness, which most of my respondents get when they receive only a few likes on a post, would prevent them from posting a similar post in the future. This made me aware of the fact that many young teenage girls find others’ opinions about them very important. They want to be socially approved. As a result, some girls think carefully before they post a picture on their profile. They have to be completely sure that they look nice on it.

Furthermore, most girls think it is kind of painful when they receive negative comments from peers. It is even more embarrassing when these comments come from people they do not know very well. So in this sense, they sometimes do experience insecurities due to social media. Still, most of them wouldn’t delete these comments, except when it is too embarrassing, and they don’t want others to see it. Many girls also talked about a ‘like-strategy’. It turned out that they think carefully whose picture they like, and whose not. Most of the time they only like pictures of people who, according to them, ‘deserve’ their like. And of course they hope that these people will like their picture ‘back’ in the future, as some kind of return. It was also interesting to find a difference between respondents who live in a close-knit village, and respondents who live in a city. Those who live in a village talked more about the risk of gossip and exclusion, than those who live in a city.

I do think, when hearing the stories of these teenage girls (and observing their attitudes and facial expressions while talking) that social media, sometimes without them realizing it, does have an impact on their self-esteem, and their need for approval by others. However, the extent of this social media influence differs among my respondents. And interestingly, an unexpected finding was that the older girls I spoke with told me that they sometimes do feel pressure, or experience insecurities because of the fact that they’re constantly exposed to all those beautiful pictures. Some of them explained that those images of fitgirls give them motivation to work out hard; they want to look the same as them. In this sense, social media does have an influence on their body (dis)satisfaction. Some of them also mentioned that pictures of models and celebrities inspire them. They try for instance to copy their clothing or hair style. However, they were aware of the fact that they couldn’t live their lives in the same way as those girls, whom they sometimes even see as their ‘role model’. This stands in striking contrast with the answers of the younger respondents, who told me that they hardly feel the need to change their behaviour due to social media exposure, while they spend much more time on social media than the older girls. However, they did admit that they sometimes experience insecurities due to social media.

In conclusion, I think we should all be aware of the potential impact of social media. This research made me aware of the fact that girls, who are more or less the same age as me, can experience a huge amount of pressure, sometimes without even realizing it. Because they have access to many different websites, they are constantly exposed to all those pictures. And what happens when they become very insecure, because of the negative feedback they receive from their peers?  We should not underestimate the influence of this phenomenon, not only the lives of young teenage girls, but on many other people as well.

(Written for Youth Cultures in a Transnational Context)


Elias, N. & Scotson, J. (1994). The Established and the Outsiders. Sage Publications.

Gray, P. & Bjorklund, D.F. (2014). Psychology. Seventh edition. New York: Worth Publishers.

Kloosterman, R. & van Beuningen, J. (2015). Jongeren over sociale media. Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek.

Kristjánsson, K. (2014). Is Shame an Ugly Emotion? Four Discourses – Two contrasting Interpretations for Moral Education. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 33, 495-511.

Nauert, R. (2016). Bad Experiences on Social Media Ups Risk of Depression in Young Adults. Retrieved from

Ritzer, G. & Stepnisky, J. (2014). Sociological Theory. Ninth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill International Edition.

Global Youth Papers

chevy-thumbnailChevy van Dorresteijn


A few times per week I go to the local gym to work out. On the mirror, right above the dumbbells, there is a sign that reads: If you are too weak to return your weights, please contact the fitness staff and the girls will be happy to assist you. Even though it is meant as a humoristic way of saying that people should put their training equipment back, it is but one of many examples of how modern-day society still thinks and behaves according to archetypical gender norms. One just has to look around and it is visible almost everywhere. For example, media coverage often focuses on male athletes. When at last attention is paid to female athletes, it is mainly at sports that have a more gender-neutral connotation, such as (field) hockey and tennis. Therefore, attention in these sports is more equally divided between males and females. There is hardly any sports where females receive substantially more coverage than their male counterparts. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Youth Papers
Comments Off on Arbeidsmigrant of slachtoffer van vrouwenhandel? Een narratieve benadering van het arbeidsmigratietraject van vrouwelijke sekswerkers op de Amsterdamse Wallen.

illustratie-iris-bijmanIris Bijman

In dit onderzoek wordt de persoonlijk evaluatie van het arbeidsmigratietraject van vrouwelijke migranten die werkzaam zijn in de raamprostitutie op de Amsterdamse Wallen op narratieve wijze in kaart gebracht. Het arbeidsmigratietraject wordt gezien als het gehele doorlopen migratieproces in relatie tot arbeid dat start voorafgaand aan het vertrek tot na de aankomst in Nederland. De narratives rondom het arbeidsmigratietraject zijn verkregen door middel van Oral History diepte-interviews met vrouwelijke migrantsekswerkers op de Amsterdamse Wallen. Ter aanvulling zijn er andere betrokkenen en experts tot de Amsterdamse seksindustrie gehoord ter schetsing van de arbeidscontext. De sectoren van de Amsterdamse seksindustrie onderscheiden zich in locatiegebondenheid, vergunningsplicht en op basis van illegaliteit en migratie. De Amsterdamse seksindustrie wordt geëvalueerd als een aantrekkelijke en toegankelijke arbeidssector voor migranten. Bepaalde onderdelen van het prostitutiebeleid worden volgens de respondenten gedreven door moraliteit en stigma’s rondom sekswerk en mensenhandel wat nadelige gevolgen heeft voor sekswerkers. Het arbeidsmigratietraject van de sekswerkers wordt gekarakteriseerd door verplaatsing naar, binnen en tussen Europese landen vanuit een situatie in het herkomstland met belemmerende sociaaleconomische omstandigheden. De sekswerkers evalueren hun internationale verplaatsing en intrede in de seksindustrie als vrijwillig en dragen hiervoor voornamelijk economische motieven aan, waarbij het verkrijgen van een hoger inkomen voor zichzelf en/of hun familie voorop staat. De arbeidsomstandigheden worden geëvalueerd als een situatie met fysieke, economische en arbeidszeggenschap wat zich mede uit in de afwezigheid van geweld en de aanwezigheid van autonomie over het inkomen en het uitgevoerde werk. De evaluatie van de sekswerkers wijst op de afwezigheid van slachtofferschap van vrouwenhandel. Het beschrijven van het profiel van deze sekswerkers als slachtoffer blijkt daarom simplistisch. Dit pleit voor de erkenning van het bestaan van de arbeidsmigratie-gerelateerde motieven voor sekswerkers.


Conflict Studies Theses , Urban Studies Theses

1716_image1Catalina Mosquera Rosas


Martin Luther King had a dream: that the world would transform into a world of justice and that people of minority groups would be treated the same as any other citizen. In his speech Dr. King did not mention the environment, as the environment did not hurt him and his people; other people did. At the same time, though, in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a cry for a better environment throughout the nation (Colquette & Henry Robertson, 1991). Sixty years later, we see that these two concerns are coming together.

In recent years, environmental issues have received growing attention. Not only scholars and the media are paying attention to recent developments concerning our planet, but increasingly corporations are also addressing the issues. What seemed, at first, to be something only a specific group was worrying about is now becoming a trendy subject. For example, the multinational corporation Tesla, an electric car developer and producer, just launched their latest model. It will be available in 2017 and can be reserved for $1000. But also eating all organic is an expensive trend that has become increasingly popular in many Western countries. Moreover, many companies advertise with their “green” product, while making a profit out of it (Checker, 2011).

Armed with this “green” discourse, in 2007 New York City Mayor Bloomberg presented his long-term sustainability plan for the city, called “PlaNYC 2030, A Greener, Greater New York.” With this plan, he wanted to put New York on the global map as the most sustainable city worldwide. This included efforts to reduce waste to zero by sending it to out-of-state landfills, providing more open and green spaces to improve the quality of life in the city, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing them with renewable energy. Bloomberg’s plan is considered to be the most progressive plan in the whole of the United States (Checker, 2011).

These trends result from concerns about global warming, and those concerns are not unfounded. Today, more people are living in cities than  in rural areas. Steel et al (2012) state that the consequences related to environmental change will be most felt in large urban cities. For example, due to historical events most of these cities are located near the ocean or rivers and are therefore more prone to floods; and because of the large number of people living there, this will have a major impact. That is why many urban planning processes are nowadays also linked to ideas of sustainability (Hassan & Lee, 2014). Saving the environment has become a worldwide mission with many countries and organizations involved trying to solve the problems.

However, when Bloomberg presented his plan on Earth Day 2007 he addressed the issue not only because of the environmental concerns it entailed, but also because the City couldn’t stay behind other global cities such as London and Paris. Sustainability therefore has become a trademark for cities; something they can use to compete in the race to become the “greenest city” because this also attracts new investors to the city (Checker, 2011). Plans for a greener city are supposed to improve the city’s image and to bring more economic opportunities (Rosan, 2012).

“Sustainability implies that peoples of the earth are responsible to one another to the greater community of life and to future generations” (Hassan & Lee, 2014. p. 1268). To sustain means that something needs to be maintained, to keep in existence. It involves certain interventions to secure the existence of our planet. These issues “need to be dealt with through compromise, managerial and technical arrangement, and production of consensus” (Checker, 2011. p. 214). Sustainability exists mostly out of three pillars: economic, social and environmental sustainability. If we want to achieve a sustainable city, all three pillars should be involved (Hassen & Lee, 2015).

While many people welcome the new plans to counter the effects of global warming and increase sustainability, academics have also pointed to the inequality these plans can cause due to unequal development in the cities. The planet we live on is something the whole population has in common, so we should all be able to enjoy planet earth in the same way. In order to ensure equal benefits, it is therefore important to combine the subjects of sustainability and justice, which might also lead to more comprehensive solutions for the multiple problems that people worldwide are dealing with. Also, it is important to stay critical of policies that governments present, to assess from different (theoretical) perspectives if they truly achieve the progress and benefits that politicians say they will. Using PlaNYC as an example, this paper will try to expound that policies that show good intentions solving environmental concerns, can have negative consequences that mostly affect minority groups.

Sustainability and the Just City

Since the 1970’s the idea of social justice has become increasingly central to urban planning. Around that time the neoliberal model and post-Fordism were ruling thoughts that started to influence the market worldwide. It became clear, however, that these economic models were not rewarding for everyone, so that people began looking at ways to include more justice into their system and cities. Thus, the idea of the ‘just city’ emerged, building on “an eclectic mix of philosophical thinking around questions of democracy, equity and diversity through the work of John Rawls.” (Steel et al, 2012. p. 70). This idea is about planning cities in such a way that they become a better place for all urban residents, including the most marginalized groups in society. Furthermore, the just city acknowledges how human action has an effect on the rest of the world. As climate change will have an impact on all of us, the just city is applicable to the idea of how citizens should look after our planet. Citizen participation is thus considered to be very important (Steel et al, 2012), and it is argued that such participation should be inclusive. “It is assumed that the stronger the role of disadvantaged groups in policy decisions, the more redistributional will be the outcomes; thus, broad participation and deliberation should produce more just outcome” (Fainstein, 2014. p. 7).

The idea of the just city also encompasses the notion of environmental justice. Rosan (2012) states that environmental justice includes two main points: to reduce environmental problems that affect neglected groups in the city and secondly to improve social justice goals by planting trees and ‘greening up the city’. Environmental justice then becomes an indicator of sustainability.

Justice and sustainability are often seen as factors that go hand in hand, because of the effects the environment will have, and already has, on vulnerable groups in our society in particular, inside and outside of cities (Steel et al, 2012). As Rosan (2012) explains: “The way in which people of colour and low-income communities experience the city is marked by a long history of unequal distribution of environmental risks, exclusion from planning decisions, and lack of economic opportunities.” According to Fainstein (2014), racism is not something that can be limited to the idea of material inequality. Racism can be felt on many levels, also in relation to the environment, which is therefore called environmental racism (Colquette & Henry Robertson, 1991).

A few decades ago environmental racism was a big topic. When the environment movement started in the 1960’s it mostly consisted of white, privileged citizens. The African-American movement was fighting for civil rights at that time and other minority groups in the US were fighting for other injustice problems, so they paid less attention to environmental issues. Since the 1980’s these groups are nonetheless just as much involved in environmental organization as other communities, but still have felt the consequences of climate change the most.

With the increasing demand for products due to increasing consumerism in the 1970s, also more toxic chemicals were needed to produce these products. Sites to dump toxic waste were mainly located in places with a high percentage of poor households and people of minority groups like African Americans and Hispanics. These people were not able to live without health risks as they were constantly threatened by polluted air around them, while more privileged communities did not suffer from toxic waste (Colquette & Henry Robertson, 1991).

Consequently a lot has been written about environmental racism and it has become clear that there is a demand for environmental justice. Thus, “many cities incorporate their carbon reduction goals into citywide sustainability plans that often use the framework of the three E’s of sustainability (equity, economy, and environment)”(Rosan, 2012, 690). Of course a progressive plan like PlaNYC could not stay behind and also took justice into account (Checker, 2011).

bloomberg_greenbulding_planycWhen we compare PlaNYC with the ‘just city’, they both include taking care of the environment. Secondly, both the ‘just city’ and PlaNYC include a form of democracy. As mentioned before, according to the ‘just city’ vision citizen participation is very important to get more ‘just’ results. PlaNYC, too, devoted one whole chapter to the role that the citizens of New York City would have in the development (Rosan, 2012). Thus, in this regard PlaNYC corresponds to the idea of a just city as well; in both visions democracy is included. Urban sustainability also has a moral side to it. Because Mayor Bloomberg included this aspect, the plan was very well-received (Rosan, 2012, 691).

PlaNYC also recognizes the needs of minority communities and low-income groups (Rosan, 2012). The Bronx has a much larger share of people with a lower income than Manhattan for instance. In this area, death rates are much higher and twenty percent more children are coping with asthma because of the many cars driving through this area (Rosan, 2012). To combat air pollution the City is now planting a lot of trees within and outside of Manhattan, also in areas like the Bronx and Harlem where air pollution is the highest (Rosan, 2012). This way, the city’s plan is also aimed at preventing environmental racism, even though this still occurs in many places.

PlaNYC targets a zero waste policy by the end of 2030, by dumping the City’s waste outside of New York’s state so that no one in New York will have to suffer from environmental problems. PlaNYC has good intentions and claims it wants to be sustainable for all New York citizens. This is how PlaNYC claims to include principles of justice in the city’s development. But are these plans for sustainable development enough to present New York as a just city?

Sustainable for Whom?

While sustainability has become a popular, positive discourse, it does have some negative outcomes. This section discusses the consequences for citizens of the sustainability policies under PlaNYC, and examines if these policies do indeed make New York City greener and greater for everyone.

Harlem, in the north of Manhattan, is known for its large number of Africa-American inhabitants. Once a notorious neighbourhood, in recent years it has been upgraded just as many other areas. This was mostly because of African-Americans from the upper- and middle-classes that were moving into the neighbourhood (Checker, 2012). In the last decade, though, there has been a new wave of gentrification, as white middle- and upper class residents have moved into the neighbourhood with the result that housing prices have started to rise.

The moment that the mayor presented his PlaNYC in 2007 prices started going up fast. Once the City started to ‘green up’ the area and started planting trees and redeveloping parks, houses around the park and in the area started to attract a new group. This was reflected in the housing prices: “The average sale price of an apartment reached $895,000, a price that was 93% higher than it was at the end of 2006” (Checker, 2011. p. 211). Later on, a housing corporation in Harlem started to build sustainable ‘green’ apartments (Checker, 2011). With prices 35% higher than houses in the neighbourhood, these apartments were not affordable for most of the old residents, even though they would also like to live in more environmentally conscious conditions (Checker, 2011).

By making Harlem greener, then, the City encouraged more and more well-established New Yorkers to move into the area, and the once predominantly black Harlem started to loose its colour. Therefore, “sustainability planning is viewed by some as part of a pro-growth, pro-gentrification policy” (Rosan, 2012. p. 970). All the characteristics of gentrification were indeed occurring in Harlem: “a rapid increase in property values and rents, improvements to the housing stock, and the replacement of lower-income residents with middle- to upper class households” (Pearsall, 2012. p. 1014). This is not a voluntary replacement. While house-owners in Harlem were relatively safe, the large majority of old residents that rented their apartments were often forced to leave their homes as they were no longer able to pay the increased rents.

gentrification_harlem-01People in Harlem have resisted this gentrification process, which they felt to be “as an assault to their neighbourhood and the death of their community” (Pearsall, 2012. p. 1020). Many felt that the special character of their neighbourhood was at risk of disappearing. Because of gentrification small local businesses started to vanish, as more and more upscale restaurants and businesses came into the neighbourhood. These new businesses then again attract more high-skilled, upper class residents and the gentrification process continues (Pearsall, 2012).

While PlaNYC claims that they include New York City citizen in the development, this is not always what happens in practice. The chapter about including citizens in the planning process was mostly written by one consulting firm with minimum input from citizens. “Even though PlaNYC made an effort to include the communities as part of their plan, still they often felt ignored and rejected” (Rosan, 2011. p. 973). An example of this is a family park in Harlem. The dynamic of the park rapidly changed due to the new residents that have bought apartments near the park, drawn by all the new green spaces in the neighbourhood. They requested less activities in the park because they felt it caused too much noise, while the old residents did not want to give up their late-night barbecuing since that was something they had been doing for generations (Checker, 2012). In the end, police started to come by more frequently to tell the old residents to leave the park when requested or otherwise get a fine (Checker, 2011).

Urban sustainability suggests that it is politically neutral (Checker, 2011). But as the case of Harlem illustrates (and similar developments are occurring in other neighbourhoods), the question remains for whom the neighbourhood is sustainable? Despite PlaNYC’s goal to make New York a greener and greater place for everyone, sustainability and justice goals have sometimes disconnected. Sustainability has become a high-priority goal for cities, but while companies can make a profit out of the sustainability discourse, minority groups are not always heard and are sometimes simply displaced.


Nowadays sustainability is a trademark, a discourse which cities and companies use to stay in the race (Checker, 2011).  Sustainability means ‘ to keep or to keep going’ or ‘to sustain’, but this doesn’t count for everything and everyone. While the attempts to fight global warming are finally taken seriously, the consequences of these policies can once again affect minority groups that have already suffered the most from environmental degradation.

The concept of the ‘just city’ might be a utopian thought; the three dimensions of democracy, equity and diversity are of course something to aim for. These concepts suggest that the city should be a place where everyone is included in a fair democratic process, no matter which group you are from, so that everyone can benefit from the city in the same way. This idea relates to the demand for less environmental racism, as researchers found that toxic waste was mostly dumped in areas of minority groups, mostly from a minority race (Steel et al, 2012 & Fainstein, 2014). But even though PlaNYC resembles aspects of the idea of the just city, the resulting sustainability policies have not yet sufficiently included the three dimensions to say that New York City will be ‘just’ by 2030.

First of all, policies like planting more trees and redeveloping parks in Harlem have led to gentrification (Checker, 2011 & Rosan, 2012). For the old residents this felt like ‘whitening of the neighbourhood’; many had to move out since they could not afford the new rent prices and were most definitely not able to buy the ‘green’ sustainable flats that were being built. So, although Harlem appeared to be becoming more diverse, this would eventually exclude the minority groups still left on the island, who couldn’t be certain how PlaNYC would affect their lives in the future.

Secondly, although PlaNYC made an explicit statement to involve all NYC citizens and give more attention to minority groups, in practice this wasn’t always the case. The plans for development mostly included larger corporations and changes in for example Harlem were not discussed with older residents. New residents on the other hand were heard and because of that, old residents had to give up some of their neighbourhood traditions. People felt like their neighbourhood began to lose its special character as people moved out and small business disappeared (Rosan, 2012).

So far, PlaNYC has hardly led to environmental justice. PlaNYC claims it wants to create more green spaces for New Yorkers. Yet, some of its policies have led to gentrification and minority groups are still excluded. If sustainability is becoming a discourse in which corporations are able to make profit, it is questionable if making profit and justice can merge (Rosan, 2012). As long as minority groups continue to be disadvantaged due to sustainability policies, it cannot be seen as an environmental just city. In New York, extreme forms of environmental racism might no longer occur, since no more toxic waste is being dumped in the backyards of minority groups. But these groups are still suffering from the gentrification processes that are being spurred by sustainability policies (Pearsall, 2012). So for whom is the City becoming more sustainable?

To improve sustainable development, it is important that people keep addressing how our current system is working and whom it serves the most. Sustainable urban planning should try to involve the three dimensions of the just city even more. Furthermore, sustainability should not be absorbed in our system of neoliberalism where profit can be more important that justice In further research, it might be good to look at ways in which sustainability can be separated from neoliberal thinking.

Finally, another question remains: if PlaNYC indeed does have the best intentions to reduce its waste till zero, to which region will this waste be taken? Which groups live in that region? We should keep thinking about how our consumerism is affecting the ecosystem and how it affects the regions where our products are produced and the toxic waste is dumped, countries like India, Bangladesh and China. Research is also needed to examine how these new sustaibility policies that mostly focus on cities have an effect on rural areas.

Sixty years later, we have come a long way. Racism in the US and elsewhere still exists but there have been some real progresses. Apart from that, there is more and more attention for environmental issues worldwide and big changes are being made. In the future the progress made around these issues might just be each other’s solutions, and hopefully Martin Luther King’s dream comes true in a sustainable just society.

(Written for Age, City & Work)


Checker, M. (2011). Wiped Out by the “Greenwave”: Environmental gentrification and the Paradoxical Politics of Urban Sustainability. City & Society, 23(2), pp.210-229

Hassan, A. M. & Lee, H. (2015). The Paradox of the sustainable city: definitions and examples. Environ. Dev. Sustain., 17, pp. 1267-1285

Pearsall, H. (2012). Moving in or moving out? Resilience to environmental gentrification in New York City. Local Environment, 17(9), pp. 1013-1026

Rosan, C. D. (2012). Can PlaNYC make New York City “greener and greater” for everyone?: sustainability planning and the promise of environmental justice. Local Environment, 17(9), pp. 959-976

Steele, W. & Maccallum, D. & Byrne, J. & Houston, D. (2012). Planning the Climate-Just City. International planning Studies, 17(1). 67-83.

Colquette, K. M. & Henry Robertson, E. A. (1991). Environmental racism: The causes, consequences, and commendations. org

Fainstein, S. S. (2014). The Just City. International Journal of Urban Sciences, 18 (1), pp. 1-18.

Urban Studies Papers
Comments Off on Vrijeschoolonderwijs2032: Een kwalitatief onderzoek naar het draagvlak voor toekomstgericht onderwijs binnen de vrijeschool

klassenNina Hosseini

In januari 2016 presenteerde Platform Onderwijs2032 een advies met daarin de grootste veranderingen die het Nederlandse onderwijs zou moeten ondergaan om leerlingen beter op te leiden voor de maatschappij van de toekomst. Verschillende onderzoeken, zowel in Nederland als in het buitenland, tonen echter aan dat een succesvolle implementatie van onderwijshervormingen vraagt om draagvlak onder docenten. Met deze kwalitatieve scriptie is daarom onderzocht in hoeverre er draagvlak is voor toekomstgericht onderwijs onder docenten op de vrijeschool, een school met een eigen visie. Uit 15 semigestructureerde interviews, die door middel van grounded theory zijn geanalyseerd, zijn vijf concepten naar voren gekomen die een rol bleken te spelen in de houding van vrijeschooldocenten ten opzichte van Onderwijs2032. Dit waren: ruimte voor eigen invulling, het centraal stellen van een brede ontwikkeling, het idee achter de vernieuwing, de vraag welke doelen van onderwijs centraal worden gesteld en het ervaren van een gevoel van erkenning. De conclusie van deze scriptie luidt dat er inhoudelijk zeker draagvlak is voor de voorgestelde vernieuwingen, maar dat dit sterk afhankelijk is van het verdere verloop van het proces en de ruimte die hierin wordt geboden om het ideaal van toekomstgericht onderwijs in te passen in de eigen visie van de vrijeschool.


Global Youth Theses
Comments Off on Are we UvA? De invloed van de beleving van etnische diversiteit op het thuisgevoel van studenten aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam

illustratie_sharda_beerthuisSharda Beerthuis

Hoewel onderwijs de kansen op de arbeidsmarkt vergroot en de sleutel vormt tot emancipatie kan het onderwijssysteem tegelijkertijd zorgen voor de reproductie van sociale ongelijkheid en stratificatie, als gevolg van structurele en institutionele belemmeringen. Op de Universiteit van Amsterdam worden verschillen tussen (etnisch) diverse groepen studenten meer en meer besproken. De studenten met een niet-westerse achtergrond voelen zich minder thuis dan hun medestudenten, ze vallen vaker uit en behalen lagere cijfers. In dit mixed- methods onderzoek is de invloed van de beleving van etnische diversiteit op het thuisgevoel onderzocht onder studenten van de Universiteit van Amsterdam. Middels een integratie van inzichten uit de sociologie, psychologie, sociale geografie en onderwijskunde is een zo compleet mogelijk beeld gegeven van de situatie. Met behulp van drie kwalitatieve interviews zijn indicatoren gevonden als aanvulling voor het kwantitatieve meetinstrument. De online vragenlijst is vervolgens ingevuld door 155 studenten met een diverse achtergrond. Uit de resultaten blijkt dat zowel de subjectieve beleving als de beleving van de zichtbare etnische samenstelling invloed heeft op het thuisgevoel. Daarnaast komt uit de resultaten naar voren dat studenten met een niet-westerse achtergrond de interactie met studenten, docenten, het curriculum en de voorzieningen (subjectieve beleving) alsmede de zichtbare samenstelling van de universiteitspopulatie significant negatiever beleven dan hun medestudenten.


Global Youth Theses , Urban Studies Theses
Comments Off on ‘Makers and Shapers’: Hoe Vrijwilligers Invulling Geven aan Hun Rol als Actieve Burger

helpende-handLisa van Delft – Actief burgerschap wordt in Nederlands beleid steeds vaker aangedragen als oplossing voor sociale vraagstukken. Actieve deelname van burgers aan het publieke domein in de vorm van politieke en sociale participatie kan een positieve bijdrage leveren aan de bevordering van gedeelde opvattingen, het behoud van sociale cohesie in de gemeenschap en voor het verkleinen van de kloof tussen burger en bestuur. In dit onderzoek wordt getracht in kaart te brengen op welke manier vrijwilligers die zich inzetten voor de opvang van vluchtelingen invulling geven aan hun rol als actieve burger. Door middel van vijftien diepte-interviews worden de motivaties van vrijwilligers, hun percepties op, en de betekenisgeving aan het vrijwilligerswerk in kaart gebracht. De resultaten wijzen uit dat vrijwilligers een gevoel van frustratie ervaren jegens de huidige vluchtelingenopvang. Dit gevoel lijkt sterk te worden beïnvloed door het restrictieve en repressieve beleid van Centraal Orgaan opvang Asielzoekers op de verschillende opvanglocaties. Het Nederlandse asielbeleid blijkt niet te stroken met de ideeën van de vrijwilligers over hoe de vluchtelingenopvang moet worden vormgegeven. Middels het uitdragen van humanitaire normen en waarden naar zowel de vluchtelingen als naar de rest van Nederland, trachten de vrijwilligers een tegenwicht te bieden tegen de verharding van het vluchtelingendebat en tegen de bureaucratisering van het asielbeleid.


Urban Studies Theses
Comments Off on Omringd door Koeien of Toeristen? De Invloed van Levensloopidealen op het Verhuisgedrag van Jongvolwassenen Geboren in een Dorp

dorp-staddRozemarijn Houben – Dit onderzoek richt zich op het verhuisgedrag van jongvolwassenen die geboren zijn in een dorp. Er wordt daarbij gekeken naar de invloed van hun levensloopidealen, om deze vervolgens te koppelen aan eventueel verhuisgedrag. Om de idealen aangaande de levensloop van jongvolwassenen te achterhalen en te doorgronden zijn er zestien semigestructureerde interviews gehouden met jongvolwassenen die geboren zijn in een dorp in de gemeente Schagen en zijn gaan studeren in de stad Amsterdam. Hiervan heeft de ene helft besloten om naar Amsterdam te verhuizen en de andere helft bleef in het dorp. Uit het onderzoek is naar voren gekomen dat er tussen deze twee groepen jongvolwassenen een verschil bestaat in de levensloopidealen met betrekking tot de arbeidsloopbaan, gezinsvorming en vrijetijdsbesteding. Uit de resultaten blijkt dat de levensloopidealen van jongvolwassenen die verhuisd zijn naar Amsterdam minder duidelijk zijn opgesteld dan die van jongvolwassenen die in een dorp woonachtig zijn. Hierdoor hebben de jongvolwassenen in het dorp een duidelijker toekomstbeeld voor ogen. Dit laat zien dat de keuze aangaande verhuizing een keuze is die gemaakt wordt op basis van de eigen waarden  Dit maakt dat de problematiek aangaande de leegloop van dorpen genuanceerd kan worden, omdat juist de jongvolwassenen in het dorp gericht zijn op de toekomst.


Global Youth Theses

Alexandra van Veen


The ideal of a romantic relationship has been the subject of ideological change over time. Only 50 years ago, the average age for getting married was around the age of 20 (Arnett, 2004). Since then, this average age has steadily increased. Since romantic relationships have always played an important role in human life, many scholars have written about this theme. As can be derived from the existing literature about modern love, the general conclusion concerns a delay in getting into a serious romantic commitment. The aim of this paper is to find out why young people nowadays seem to be more cautious about getting into a romantic relationship. Collins (2003) gives the following definition of a romantic relationship: ‘Romantic relationships, like friendships, are on-going voluntary interactions that are mutually acknowledged, rather than identified by only one member of a pair. Romantic relationships, however, also have a peculiar intensity and the intensity can be marked by expressions of affection—including physical ones and, perhaps, the expectation of sexual relations, eventually if not now’ (Collins, 2003, p. 2).

According to psychologist Arnett (2004), the delay in getting into a romantic relationship has partly to do with prolonged education, birth control and the rise of women’s emancipation. But long before these developments, Marx and Engels already predicted a society where human values, including love, are exchanged for material values, like money (Marx & Engels, in Calhoun, 1996). This corrupts the authentic nature of human relationships that are naturally based on love and commitment.

But, the exchange of human for material values that Marx and Engels predicted is not exclusively characteristic for the last decades (Marx & Engels, in Calhoun, 1996). The discussion about the changing meaning of interpersonal relationships is an ongoing debate. From a sociological perspective, three main approaches can be distinguished that focus on changing interpersonal relationships (Bulcroft, Bulcroft, Bradley, & Simpson, 2000). Firstly, Weber (1925) argues that a characteristic of modernity and capitalist society is rationality. This rationality means that the focus in society is no longer on emotional aspects. According to Weber, this is not only the case in the formal or public sphere, but also in interpersonal relations. As a consequence, social relationships are becoming less emotional and more rational. Weber states that this rationalization of personal life has a negative influence on the meaning and quality of interpersonal (including romantic) relationships.

In contrast, Habermas’ (1990) approach on rationality as an aspect of modernity is slightly more positive. He acknowledges that rationality is a characteristic of modern society, especially in the formal and public sphere. The private sphere of interpersonal relationships is also influenced by the process of rationalization, but the consequence is not just a loss of the importance of emotion. The rationalization of the private sphere also means increasing self-reflection with higher quality relationships as a result (Bulcroft et al, 2000; Habermas, 1990).

A third view on changing romantic values comes from Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (1995). They argue that enhanced individualism and rationality lead to increased risks in partner selection. While the need for interpersonal relationships increases, the possibility for achieving such relationships decreases in a society that is marked by a high level of individualism. As the need for interpersonal relationships increases, the more important the successful maintenance of such relationships becomes. However, structures like individualism and a fast consumer society make it increasingly difficult to successfully maintain interpersonal relationships. This paradox increases the risk of getting into a romantic relationship; people need an intimate relationship, but at the same time the maintenance of this relationship is becoming increasingly unlikely to succeed.

These theories about changing romantic values provide a framework for the question that is central in this paper. The aim of this paper is to investigate the ways in which students in Amsterdam give meaning to romantic relationships. The changes in romantic values are confusing for many students, which is why lectures and articles about this theme are highly visited and shared (Tinder Love, 2016). The uncertainties young people face are mostly centered around the phase when they have been dating for a while with the same person, and start to like this person in a romantic way. Although it seems quite obvious that the other person is also romantically interested in most cases, labeling the relationship seems too serious a step for both men and women.

This research is focused on this ‘prela-phase’ (pre-relationship): when someone is involved in a romantic relationship but labeling the other as boy- or girlfriend is for some reason not happening. What does the label ‘relationship’ mean, what makes this label that important? Does the concept ‘relationship’ correspond with a different meaning over time? To answer these questions, I start with an overview of changes in romantic values over time. In the second part of this paper, I describe the romantic discourse of eight students in Amsterdam.

Changing romantic values over time

As mentioned before, the number of people getting married has dramatically decreased over the past 50 years. But there have been many other significant changes in romantic discourse over time. These changes will be discussed based on the model of Collins (2003). Collins has conceptualized a framework for the study of romantic relationships, dividing the romantic relationship into five different stages.

The first stage is the involvement stage. This stage provides information about the average age people are getting romantically active and view themselves as part of the dating scene. The second stage is the partner selection stage. This stage includes the degree of freedom of choice in partner selection and characteristics of the potential partner that influence the partner selection. The content of relationships is the third stage by which Collins (2003) analyzes romantic relationships. This stage tells something about the nature of the relationship. Is the base of the relationship mainly practical or romantic? The fourth stage is about the quality of relationships. This refers to what is seen as a high-quality relationship by both partners. The emphasis on both partners is made, because the experienced quality may differ between men and women. The fifth and last stage is about cognitive and emotional processes. This includes the degree in which romantic relationships are shaped by the individuals’ cognitive and emotional processes.

All these aspects of romantic relationships have changed over time in Western society (Bulcroft et al., 2000). In the period between 1750 and 1850, romantic relationships already became a more individualistic matter (Bulcroft et al., 2000). The involvement in romantic relationships and marriage became increasingly important, as it provided status and stability. Although love became a more important aspect, the partner selection was mainly influenced by economic motives. The content of romantic relationships was therefore often based on economic grounds. The increasing importance of love changed the meaning of a high-quality relationship. In contrast with previous times, personal fulfillment became increasingly important in marriage. In this time period there was an emphasis on cognitive aspects of romantic relationships, but a change was coming in favor of the emotional aspects.

The romantic discourse in the following period, between 1850 and 1960, was greatly influenced by this change. The average age for getting married became younger and more people chose for married life (involvement). The partner selection became more autonomous for men: they had increased freedom to choose someone whom they had fallen in love with. Love became therefore an aspect of the content of marriage. This increased freedom of partner selection was not the case for women, who were strongly restricted by social norms. Especially for women, marriage provided higher social status. All this contributed to what was seen as a marriage of good quality: religious morality, status and childbearing. So all in all the importance of emotional aspects, like love, became a more important aspect of marriage. But this emotional aspect was still restricted by many cognitive aspects, like status, social class and religion.

According to Bulcroft et al. (2000), the modern discourse about romantic values emerged around 1960. From 1960 to current times the focus of romantic relationships shifted from the family to the individual. This is in line with the rise of the individualistic society (Berting, 2006). The involvement in romantic relationships like marriage starts at an older age, but people do get involved in experimental romantic relationships at a younger age than ever before (Arnett, 2004). Partner selection became highly autonomous, which means a greater and more diverse potential partner pool. This lack of control by family members or social norms makes the partner selection not only more autonomous, but also more uncertain. The criteria for a ‘good’ partner are loose and this results in more personal criteria. As a consequence the importance of love as a content of a romantic relationship increased according to Bulcroft et al. (2000). A good quality romantic relationship is defined by a romantic relationship based on true love and emotional benefits for both partners. The link between a high-quality relationship and economic and practical benefits becomes less important; personal fulfillment for both partners is the highest goal. According to this view, the emotional aspects are more evident in present-day love life than ever before.

A contrasting approach on modern love comes from Bauman (2003). Bauman argues that the opposite is happening in present-day love life. In his book Liquid Love (Bauman, 2003) he states that modern love is a reflection of broader processes in contemporary society. Bauman views contemporary society as a liquid society. The most important feature of a liquid society is uncertainty. This uncertainty can be found in all aspects of life, such as flexible employment contracts, uncertain social norms and loose human relationships. This uncertainty has become an important and dangerous aspect of modern romantic relationships. Characteristics of present-day love are fast, flexible and unreliable relationships. All these characteristics are also applicable to the neoliberal market economy. Romantic values are therefore dominated by economic values.

The influence of the economic system on romantic relationships has grown to such an extent that we become shoppers for the perfect lover (Bauman, 2003). This way, love becomes a consumer good that has to be ‘purchased’. As love is seen as a consumer good, it is not particularly meant to last forever. As soon as the efforts for love become greater than the personal satisfaction one gets from love, the time has come to end the romantic relationship and ‘purchase’ a new one. In this sense, the rational aspect of love is more important than the emotional aspect.

In sum, there is an ongoing debate about the meaning of recent changes in romantic values. Bulcroft et al. (2000) point out that in the past there was less space for emotional aspects of romantic values. While Bauman states that with the rise of liquid love in modern society the emotional aspects in romantic relationships are disappearing. In the next section I will discuss romantic relationships of eight young people who are dealing with current changes in romantic values, to find out how they experience this change in romantic discourse.

Contemporary romances

For this research, two focus groups have been conducted, each group consisting of three young women, as well as two semi-structured individual interviews with two young men. In this paper they are designated by pseudonyms for privacy reasons. One of the men, Werner (26), is the co-founder of one of the latest dating apps in the Netherlands. He is single and very active in the dating scene. The other man, Jim (24), is in a two-year relationship at the moment of the interview. Five of the six young women (Lonneke, Lianne, Rosa, Sasha, and Lina) are single at the moment of the interview, only Nicky is in a labelled romantic relationship. All of the respondents are currently studying in Amsterdam and in the age range of 20-26.

Since I’m a student in Amsterdam myself, I consider myself to be an insider of the research population. More importantly, my respondents also view me as an insider of the group. On the one hand, this has advantages like sharing the same implicit language as the respondents and easy access to informants (Raby, 2007; Zackariasson, 2014). On the other hand, there are also disadvantages of being an insider. Assumptions made by the researcher can change the meaning described to a situation by a respondent. Furthermore, the role duality of the researcher can be difficult for both the respondent and the researcher. In my interviews this was the case, since most of my respondents are close to me. But all in all I believe that being an insider of the respondent group was an advantage in conducting the research. I knew something about the dating life of all my respondents and this helped in creating a sphere of intimacy during the interviews. Being an insider of the group has made it not only easier to gain access to the respondents themselves, but also to gain access to their inner feelings about romantic values.

Intimate relationships

When asked to describe the road to romantic relationships, one of the girls, Nicky, pointed out that the term romantic relationship was inaccurate for the relationships that students in Amsterdam involved themselves in. I asked the other respondents what they thought about the term and all of them agreed with Nicky’s comment. They preferred the term intimate relationship. They would rather view themselves as active in the dating world, but as inactive in the sphere of romantic relationships. This distinction is important to be made, because especially the romantic part appears to be lacking in many intimate relationships. When asked to describe what an intimate relationship means to them, all respondents gave a definition more or less similar to Collins’ (2003) definition of a romantic relationship. Werner, who has never had a romantic relationship but is very active in the dating world gave the following definition of the term:

An intimate relationship could refer to someone who you get physically intimate with. But it could also be physically and mentally intimate. I’ve been with girls that made me laugh, whom I trusted and had sex with.

Werner’s definition of an intimate relationship is more or less similar to the definition the other respondents gave to their intimate relationships. As Sasha, who labels herself as single for the last three years but who has had several intimate relationships in this period, describes:

‘It’s just something like a real relationship, but without the labeling and the long-term commitment.’

Since all of the respondents preferred to talk about intimate rather than romantic relationships, this term will be used from now on.

Participation in intimate relationships

All of the respondents had some experience with intimate relationships. When asked about their involvement in intimate relationships, Lina and Werner described a mismatch between their personal romantic values and their practices. Lina, who had four sexual partners and one intimate relationship that was based on physical intimacy, had the least experience with intimate relationships. Her only intimate relationship was two years ago and they usually met at a bar or another public space. Lina emphasized that, although this is her only experience with an intimate relationship, this dating style is not a  reflection of her romantic values:

I hear about people who are dating for like 6 months, but this just never happens to me.. It makes me kind of sad, I mean, everybody is dating, why aren’t I?’

This reflects the personal importance for Lina to be involved in intimate relationships. She feels frustrated, she wants to get involved with someone but it’s difficult to achieve this. It feels to Lina like no one is willing to get into an intimate relationship with her, or only at a physical level. On the other side of the spectrum, Werner had the most experience, yet he was also not pleased about his own involvement in intimate relationships. Werner has had more than 100 sexual partners and three mentally intimate relationships.

‘I know it’s sad and I would like to settle for something on the long run, but I just don’t know how to truly be open to someone. So the short term of an intimate relationship is an easy way to get at least some intimacy.’

He refers to his own sexual experience and intimacy as sad, so in a way he’s also emphasizing that his involvement in intimate relationships doesn’t reflect his romantic values. He feels like he’s unable to truly be involved with someone, but he still craves for intimacy. This leads to intimacy with many different persons to avoid commitment.

The other six respondents were to varying degrees pleased with their involvement. The number of sexual partners they had varied between two and twelve. Two of them had a romantic relationship, three of them described themselves as in the prela phase or in an intimate relationship and one of them was not in any kind of relationship with someone. The age when they became sexually active greatly varied. Lianne had her first sexual contact when she was eleven and she felt this was much too early. Lonneke had her first sexual experience when she was twenty-two. She felt like she had to become sexual active, because everyone else already was. The age when the others became sexually active varied between sixteen and twenty years old. They all said to be satisfied with the age they got involved in sexual relations.

To sum up, most of the respondents are content about their involvement in intimate relationships. The two who consider themselves as un- or overinvolved are less content about their involvement. The age of becoming sexually active differed between the respondents, but as for the extent of involvement the respondents who were somewhere in the middle of the ‘extremes’ were the most content about the age they got sexually active. It seems that average involvement amounts to feelings of success in the dating world while being different from the average creates feelings of failure and frustration. As we will find out in the following section, there are many different phases of intimate relationships. Feelings of failure and frustration are not only influenced by the number of intimate relationships one has experienced, but also by the phase these intimate relationships have reached.

Phases of the intimate relationship

Respondents used the term intimate relationship to cover a range of phases in relationships, with different content and qualities for each phase. The starting point can either be physical or emotional intimacy; some people start their relationship with sexual contacts, others with lots of (online) contact. Eventually also intimate relationships that had started with emotional intimacy ended in sexual contact. This state of intimacy could last for months and sometimes this is the ending phase. After a while, questions about exclusivity arise. In the exclusivity phase, both partners promise to only be intimate with the other partner. After this phase of exclusivity, arrives the prela-phase, when partners find out if they want to be in a labelled relationship. In this phase the underlying assumption is the end goal of a labelled relationship.

At the moment of the interview, Rosa has been seeing someone for five months. They are practically in a relationship, but exclusivity appears to be a difficult subject:

‘What if one of us kisses someone else? I would never do that and I would be devastated to find out he did.. But I don’t want to ask him to be exclusive, I’m afraid I might scare him.’

This phase is marked by uncertainties and insecurities. The first phase of an intimate relationship is all about experimenting and finding out what you personally want from the other. Once this decision is made, either the intimate relationship ends, or enters this state of uncertainty. One has to find out if the other is interested in something ‘more’. This is not something that simply can be asked and it may take months to find out. Jim has been dating for eight months with his girlfriend. He knew already after two dates he wanted to be exclusive. But it took him five more months to discuss this with her:

‘I was so in love with her, that it [exclusivity] only became more difficult to talk about.., Although I kind of knew she felt the same way… What if she didn’t and my question about being exclusive would make her turn away from me?’

His girlfriend later told him she was waiting for him to ask to be exclusive and if it would have taken him one more month she might have left. This emphasizes the importance of perfect timing: If you want to be exclusive too soon, you might scare the other with your crave for commitment. But if you wait too long, the other might think you’re unwilling ‘to give up your freedom’. All of the respondents made clear that timing is a crucial factor, if it goes wrong the other person might leave. As a consequence of the high importance of timing, both parties become afraid to bring up the question of exclusivity. Lonneke, who has had two intimate relationships that ended in this phase partly because neither of them dared to ask the exclusivity question, explains:

‘Yes of course I wanted to be exclusive. But I will never ask something like that, I mean if he wanted to be exclusive with me he would  have asked, right? At this point I was like, you didn’t ask me to be exclusive, so I don’t think you like me enough’

This kind of thinking is recognized by all of the respondents and could lead to a situation where both parties are waiting for the other to ask for exclusivity. They don’t want to ask it themselves, because the question puts them in a vulnerable position. If the other is unwilling to be exclusive this leads to feelings of rejection. If one dares to ask the question of exclusivity, there are many ways to do so. A few examples the respondents gave are the following:

‘He asked me if I wanted to kiss other boys. I replied I didn’t and then he asked me to be exclusive.’  (Lianne)

‘Well we found it out the hard way, I was drunk and kissed someone else. This made her upset and from then on I promised her to never kiss someone else and we were exclusive.’ (Werner)

‘I asked him if he wanted to be exclusive.’ (Sasha)

So there are different roads to exclusivity, but the question always brings up feelings of  insecurity. If the exclusivity phase is successfully reached, this provides a more stable intimate relationship. This phase creates feelings of comfort and security, both parties have shown to be willing to make some efforts for each other. The next phase is the labeling phase, which is the first step to the more serious phase of an intimate relationship.


After the exclusivity phase the step to a labelled relationship seems a small one to take. But many exclusive intimate relationships don’t make it through the labeling phase. Labeling is a way of saying that you’re into someone for the long-term. The anxiety of failure of this long-term commitment gives the label a loaded content. This feeling of anxiety can be produced by personal feelings or others reactions. The difference between the exclusivity phase and the labelled relationship is for all respondents a difference in responsibilities and commitment. Lina and Lianne talk about the meaning of labeling:

Why would you label? If it’s fun, no label is needed. It’s a big pressure to label something, I’m not sure if I’m ready for a label like that.’ (Lina)

Same for me. I mean if you’re in a relationship you have to meet the parents. It’s something more real if you label. I have many friends who practically are in a relationship, they’re doing everything together. The label wouldn’t change anything, but still it seems too serious.’ (Lianne)

According to them, the label has the meaning of making the intimate relationship real. This is exactly what frightens Werner the most. Werner tells that the ‘prela’ phase is a time for experimenting and learning more about the other. Once the label of a relationship is given, the time of experimenting is over. So in other words, you have chosen that the other is the one you like the most out of all the others. You choose to be with that person after a long time of experimenting, so the choice has to be a good one. As Werner puts it:

The non-labeling is because you want to make sure that everything is perfect. The moment you start to name it, it becomes a possibility to break up and it’s much more of a big deal from then on. This would feel like failure to me.’

So for Werner, the meaning of a label is admitting that the relationship is expected to last on the long-term. This anxiety for a potential break-up makes the meaning of a label so important that he avoids the potential break-up by not labeling a relationship. Rosa is frightened by the potential break-up in a different way. While Werner is scared for the personal feelings of failure after a break-up, Rosa is more scared for the reactions of others:

It’s better to just tell we’re not seeing each other anymore, instead of having to say you broke up. Then everybody is like omg how are you??’

When the label of a relationship is given after a very short time of being in the ‘prela’-phase, reactions from others indeed can be judgmental. Lianne tells us something about social norms and labeling:

Sometimes you hear people who are in a relationship after one month of dating, and then everyone is just like whatttt, you just can’t take something like that serious.’

It appears to be socially unacceptable to label too soon. This gives the label an even more pressuring meaning. Despite these pressures, people of course still label their relationship. According to both men and women, there’s a strong gender division in the way this usually happens. Both men agree with the women that the question preferably is asked by the man in a heterosexual relationship:

‘After one year I asked her if she wanted to be my girlfriend. I was completely sure about us and I knew she was too. I knew it was my job to ask it, and although it scared me it also makes you feel very … masculine I guess.’ (Jim)

‘I would be embarrassed if the girl asked me that question. I mean, man up, you want to conquer the girl, not the other way around.’ (Werner)

All the women agree with the statement that men are the ones who have to ask for the relationship to be official (label). Just as the question of exclusivity can be brought up in many different ways, the labeling question can be asked in different forms. Nicky was not very pleased by the way her boyfriend asked her to make their relationship official:

‘It took him ages to ask.. And then he asked me to be his girlfriend when we were having dinner in a super cheap Italian restaurant at Leidse Square. I mean come on.’

This disappointment shows that with the labeling question some expectations come up. Firstly the man has to ask the question, and secondly the question should be asked in a special way. It differs what is seen as special enough, as we can conclude from the following example:

‘I planned to ask her the question the night before, I brought roses and all that. But when I saw her I got nervous and gave her the rose, without asking it.. So I felt like ruining my chances for the night. I slept over and the next morning we were lying in bed, her head on my chess. I felt so happy at the time that I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut and asked her if she  wanted to be my girlfriend. It was a very romantic moment .’ (Jim)

In sum there are many anxieties about labeling a relationship. Once these anxieties are overcome, certain expectations come up with the labeling of a relationship. The question is preferably asked by men in a ‘special’ way.


In this research the focus was on changing romantic values in present-day society. Firstly it has been shown that the meaning of romantic relationships has changed in all five stages that Collin’s (2003) distinguished. People are getting involved and experiment with intimate relationships at a younger age, but a romantic commitment is made at an older age (Arnett, 2004). The partner selection has become an increasingly personal matter and love is an important aspect of the content of present-day labelled relationships (Bulcroft et al., 2000). A high-quality relationship means a relationship that provides benefits for both partners (Bauman, 2003). According to Bauman (2003) romantic relationships are shaped by rational analyses and on the contrary Bulcroft et al. (2000) state that emotional aspects are increasingly important.

These conclusions from existing literature on changing romantic discourse are partly in line with the way students in Amsterdam give meaning to their romantic values. Involvement of the interviewed students is mainly experimental. This changes the content of their intimate relationships. According to the respondents, intimate relationships can be divided into different phases with different content. Intimate relationships always start with emotional or physical intimacy. There’s an important difference between physical and emotional intimacy, this is no longer automatically related to the same person. The first phase is all about experimenting and can last for months. The following stage is the ‘prela’-phase. In this stage both partners promise to be exclusively intimate with the other partner. This phase is still about experimenting and finding out if the other is a potential partner for a labelled relationship. Even if both partners like each other enough to get into a labelled relationship, the question to label the relationship is a difficult one to ask. The labeling question brings up several anxieties and expectations for both parties. Preferably the man asks in a special way to label the relationship.

All the respondents used words like ‘anxiety’, ‘scared’ and ‘uncertainty’ to describe their feelings about transitions in relationship phases. On the one hand, all respondents expressed to eventually want a labelled intimate relationship. On the other hand, nobody wants to be the one who is the first to say this out loud. As a consequence, both partners get scared to ask for a transition into the next phase. This is partly because of personal anxiety about choosing the wrong person. The label of a relationship implies the expectation of a longstanding relationship. So before putting this label on the intimate relationship, the maintenance of the relationship has to be likely to succeed. In the labeling phase the thought of all those other persons, potential partners, who are nowadays so easily reached through social media, creates anxiety about choosing the wrong person. This corresponds to Bauman’s (2003) Liquid Love concept. According to Bauman it almost feels natural to look for improvement in every aspect of our life. One of those aspects that becomes the subject of this improvement, is our love life. The feeling of wanting someone better looking, funnier, sweeter, more masculine/feminine corrupts the feeling of being happy with the person in front of you. As a consequence, the experimenting phase could last for many months.

Besides this anxiety based on personal matters, anxiety about transition to the next phase of the intimate relationship is based on uncertainties about what the other might think. All the respondents are extremely aware of the fact that the other is also trying to find out if the partner might be someone to get a labelled relationship with. Timing of the transition to the next phase is therefore crucial. If questions about the next phase are asked too soon, this might have a negative impact on the way the other views the potential partner.

These feelings of anxiety and uncertainty can be traced back to the high degree of freedom of partner selection and the quality aspect (Bauman, 2003; Bulcroft et al., 2000). The most important aspect of a high-quality relationship is personal fulfillment for both partners. The high degree of freedom in partner selection creates possibilities in choosing the partner who seems to be able to provide most personal fulfillment. On the one side of the spectrum, this creates feelings of happiness about being with the person you want to be with. On the other side of the spectrum, it is exactly this aspect of freedom that creates feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. After all, if a high degree of personal fulfillment is lacking, there seems to be no reason to stay in the romantic commitment. Considering the high degree of freedom of partner selection, it might be the best option to look for another person who is able to provide a high degree of personal fulfillment. This gives the romantic relationship a more temporary and uncertain nature than ever before.

(Research paper written for Youth Cultures in a Transnational Context)


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Bauman, Z. (2003). Liquid love: On the frailty of human bonds. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

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Bulcroft, R., Bulcroft, K., Bradley, K., & Simpson, C. (2000). The Management and Production of Risk in Romantic Relationships: A Postmodern Paradox. Journal of Family History,25(1), 63-92. doi:10.1177/036319900002500105

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Marx, K., Engels, F., In Arthur, C. J., & Marx, K. (1996). The German ideology, in C. Calhoun et al. (Ed.), Classical Sociological Theory, blz. 143-155

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Zackariasson, M. (2014). Being Yourself: Identity and Self-presentation among Youths in Christian Youth Organizations. Young, 22(2), 153-170. doi:10.1177/1103308814521625

Global Youth Papers

Bright hairHannah Dol


I have dyed my hair in many colors before. Natural colors such as blonde, brown, black, but also unnatural, bright colors such as pink, red, purple and blue. Since I started dying my hair in these bright colors when I was about sixteen, so about six years ago, it seems to attract much attention. Not just from friends or people that I know, but also random people in the street. Most reactions are quite positive. People will scream something such as “Nice haircolor!”, or “Beautiful hair!” to me. There also seemed to be some people who saw it as an opening to try to flirt with me and come up with a clever remark about my haircolor. Anyway many people see it as an opening to start a conversation, probably because it is something unusual, something that stands out and they don’t see that often.

I never expected this much attention from dying my hair because I didn’t think about it being very outstanding at first. I just liked the way it looked and how it looks very happy and bright and creative. The creative part is probably because not that many people dye their hair in bright colors. Most people stick to “safe” colors such as blonde, brown or black.

Since I started thinking a bit more about subcultures and whether I myself belong to a specific subculture, I started thinking about my choice to dye my hair in bright colors. Does this make me part of a subculture? Because it is something out of the ordinary, it is not very “mainstream”. I found this a hard question to answer. Because if I do belong to a subculture, then what subculture is it? And is just having a bright hair color enough to make one part of a specific subculture? I started thinking about my own motivations for dying my hair and I came to the conclusion that it probably isn’t just about hair. I like rock music and I also enjoy some clothing elements from alternative subcultures (such as black clothing and Dr. Martens boots). I like the way alternative style looks.

But when I started thinking about what makes this look appeal to me it isn’t just the way it looks, it is also what it stands for. To me alternative fashion represents people who are open minded and don’t always follow the crowd, but are more willing to think for themselves. This to me is a good thing.

So this probably is part of the reason why I like bright hair colors so much. When I see someone with bright hair color (which is done in a nice way) I like it. I look for inspiration from people I see on the street, but most of my inspiration comes from the internet. I watch tutorial videos on YouTube and I follow people who have a style that I like and I follow their hair journeys to get some inspiration for myself and to try something new. There also are some websites (such as that are completely devoted to bright hair colors. Here people show what colors they have dyed their hair and how they got it this way. They also show timelines of all the hair colors they’ve had and they get a lot of comments from other people who appreciate bright hair colors.

I wanted to find out what motivations other people have for dying their hair this way and standing out in this way. Because it is so unusual and very bright, people notice you for it very easily, so you probably have to be quite motivated to do it anyway. In this research I sought to find out what motivations other people have for dying their hair in bright colors and whether it is “just about hair”, or whether there is more to it, such as alternative subcultures and alternative morals that may come with it.

Bright hair colors were first introduced in the United Kingdom in the punk scene around 1980 (Cartledge, n.d.). These styles were picked up by teenagers who wanted to express their individuality and rebellion against conformist society ( These days it seems as if strict subcultures don’t exist as much as they used to. In this research I will see if bright hair colors are still connected to alternative subcultures, but also if it still is such a statement as it used to be. Whether it still is a way to express your individuality and your rebellion against conformist society.

The main question for this research is: “To what extent is having bright hair connected to alternative subcultures?” To research this topic further, this research question will be split into several sub questions. Firstly people’s personal motivations for dying their hair in bright colors has to be researched to get a general idea of this group of people. This will be researched through the subquestion: “What are people’s motivations for dying their hair in a bright color?” As mentioned bright hair colors used to be a way to express rebellion against mainstream society, it is interesting to see whether this still is the case. This will be researched through the subquestion: “Is having bright hair still a form of rebellion against mainstream society?” The final subquestion is about the role of social media, because many websites and online tutorial videos about bright hair appear to be available on the internet, which could mean there is some form of an online community. This will be researched through the subquestion: “What is the role of social media in having bright hair (and alternative style)?” For this research two methods were used. First an online ethnography was used and after that there were also interviews conducted.

Online communities

Since so much of the bright-haired community is online, such as tutorial videos and sites where people post their hair timelines and talk about hair with each other, this was a good place to start the research. A website that is fully dedicated to bright hair colors is Here people share pictures of their hair colors and they discuss how they got a specific hair color and they help each other by giving tips. This site is a social forum in the way that people connect with each other because they have a common interest, namely bright hair colors. But the website pays less attention to people’s individual motivations behind their bright hair colors. So just from this website it can’t be inferred whether these people view themselves as “alternative” or whether they can identify with alternative subcultures. It is still interesting to see that these days people with similar interests can meet each other via the internet. Something like this probably wasn’t possible in the past, but since the coming of the internet people with similar interests can bond in such a way.

Many videos about bright hair colors can be found on YouTube. Most of the videos are tutorials where people tell their viewers how to they got their hair a certain color and they can also give each other advice. But because these people have a channel with all sorts of information, more about their personal lives is shared with their viewers. So even though one of the videos is just about, for example, “How to dye your hair bright pink”, this person can also have some videos about more personal issues that don’t necessarily have to do with their hair color, but by comparing what different people with bright hair colors have in common an image of these people can be drawn. - Specialist in Hair ColourThe people I have been following for some time on YouTube who dye their hair in bright colors do this because they feel they are part of an alternative community. This includes people who identify as being goth, punk, emo, scene, or just alternative in general. Many of them don’t necessarily identify with one specific subculture, but they take some inspiration from one style and some from another style and this way a unique style can be formed that fits with that person. These style elements can be hair (bright hair colors), but also certain clothing, shoes, jewelry, etc. Forming a personal style by only using certain elements is described as a “supermarket of style” by Ted Polhemus. He states:

“Street style “tribes” offered (and, for many, seem to have provided) that sense of community and shared identity that is so difficult to find in contemporary society. But while significant remnants of many of these subcultures remain scattered around the globe, such commitment and group identity have become less typical of the twenty-first century. Such looks are now, typically, plucked off the shelf of the post-modern “supermarket of style,” tried out, promiscuously mixed with other looks, and then discarded” (Polhemus, n.d.).

Bennett also mentions that subcultures are not as solid and static as they used to be, he speaks of neotribes instead of subcultures (Bennett, 1999). But even though these style elements might not belong to a specific style or subculture, for outsiders, the ‘mainstream’ people, they might still be viewed as alternative. These days many young people form their style in the way Polhemus describes. Their style is very individual. They do it for themselves, trying to express themselves and form a unique style that fits their personality. Such a person doesn’t necessarily have to be part of a broader subculture and behave a certain way and only interact with people of that subculture. Take, for example, videos on YouTube such as “Grunge-inspired Lookbook” by Roxxsaurus. She mentions beneath her video:

grunge inspired lookbookHey guys! so many of you are into the whole grunge scene when it comes to makeup and fashion so I decided to create these outfits for you as some inspiration. This is what grunge fashion is to me, it’s my interpretation and I hope you enjoy it!

Grunge seems to be a style that is derived from a subculture, but nowadays young people take elements from it such as tattoo choker necklaces or Dr. Martens and put these elements into their own style. There are more video’s such as this one where people do a grunge makeup look on themselves or show a grunge outfit even though they don’t look like this all the time and they are not necessarily part of a grunge subculture. Similar videos can be found for gothic or emo makeup or clothing, or punk-inspired clothing, etc.

There are also numerous videos on bright hair. When searching on YouTube for “How to dye your hair bright pink”, for example, many videos will come up. One of the videos is titled “Considering bright hair m’dear?” by lauraacanfly where she discusses the pros and cons of having bright-colored hair. She mentions the same issues as are mentioned by my interviewees discussed below. She talks about how difficult it is to get a job with bright pink hair and how people on the street stare at her, but how she still likes to do it because it makes her an individual and how it is a conversation starter. She says, ”I don’t like how people start identifying you with your hair, like: Oh that’s Laura with the pink hair!” It makes someone “the person with the bright hair”, because this makes someone stand out. So, while people with bright hair like to stand out with their bright hair, at the same time they don’t because to some people it becomes all they can see.

Another video about this subject is “Misconceptions about bright colored hair” by Kiera Rose. She says: “For some reason when you have bright colored hair, it makes people think that you are very outgoing, but this doesn’t have to be the case”. She was in a BBC documentary about mental health issues, as she suffers from serious social anxiety, but people commented that she was faking it because if she would have social anxiety she wouldn’t dare to stand out with her hair like that. She says: “When people stare at me when I have blue hair, I don’t mind that they stare because they are looking at my hair, but if my hair would look normal and people would stare then my mind would race and I would think what is wrong with me and I would make up all these things in my head”. This made sense to me because this is something I also experience. I just wasn’t aware of this before I heard someone else say it out loud. It isn’t the main reason why I chose to dye my hair this way but it might have to do with it. For Kiera Rose having bright colored hair helps her to deal with her mental problems. This will be further discussed below.

Reasons for wanting to look different from the mainstream can be very diverse. I have found three reasons that seem to be the most important. It can be a creative outlet in which you express your artistic views through a creative and colorful appearance. The people that died their hair in bright colors generally were also very much into makeup and many of them were makeup artists. This became apparent because I follow quite some people on YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram for their makeup skills and quite a few of them have had bright hair colors. For other people it can be because they identify with alternative subcultures, which implies that they are more open-minded people who don’t adhere to society’s strict rules on what is acceptable and what isn’t. This can be only about appearance but also about moral standards; for example, being open-minded can mean that someone thinks that all love is equal, not only heterosexual relationships but also homosexual relationships, etc. So this is about feelings of belonging towards alternative people.

A third reason is the feeling of not fitting into mainstream society; a person that feels like an outcast may want to express this feeling that they have on the inside on the outside. This can be because someone has been bullied or because they have different life experiences (such as traumatic experiences) from their peers, which entails that they don’t connect on the same level. It might also be that they feel different because they have something that makes them feel different such as a disorder. Although we shouldn’t generalize, it was very striking that many of the YouTubers who dress alternatively and dye their hair in bright colors had some experience with mental disorders such as depression. This became clear as they also made videos about these experiences. Of course, not all people who dye their hair in bright colors have a mental disorder. Not at all. But it does seem logical that someone who feels different on the inside from most people (the “mainstream” people) internalizes this feeling of “being different” so much that they don’t even want to fit in in a regular way, they have made the feeling of being different their own and they also express this on the outside for the world to see.

Because many people have these feelings of “feeling different” (which doesn’t have to be negative as it can also be related to one of the other reasons), and express this through, for example, bright colored hair, this automatically identifies them as being alternative, which makes it easier for other alternative people to identify with each other and form bonds with each other. Thus, even though it is very much about individualism, it is also about being together with other people like you, about feeling and forming bonds. These bonds don’t have to be in the “real world”, many of these bonds are formed through online communities, such as YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and Forums.

This can be illustrated by the reactions people get when posting pictures of their hair on the site, for example: “Absolutely stunning. I’m always amazed how beautiful you are and how well you do your dyejobs. I think you are a great colour inspiration”. Here people can follow each other by viewing their hair timelines and trade tips with each other. Another example which demonstrates that these online communities are about more than just hair are the comments on YouTube videos where people share not only trading tips on how to dye hair, but also personal problems such as the mental health issues mentioned earlier. YouTube provides an important platform this way, where people give the YouTuber feedback and ask questions and the YouTuber will then make a video about it or answer questions in the form of a “Q & A” (questions & answers). I myself started following some YouTubers just because I thought their hair looked cool and as I continued following their videos other subjects such as personal problems came up as well, and these people offered advice that has also helped me along.


Besides analysis of online content, interviews were used to find out about people’s motivations and opinions about bright hair colors. The people with bright hair that you meet in daily life aren’t necessarily the same people that visit the online communities. It proved to be quite hard to find suitable respondents to interview. For the first interview a friend with green hair was interviewed (Ana; all names are pseudonyms). This girl knew quite some other people with bright hair colors, but meeting them was very hard to arrange so the best way to reach them was by sending a questionnaire with open questions – such as, “What do bright hair colors represent for you? What do they stand for?” – in which they were encouraged to give as much information as possible about the subject. These people could later be reached via Facebook messenger if more clarification was needed about their answers. Five respondents were interviewed this way. All but one of them (Sara) were Dutch. A seventh respondent was interviewed via chat (Tirza) because she didn’t have the time to meet in person due to a busy work schedule. By doing the interview via chat rather than a questionnaire it did become more personal, as chat allows for immediate follow-up questions to see what someone means specifically by saying something a particular way. Because the interviewee was a personal friend, there already was a relaxed and open atmosphere.

In the following, when referring to “most of the interviewees” this is because they all had similar reasons and views on a particular subject. When something someone said stands out this person will be mentioned separately. Not all interviewees are cited here, but their opinions are still expressed here because they felt the same way as the other interviewees about certain subjects. It was an interesting coincidence that most of the people interviewed had dyed their hair blue, and stated that they had a specific love for blue hair, although they liked bright hair in general.

The first interviewee was Ana, she is 20 years old and a first-year student of artificial intelligence. She comes across as a kind and open-minded girl who likes to laugh and make jokes. Her hair wasn’t colored at the moment of the interview, it is brownish with an outgrown blondish color, but it used to be bright blue. Ana said that she dyed her hair this way because she “just liked the look of it”. She didn’t feel she did it because she belonged to a specific subculture or wanted to rebel against mainstream society. She was part of a subculture though, her hobby is “fur suiting,” this is when people dress in animal suits together and go on the streets and interact with people there, like playing with children and just having fun in general. She didn’t think bright hair colors are specifically part of this subculture although there were some other people in the subculture who also dyed their hair in bright colors. She thought this is mainly because many of her friends are a bit “alternative” in general and bright hair does appeal to these people. Her main motivation was that she likes being individual. She feels that because there are so many people on earth you have to do something special to stand out and to look special. This was a theme that many of the interviewees mentioned. Young people these days are very much into individual expression, and part of that is expressing themselves through their appearances and style. They see dying their hair in a bright color as a fun, happy way of doing this.

Other interviewees also mentioned that they dyed their hair in a bright color because it is very important to them that they can do what they want and be their own person, since they didn’t have positive experiences with this in other parts of their life. For example, one of the interviewees, Jennifer, a 20 year old girl with bright blue hair, has Lyme’s disease and because of that can no longer walk. Because of this disease and other events in her life she feels that much has been taken from her and she doesn’t have control over most of the things that happen to her. For her, dying her hair is something she has decided on by herself, something she likes, and even though other people, such as her parents, classmates or an employee may not like it, she does it anyway. So it seems to be a form of agency to get back control over her life and identity. Because it is something that she has control over and something that makes her happy. This makes it a very personal thing to do. I found this very interesting that something as simple as dying your hair can have such a deep meaning to someone.

All the interviewees mentioned that “doing their own thing” is very important to them. They don’t like to follow the crowd and if they like something because it feels good to them they do it. This is something which they associate with alternative subcultures. So even though they were not part of a specific subculture associated with bright hair colors, they do feel an association with “alternative people” and “being alternative”.

Another interviewee was Tirza, a 29 year old young woman with a master’s degree who now has a full-time office job. She used to have a lot of bright hair colors when she was younger, such as bright pink hair, but now it is back to her natural color, blonde. Tirza comes across as a very open-minded and kind girl. It wasn’t hard for her to express her feelings and she had a clear view on things. This could be because she is slightly older than the other interviewees so she had thought about subjects such as identity and style more. Tirza mentioned that “being alternative” really is a mindset. It is about doing what you like no matter what others might think of it, not only regarding your appearance, but regarding your mindset in general. She gave a funny example to illustrate: “If you might feel like playing in a kid playground and jumping into one of those barrels filled with balls (in Dutch: “ballenbak”), you will do this just because you feel like it and it doesn’t matter what other people think of it”. So to most of them it is about more than just their appearance.

All of the interviewees received plenty of reactions on their hair color. Most of the reactions were very positive. Such as, “I like your hair”, or “I wish I would dare to do that”. Some of them also receive weird or flirty comments from men as some people see it as a way to start a conversation. However, most of the interviewees said they didn’t necessarily dye their hair because they wanted to stand out and receive reactions, but mostly because they like it themselves. Regardless of the reactions they still kept dying their hair anyway. Even the creepy remarks would not keep them from dying their hair. For example, Ana mentioned that when she had green hair and she was shopping in a supermarket an elderly man told her: “Jij bent een groentje en ik een grijsje”, which sort of translates to: “You’re green (which in this context means an inexperienced young person, in a kind of sexual way), and I’m grey (which means that he is experienced and older).” This was very creepy and threatening to her. Having bright hair certainly can provoke some interesting and weird reactions. It is as if because their hair isn’t very normal that people can also react in a way that they normally wouldn’t do. As if people suddenly can say things that normally would be seen as inappropriate because such a hair color is sort of “innapropriate”. This can also be linked to the idea of ‘deviance’, it seems as if because people with bright colored hair deviate from the norm the norm of social values doesn’t apply to them.

Although most of the reactions the interviewees experienced were positive, they still sense a lack of understanding for why people choose to look alternative. Jennifer mentioned that at a job interview her future employer told her that it was her own choice if she wanted to be hired or not because she probably would get bullied because of her hair color (and also because of the fact that she can’t walk). This was very shocking to me. Tirza mentioned that because of negative reactions such as “Gothic!”, or “You stupid alto!” she disliked those “mainstream” people even more and this made her want to rebel against it even more. So for her, dying her hair really was about rebelling against mainstream society and this is what she likes about it.

When asked about the do’s and don’ts regarding bright hair colors (because do’s and don’ts could mean that there are rules which could indicate that it is a subculture), most of the interviewees mentioned that people should just do what they like. This individualism and doing what you like, as mentioned earlier, is an important part of being “alternative” and something that all of the interviewees thought about in a similar way; it was contrasted with following fashions. Lara, a 20 year old student with bright blue hair, mentioned that she didn’t like it when people dye their hair in a silver, greyish color because she thinks that people only do this because it is in fashion and because other people do it too. She said: “If everyone just starts dying their hair because it is hip, this way dying your hair in bright colors could become “normal””, and she viewed “normal” as a negative thing because then bright hair colors wouldn’t be special and alternative anymore, but would become mainstream and loose its meaning of an alternative mindset.

This becoming mainstream of bright hair colors seems to be gradually happening already. The interviewees mentioned that bright hair colors are already becoming more “normal” since celebrities such as Katy Perry and Nicole Richie are dying their hair in bright colors. These pop icons don’t really have any associations with alternative subcultures, they just think bright hair colors look “pretty” and this way it may lose its meaning. This erosion of meaning of alternative styles is quite common in pop culture. Something is started by an alternative subculture and it is later picked up by a brand or a celebrity and suddenly it becomes cool for mainstream people so that it loses its meaning and becomes less interesting for alternative-minded people. A similar process can be seen in subcultures such as skateboarding. Style elements such as Vans or Nike shoes were a part of the skateboarding subculture, but after big corporations became involved, skateboarding became very much commercialized and more mainstream so that it became less interesting to the alternative skateboarding community (Lombard, 2010).

Most of the interviewees did mention they looked at pictures or videos online for inspiration. For example, Sara, a 21 year old French exchange student of Social Sciences with bright green hair said that she wanted green hair for a long time and she always searched for pictures of green hair on Google and Pinterest and this way she formed an idea of what she wanted for herself. But to all of the interviewees it wasn’t really more than inspiration. They like bright hair colors and they also like bright hair colors on others. But just because two people both have a bright hair color doesn’t automatically mean they have something in common and they should be friends (to say it bluntly). Most of them did have friends who have bright hair colors, but they thought this is mostly because people who are a bit “alternative” are attracted to like-minded people. This seems very logical, that your friends are just people who are a lot like you and think about things is a similar way.

Opposing an undiscerning mainstream

Subcultures don’t really seem to exist anymore like they used to according to the respondents. Tirza mentioned she used to protest with other alternative people (like punks) but that this wasn’t really happening anymore. She thought that these days a lot of “being alternative” is about style and music and no longer necessarily about issues such as political views or anything. The other interviewees also mentioned this. It seems that style has become more of an individual thing. People take certain elements from a style that they like, and many take their inspiration from the internet or from people they meet on the streets. It is mostly about expressing themselves and not so much expressing that they are part of a certain subculture. It still has bonds with what subcultures used to stand for, such as being open-minded and doing what you like, not following the crowd. Having bright hair is still very much intertwined with this. Mary Bucholtz has something to say about this in “Youth and cultural practice” (2000):

“The explanatory power of resistance becomes less adequate as youth identities move further away from the class-based cultural styles that the concept was designed to account for. … [Youth cultures] are better understood as founded on a politics of distinction, in which [cultural practice] is tied not only to pleasure or social identity but also to forms of power. This is a very different kind of oppositionality than is implied by the concept of resistance, for it is based not on a rejection of a powerless structural position but rather on a rejection of an undiscerning mainstream culture”. (Bucholtz, 2002: 541)

To me it was very interesting to see that it really isn’t just about hair. Talking to people and hearing their personal motivations opened new views for me. This also made me think about my own choices about dying my hair in bright colors and I came to the conclusion that it definitely is about more than “just hair”. I like being identified with alternative subcultures and what they stand for, I like being an individual in a world where there are so many people. I feel the same way as the interviewees, so these views together with the reasons mentioned earlier do create some kind of bond.

(Research paper written for Youth Cultures in a Transnational Context)


Bennett (1999). Sub-cultures or neo-tribes? Rethinking the relationship between youth, style and musical taste. Sociology, 33, 3, 599-617.

Brake, M. (2013). The Sociology of Youth Culture and Youth Subcultures (Routledge Revivals): Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll?. Routledge.

Bucholtz, M. (2002). Youth and cultural practice. Annual review of anthropology, 525-552.

Cartledge, F. Punk style. Via:

Hebdige, D. (1995), Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Critical Quarterly, 37: 120–124. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8705.1995.tb01063.x

Lombard, K. J. (2010). Skate and create/skate and destroy: The commercial and governmental incorporation of skateboarding. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 24(4), 475-488.

Moran, I. P. (2011). Punk: The do-it-yourself subculture. Social Sciences Journal10(1), 13.

Polhemus, T. Street style. Via:

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Global Youth Papers

Caroline-Buchanan1Selma Rijnsburger

Als vrouwelijke semitopsporter werd ik me al snel bewust van sekseongelijkheid. Als meisje in de, door mannen gedomineerde, BMX-wereld viel het me al snel op dat er wel degelijk verschillen waren tussen de mannen en de vrouwen. Als het over “de elite” ging, dan ging het over de mannen en op dat sporadische moment dat er een item over BMX-racing te zien was op het NOS sportjournaal waren het altijd de mannen die de show stalen. Kortom, het werd al snel duidelijk dat je als vrouw niet hoefde te verwachten dat je even serieus werd behandeld als de mannen. Dit werd nog duidelijker toen ik in de leeftijd kwam dat we niet meer voor bekers en medailles reden, maar voor de geldprijzen gingen rijden. Toen bleek dat de geldprijzen voor de mannen hoger uitvielen dan die van de vrouwen. Dit fenomeen beperkt zich niet alleen tot de BMX-wereld. Het overgrote deel van de sportwereld wordt nog steeds gedomineerd door mannen en is er vaak sprake van sterke inkomensongelijkheid tussen de seksen. Een kritische lezer zal nu wel denken: als de sportwereld zo wordt gedomineerd door mannen, is het dan niet logisch dat er ook meer geld omgaat in het mannencircuit en dat mannen dus meer verdienen?

Een theoretische stroming die zich specifiek bezighoudt met inkomensongelijk is de neoklassieke school. Als je naar dit vraagstuk zou kijken met een neoklassieke bril zou je in eerste instantie wellicht denken dat deze inkomensongelijkheid juist niet een logisch gevolg is van de dominantie van mannen in de sportwereld. Immers, de neoklassieken zullen de sportwereld zien als een markt waar het principe van vraag en aanbod geldt. De sportwereld wordt gedomineerd door mannen, en het aanbod van mannen is dus erg groot. Dit zou moeten betekenen dat het inkomen van mannen juist lager zou moeten zijn. Want als het aanbod groter is dan de vraag zorgt dit voor een daling in inkomen. Echter, als we ons wat verder verdiepen in deze theorie blijkt dat op de markt die de neoklassieken schetsen het inkomen afhangt van kennis, vaardigheden en talent. Deze vaardigheden zijn het gevolg van een investering die is gedaan. In het geval van een sporter betekent dit dat zijn inkomen afhankelijk is van zijn talent, en van de investering die hij heeft gedaan, in dit geval het aantal trainingsuren (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, 2014). Als we even terugkomen op het geval van verschillen in prijzengeld in de BMX-wereld snijdt deze theorie toch meer hout dan in eerste instantie lijkt. Want hoe meer concurrenten er zijn, hoe meer talent en vaardigheden je zal moeten hebben om de beste te zijn. Dit betekent dat inkomensongelijkheid een gevolg is van de dominantie van de mannen in de BMX-wereld.

Maar toch is deze verklaring niet genoeg om dit fenomeen helemaal te kunnen verklaren. De neoklassieken gaan er namelijk vanuit dat inkomensverschillen in de BMX-wereld enkel een gevolg zijn van de dominantie van de mannen. Maar wie zegt dat deze dominantie niet juist het gevolg kan zijn van inkomensongelijkheid? De neoklassieke benadering behoeft dus enige aanvulling (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, 2014).

Een mogelijke aanvulling is de functionalistische verklaring, deze theorie gaat veel meer uit van normatieve factoren die (kunnen) leiden tot ongelijkheid. In het geval van beroepen gaat deze theorie er dus vanuit dat de beloning van beroepen afhangt van het prestige van dit beroep. Dit prestige wordt grotendeels bepaald door de bijdrage die dit beroep levert aan de samenleving. In de BMX-wereld zou dit betekenen dat inkomensongelijkheid een indicator is van het feit dat mannelijke BMX-ers meer aanzien hebben dan vrouwelijke BMX-ers. Dit is nogal wat om zo te stellen, maar laten we de BMX-wereld eens bekijken als een soort mini-samenleving. Als de functionalistische verklaring klopt krijgen mannen meer prijzengeld betaald dan vrouwen, omdat zij meer prestige hebben. Deze prestige wordt bepaald doordat mannen een grotere bijdrage zouden leveren aan de mini-samenleving die de BMX-wereld heet. Nu rijst de vraag, waarom zouden mannen meer prestige hebben dan vrouwen?

Hier is het belangrijk om een onderscheid te maken tussen de concepten ‘ongelijkheid’ en ‘verschil’. Het concept ongelijkheid heeft een zekere vorm van stratificatie in zich, in het geval van inkomensongelijkheid betekent dit dat een bepaalde groep binnen de samenleving meer verdient dan de andere. Het concept ‘verschil’ heeft deze stratificatie niet. Een bepaalde groep is simpelweg anders dan de andere groep, wat niet wil zeggen dat de ene groep beter is. In het geval van geslacht is dit verschil duidelijk: een mannenlichaam is simpelweg anders opgebouwd dan het vrouwelijk lichaam. Dit wil niet zeggen dat het mannenlichaam “beter” is, maar het is wel belangrijk dit verschil te erkennen.

Nu terug naar de vraag waarom mannen meer prestige hebben dan vrouwen. In de BMX-wereld is het, zoals in zoveel sportwerelden, belangrijk om zoveel mogelijk geld, sponsoren en publiciteit te krijgen. In dit geval wil je dus dat als het sportjournaal een item uitzendt over BMX-racing, dat de rijders zo snel mogelijk gaan, zo mooi mogelijke sprongen maken, en eventueel nog wat spectaculaire crashes maken. Hier speelt het zojuist beschreven verschil tussen mannen en vrouwen een belangrijke rol. Mannen zijn van nature gewoon sterker dan vrouwen, zijn dus in staat meer snelheid te maken en grotere sprongen te maken. Kortom, het mannen-BMX wordt gezien als spectaculairder, en op commercieel gebied zullen mannen dus een grotere bijdrage leveren aan de inkomsten van de BMX-wereld. Het logische gevolg hiervan is dus dat mannen meer verdienen dan vrouwen.

Maar betekent dit ook dat inkomensongelijkheid in de sportwereld niet meer dan terecht is? Misschien wel, misschien is het in Nederland anno 2016 wel onvermijdelijk dat sommige verschillen in de samenleving leiden tot ongelijkheid omdat dit systeem van prestige en inkomen zo zit ingebed in onze samenleving. Waar mannen in de BMX-wereld meer verdienen dan vrouwen, verdienen vrouwelijke modellen weer meer dan mannen. Is dit eerlijk? Nee, in mijn ogen niet, maar misschien is dit wel een gegeven waar we mee moeten leren leven, omdat onze samenleving zo in elkaar zit.

(Blogpost geschreven voor Visies op Sociale Ongelijkheid)


Vrooman, C; M.  Gijsberts en J Boelhouwer (2014) Verschil in Nederland. Den Haag, SCP. Hoofdstuk  2.

Afbeelding: Caroline Buchanan, vijfvoudig wereldkampioen en Olympisch kampioen BMX,

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