Moving to another place

My personal website, where I share my latest ideas, thoughts and reflections is moving to another place:


Our University following the tendency towards a more and more business-like and less university-like organisation, does not support the individual expression of ideas and visions on personal websites of their employees and professors or intellectual leaders any more. I guess that those responsible for these kinds of decisions are not even aware of what this actually means on a meta-level and in the long run for an organisation,  in which innovative ideas and scientific reflection are the core business. It is probably a typical unintended consequence of what the current spirit of the time (‘Zeitgeist’) prescribes as ‘normal’.

This is another step in a long-term development. For example, also the rather activist and oppositional newsletters of different bottom-up groups within academia and the university, we still remember of the seventies and eighties have almost all lost their main outlet. The Radboud University Newsletter Vox increasingly became a professional, glossy business magazine. It still has the pretension to be ‘independent’, but what does that imply today…?.

We also remember the University Bulletin boards where everyone could in a very democratic way leave notices. Take the following example of the University of Chicago (Photo by Dan Dry). They are also largely expelled from universities.

Another example is that we were used to hanging posters on the doors of our offices, of projects we were involved with, or conferences we visited.  Now this is strictly forbidden. I also remember that when we were introducing our renowned and highly academic Alexander von Humboldt lectures, I personally used to distribute flyers on the upcoming programme and hung up posters at places where many students and members of the academic staff gathered. Have a look at this old example of one of these posters. That was not to be tolerated and sometimes these were silently cleared away within the hour by the concierge on behalf of some university administrator.

Of course, times change and new media and modes of communication emerge, like e.g. different social media, which might be more effective than these old modes, but not without reason, the social media appearance of our academic activities, ideas and reflection are also exclusively managed by the communication department of the university, which makes sure that the messages comply with official university policies.

Personal Websites, giving voice to each individual member of the university, were in the past hosted and supported by the university itself. Then the hosting was externalised while at the same time being stripped of any technical support. Now the university wants to get rid of them completely. The ruhosting server will be phased out.

Mind that today’s universities still boast that their professors are part of a ‘corps de esprit’, and still hold so-called ‘academic freedom’ and ‘open debate culture’ in high regard. But what ‘esprit’ and what ‘academic freedom’ and ‘open debate culture’ is actually being upheld here? Claiming this but not practising it is perhaps part of ‘normalising’ what should not actually be normal at a university.

A Foucauldian analysis of these slow but sure developments would probably be quite revealing even for those responsible for these kinds of decisions. To be very positive, I think the university administrators did not give it that much thought and the overall effect of these tendencies are indeed probably unintended. But of course, the university should be THE place to think and reflect… Free thinking academics will not wait for these decisions to be critically evaluated but rather immediately look for an alternative outlet. From now on, you therefore can find my personal website at a new location: where I will be happy to publish my latest ideas and reflections also in future. The site you are now looking at will be discontinued in future. We will keep thinking and debating…

What Creates Human Being?

When one tries to be a critical scientist, one is always somehow opposing the mainstream and tries to think differently and question whether the mainstream ideas are justified and valid. Being critical is important to be able to contribute to a better world and a different future. But it can also put one in a rather solitary position and can make one lonesome. This is also the case with the position I regularly represent on this blog site and which, at least within human geography is not ‘mainstream’ but in my view highly relevant and stimulating innovative thinking. This is the position inspired by the philosophical anthropology of Helmuth Plessner. I must admit, that this week, when I heard about the final high school examination programme for philosophy for the next few years, I somehow felt some satisfaction, and less ‘alone’… The central topic for philosophy at high school in the Netherlands for the next few years will be the question ‘What makes us human?’

Traditionally, philosophers answer this question by pointing to our ability to think, but this answer is problematic. If computer engineers were able to mimic our ability to think in machines, then we would have to consider robots to be human too. Moreover, research on animal and plant cognition shows that our ability to think is not as unique as we thought. Any boundary we draw between humans and non-humans thus seems to be fuzzy.

Kisten Poortier of the University of Groningen, Prof. Erik Myin of the University of Antwerp and my colleague from the University of Amsterdam, Prof. Peter-Paul Verbeek, explore, in their newly made textbook for high school students (in Dutch), how we can answer the question of what makes us human if we start not with thinking, but with the body. But even that does not yield a single definition. After all, we can change our bodies with technical interventions, and our experiences are constantly influenced by theories and metaphors. Especially in these times when our existence has such an impact on the world, and the relationship between human beings and the environment – the core issue of human geography – it becomes clear that the question of the human being, next to the question of what space or ‘environment’ entails, deserves our full attention. See the table of contents below.

Hopefully, this promises a number of philosophically topically well-informed generations of students, who also might discover that human geography is the field in which they can apply their ideas also practically…
Until a new generation of critical students will emerge, who again want to think the future differently…

Creative Methods

In our research field, quantitative (statistical) and qualitative research methods are used. For high-standard research, a continuous critical reflection on the methods we use is essential, and we need to engage in developing these methods further. Since Paul Feyerabend’s seminal book ‘Against Method’ (1975), we know that there is no holy grail for using methods to get insights into the phenomena we are interested in. This does not imply that ‘anything goes’. Because there are no general preset standards, the critical reflection on the methods we use is all the more crucial. We can ‘make and break’ the results of our analysis with our methods. Without methods we are blind. If we use methods in a rather unreflected and non-rigorous way, we are visually impaired. And when we critically reflect on the methods we use, we also notice that all our methods also have blind spots. The methods are part of the story we must tell about the world we are investigating and trying to understand. They substantially help us to be convincing and trustworthy. Both, theoretical as well as methodological reflection, make our research scientifically sound.

When studying Placemaking often qualitative methods are used in our analysis. These kinds of methods are often associated with ‘talking to people’ about how they experience places and ‘observing people’ in how they act in specific places or situations.  It is a common misunderstanding, that this is like what we do in our daily life, and therefore this cannot be that difficult, and the outcomes should be easy to understand. Applying qualitative methods rigorously and systematically, so that they can reveal what we would NOT be able to see in daily life, is a skill and art and demands special methods. The words ‘rigorously’ and ‘systematically’ should not be misinterpreted as again referring to universal standard for doing research. Each research situation is different and each research question demands other methods for finding the answers to these questions. Methods always need to be adapted to the specific situation, and the specific research question. We therefore always need to be creative in setting up our research and in defining our specific research strategy.  This also drives the dynamics in developing qualitative methods further. New ways of doing research emerge all the time. It is therefore very timely and fashionable in social scientific research to speak of Creative Methods.

The term ‘creative methods’, however, can be interpreted in three ways. The first and most common meaning of the adjective ‘creative’ is rather banal. It is only an addition with the purpose to suggest that the method is new, different and fashionable, even though, if one looks more precisely, they often are not. Book publishers are very keen on these kinds of positively connotated titles because they sell better and some researchers also use these adjectives to show off and distinguish themselves from others.  It is easy to find many books on methods, with ‘creative’ in the title. Only in a few cases, this adjective can be taken seriously. We also observe that the methods they are talking about already have a longer tradition, and are thus not that new or different. But o.k. let us be generous and let them enjoy these fancy adjectives, as long as we are critical enough to look through them, to what is key when we speak about creative methods.

The second more serious meaning of ‘creative methods’ refers to creativity in developing new methods or new ways of combining or adapting and applying existing methods for new research situations. This is what I was talking about above concerning pacemaking.  Some of the methods discussed in the recent books listed here can indeed be very inspiring in this respect, others seem to be more business as usual.

The third interpretation is about methods which foster the use of creativity. The latter meaning of the word ‘creative methods’ addresses an often neglected element of Placemaking in our geographical research. Creativity in this latter sense means that we come up with new and innovative forms to express ourselves and our knowledge to create better places, situations or events. While in our discipline we regularly teach research methods, these kinds of creative methods are rarely taught. But how do we teach these creative skills, and what methods foster this kind of creativity? Phil Dobson, a psychologist, in the video below, briefly presents some of these methodological steps which foster creativity and innovativeness (click on the image to start the video):

This method for creativity is rather different from applying creative research methods, when we study places. As Human Geographers, we traditionally have a rather analytical perspective on places and the spatiality of human actions. This analytic perspective at best allows us to describe, understand, and possibly predict. The factual and cognitive knowledge we produce in this way may then serve policymakers in defining their measures of intervention in specific places.

But especially when we focus on how people experience places and their doings, we also notice that there is another dimension to places and to placemaking that is not so easily caught with these analytical methods, namely, the affective, and aesthetic aspects of places and placemaking. The language of the ‘forms’ of places. So places which analytically and functionally seem equal may from this other perspective look, feel, smell, sound, etc. totally differently and therefore also have very distinct effects. There is an embodied sensuality to places, which we usually do not sufficiently grasp with our hitherto analytic methods, So, the form of these places and the way these places (and situations) are designed make a big difference. We can, of course, analytically describe and study the sensual forms of a place with the help of more phenomenologically oriented qualitative research methods.  But what consequences do these insights have? If we want to use this knowledge to create better places, we are talking about (re-)designing places. That demands not just analytical research skills, but also creative design skills, and methods which foster our creativity.

We should not just learn how to analyse places but also how to make and design places. The language of spatial forms is traditionally the field of architects who make material spaces, urban designers who create urban spaces, and landscape architects who create landscapes. But also all kinds of artistic expressions and activities may be essential elements of designing places and are part of the vocabulary of spatial forms. For geographers, there is still much to be learned from them concerning methods of creative design. In the same way, there is much to be learned for designers from the more analytically inclined geographers and their research methods. To be successful placemakers we need to be multidisciplinary. For geographers, it would, therefore, be important to include methods for creative design in the geography curriculum. Bringing these different approaches together would also allow us to experiment with research through design.

Here it is important to also make a disclaimer: Trying to canonise design skills within the typical design disciplines, or trying to systematically teach these design skills, is on the one hand useful because it makes us (systematically) aware of the important experiential design dimensions, but on the other hand, it also restricts our creativity and our skills for out-of-the-box thinking and doing. If one is interested in how the dialectics between being a productive designer and being creative, it is worthwhile to have a look at one of the many videos of Prof. Jordan Peterson on Youtube (they are by the way also very entertaining), e.g. watch the conversation between Marc Mayer, Director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada, and Dr. Jordan Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, which took place March 9, 2017 at the National Gallery of Canada (click on the image to start the video).

He states, that to be creative, on the one hand, we need to get rid of all existing structures.  But on the other hand, we need structural procedures to be effective with our creativity. Being a good place designer therefore also requires the development of a canon of creative skills which allow us to make the best of our creative ideas and designs of future places. How can we create a curriculum and how can we set up our teaching in creative methods in such a way that both aspects come into their own.

Asking students in an assignment for our methodology courses to use creative methods or original forms of presentation results can be very rewarding and inspiring as students indeed can come up with very original solutions. This, however, can not be mistaken for ‘developing creative design skills’ or for thorough ‘research through design’. Sometimes they are at best superficially embellished assignments. As such, they probably are fun to do, and that is a value in itself since studying should be a pleasure if it wants to take hold, but here, in addition, I would like to plea for a more thorough and deeper revision of our teaching of research methods and to include also methods for developing creative design skills and research through design.

In the following short video (in Dutch) it is shown, how e.g. in a city like Leiden the design and aesthetic form of places can determine the quality of a place. It does not always has to to be a spectacular design in a large metropolis but can also be about the beauty of a small town (click on the image to start the video).

And here is another one discussing a few of the basic principles of urban design for building the ‘perfect City’ (click on the image to start the video).

It would be great if our geography students also gain the skills for designing better places.


Baytaş, M.A (2021) Crash Course in Research through Design.

Beghetto, R.A., Kaufman, J.C. & Baer, J. (2015) Teaching for Creativity in the Common Core Classroom. Teachers College Press, New York.

Benzon, N. von, Holton, M., Wilkinson, C. & Wilkinson, S. (2022) Creative Methods for Human Geographers. Sage, London.

Elliott, d. & Culhane, D. (2017) A Different Kind of Ethnography. Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies. University of Toronto Press,  Toronto.

Feyerabend, P. (1975) Against Method. Verso, London.

Kara, H. (2015) Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences. A practical guide.  Policy Press, Bristol.

Mannay, D. (2016) Visual, Narrative and Creative Research Methods. Application, reflection and ethics. Routledge,  Milton Park.

Norman, D. (n.d. 2nd edn.) The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction.

Ukrainian Refugees

Doing research on forced migration is one thing, hosting refugees in your private home is another thing. In all cases, Placemaking is a central issue. How do forced migrants create a new home in the host country they are staying? How do we, as their hosts, make our country and our own private home, an inviting, and safe home for refugees? If one digs into the details of these processes of ‘homemaking’, or in more general terms ‘placemaking’, it immediately becomes rather complicated. What is ‘our’ home and what is ‘their’ home? What can we share, and what is more private? Can there be some kind of ‘new home’ if one is forced away from ‘home’? As mentioned, the more general term would be ‘place’ but the term ‘home’ already coins the fact, that this is a special place, a place with which we have an emotional tie, or where we can get the ‘feeling’ of safety or comfort, of acceptance and support. Opening your home as a place to take shelter for forced migrants also implies compromising on some of those feelings for our own home.  Sharing that intimate space is complicated because it is not just a kind of passive sharing, but an engagement with each other in daily life, by giving support, taking care of each other and also taking each other into account by mutually adjusting one’s expectations and activities. ‘Forced migrants’ is also a very general label and a bit of a technical analytical term, but we are of course talking of a very diverse group of people, as diverse as we ourselves as potential hosts are. Therefore no situation is comparable with the other and like in normal life there are no general solutions for how to do this home- or placemaking together. Hosting forced migrants is in that respect not very different from daily life, except, that it is a social microcosm in a kind of pressure cooker and it teaches us all important lessons for life.

My grandmother with her two sons and her mother, during the second world war and the German occupation of the Netherlands, hosted nine Jewish refugees until they were betrayed and they were thrown out of their home by the German occupiers. Happily, the Jewish refugees, just in time, made it to another safe place and survived. In hindsight, I still do not understand, why we as grandchildren never asked about how during these days this joint ‘home-making’ and ‘home-sharing’ was practised. Maybe, because we naively thought that this was self-evident. Anyhow, this somehow, alerted us, that maybe also we have the possibility and responsibility in the current situation, now the war in Ukraine gets so close to us, host refugees. The situation now, for us hosts, is of course not comparable with the immensely more difficult and dangerous situation of my grandmother. Today, we have a fantastic network of engaged neighbours, which are all willing to help if needed, even if they do not host Ukrainian refugees, or better, let us call them ‘guests’. In addition, the municipality and the RefugeeHome.NL organisation with the support of the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Dutch Council for Refugees as well as the Ministry of Justice and Security all are ready to support us and our guests. In addition, the OPORA Foundation, a support network of Ukrainian people for Ukrainian people, as well as a network of researchers focussing on forced migration is very helpful.


So since August, we have Ukrainian guests, first we had a woman and her four-year-old son, but they have left us again for another place, and now we host another Ukrainian woman. Like in real life, living together is challenging, but also very enriching and rewarding. Sometimes it is also confronting, when e.g. the houses of the households, where Ukrainian guests are hosted were smeared with a large ‘Z’. That felt almost like a swastika and brought the memories of the Second World War close again. Yes, our world is complicated and full of oppositional forces, the more important it is to attempt to understand each other and find ways to live together in peace and respect each other. Nowadays, it also seems that these kinds of oppositions are often overly enlarged and sometimes even seen as natural, while all attempts to encounter, respect, and understand each other, and to seek some kind of consensual living together are smothered as social kitsch of the past times. Oppositional ways of life seem rather fashionable. Certainly, we should stand for and defend our position, sometimes even by force, but we should also be able to relativise our position and seek a peaceful living together.

Thinking about these ‘positionalities’ brings me back to many of my ‘hobbyhorses’ in this blog on placemaking. Positionality or one might also say our ‘placedness’ or spatiality or even better ‘placiality’ and the continuous need to find one’s place and to engage in placemaking is the recurrent and core theme in the field of geography as well as on this blog-site. On February 10, 2023, I had the privilege of being part of a panel on Qualitative Research Methods for the Research on Forced Migration in a workshop organised by the OPORA foundation in the Hague, where on the one hand alternative ways for collecting qualitative data as well as the issue of positionality in doing interviews was discussed. In many of these situations, already the use of the term ‘positionality’ tends to put the interviewer and interviewees in distinct positions while in reality, the more equal exchange and the shifting positionalities in the interactions allowing also joint experiencing, and not just one-way information flows, are much more productive for getting a grasp of these very invasive experiences of being a forced migrant or being a host to forced migrants and how we thus are all continuously on the move through our never-ending process of placemaking, both in practice and in research.

PhD Defence of Hotmauli (Oely) Sidabalok

We are very proud to report that on Wednesday, February 8, 2023, Hotmauli (Oely) Sidabalok successfully defended her PhD thesis on “Residential Solid Waste Management in Semarang: The question of geographical environmental justice” (co-supervised by Dr Martin van der Velde and Dr Ton van Naerssen). In the fast-growing cities of Indonesia waste disposal is a serious and growing problem. Recycling is still not mainstream in most cases, and dumping solid waste at temporary or final disposal sites causes many negative impacts on the people living in the direct vicinity. These impacts vary substantially between different groups, circumstances and places and cause severe environmental justice problems. Oely has not just been investigating these issues and teaching about them at the Universitas Katolik Soegijapranata (Unika) of Semarang, in Indonesia, but also has been engaged as a (political) activist on behalf of the affected people, and has supported the local communities in organising and mobilising a broader social movement to address and solve these problems, while also taking care of her family. In between, she occasionally had to pause her research work. It, therefore, is amazing with how much perseverance she slowly but surely managed to finish her research work after almost 20 years and managed to come up with highly relevant insights into how to deal with this urging problem. An important contribution to making our places more sustainable while at the same time also an important contribution to the long-lasting partnership between the UNIKA University of Semarang and the Radboud University in Nijmegen. It is also a nice example of how more general theoretical insights in concepts of ‘spatial justice’ and ‘new social movements’ as they are developed and applied within our geography group in many fields of application, form the intellectual glue between these different fields of application in the extremely broad terrain of geographical research and feed into the continuous conversations among us (and others). In that sense, this thesis also contributes to the local ‘placemaking’ within our geography group at Radboud University.

You can download the full text of her very well-written thesis by clicking on the cover of her PhD Thesis.

PhD Defence Henk Willems

On January 30, 2023, Henk Willems was awarded the title of Dr.

Henk Willems, started his PhD research work on Mondragon after he retired from professional life, but still felt intellectually challenged, and now at the age of 72, he bravely and successfully defended his PhD thesis on “Why did the Mondragon co-ops degenerate (or not)? Theorizing the Mondragon cooperative experience beyond the ‘degeneration thesis’ “.  The topic of his research can be traced back to the time when he graduated as a master’s student in Geography at Radboud University in 1976 when in the field of geography neo-Marxist streams of thought were the mainstream, while at the same time, the Radboud University was a stronghold in the Netherlands of the 1968 inspired democratisation movement. In these days, parts of the university were occupied by students, while geographers, who are strongly engaged with the world around them, were at frontstage on the barricades of this progressive movement. During his professional career, as a politician and policymaker, Henk Willems stayed committed to creating a better world and after retirement was very much interested in the Mondragon Experiment, for an alternative, cooperative future of capitalism. Mondragon since its foundation in the 1950s developed from a small local Basque enterprise to, nowadays, a global player and the world’s largest co-op (Romeo, 2022). The following brief video shows its origins (Click on picture of Mondragon to start video).

But is it really only a success story? or did it compromise on its own cooperative principles when it grew bigger and embedded in the global capitalist economy, in other words: “did it degenerate?” (The degeneration thesis). Henk Willems argues as a real Geographer, that the cooperative principles of Mondragon, are not just part of an abstract idealist programme, but are also directly related to the concrete, social, and spatial context they emerged from. So if it does not fully comply with the cooperative ideals, it may as well be due to an original compromise with the local political and spiritual situation of the days, when it was founded. This is also known as the ‘original sin thesis’, as the cultural psychologist, Carl Ratner (2016) calls it. In his fascinating very comprehensive theoretical and historical explorative study Henk investigates how indeed the context, time and place, did make a difference. So, places also make social movements.


Click on the title page to download the full PhD Thesis.


Ratner, C. (2016) The Politics of Cooperation and Co-ops, Forms of Cooperation and Co-ops, and the Politics that shape them. Nova Publishers, New York.

Difficulties with Critical Geography

For a number of years a number of Professors in Human Geography (and some related disciplines) based in the German-speaking part of the European continent, with special interests in social theorising in Human Geography meet on a regular basis to critically discuss new and old developments in this field. This very informal and open group consists of Professors from Flensburg, Bayreuth, Hannover, Heidelberg, Berlin, Bonn, Frankfurt, Halle, Fribourg (CH), Bolzano (Italy), Rotterdam (NL), Dresden, Bremen, Leipzig, Oxford (UK), Zurich (CH), Erlangen, Jena, Curitiba (Brasil), Nijmegen (NL), and some other places, and they regularly meet at a beautiful retreat-location at the shore of lake Zurich or at some other places, to freely read and deliberate on these theories. One of those seldom moments of free critical thinking without the daily pressures of academic performance and positioning.

While discussing social theories it was amazing to note that even though the German-speaking scientific community historically and traditionally has always had a very strong contribution to social theorising, while currently, it seems as if new developments in social theorising, irrespective of whether they originate from continental or overseas traditions, are only perceived and adopted in the field of geography if they have been ruminated by the Anglo-Saxon scientific community. This implies, that one only looks at continental thinking through an Anglo-Saxon lens, which very often does not take the contextuality of the origins of these theories into account or only in a rather distorted way.  Many uses of these theories are therefore based on only un-contextualised half-knowledges and cannot do full justice to their original ideas and objectives. For this group of Professors in Human Geography, this initiated the endeavour to revisit the original versions of these theories and to critically re-think them in relation to the problems and situations of today. This informal working group, established in 2018 is now known as the “German Theory”-group.

Although, as a group, we want to stay away from the “publish or perish” dictum, several publications and conference contributions have spontaneously emerged out of this group thinking. The most recent publication is the book by Poltical Geography Prof. Benedikt Korf from the University of Zurich on the “Difficulties with Critical Geography. Studies on a reflexive theory of society” just published in German by Transcript Publishers in Bielefeld, and in full-text available for free as open source at: Of course, it is too pretentious to say that it originates out of this group, as this is the personal achievement and opinion of Prof. Benedikt Korf.

This highly recommendable book specifically addresses critical theorising, from a critical perspective, in an attempt to make them really critical again. The back cover summary reads as follows: Scientific criticism increasingly spares itself. It likes to produce rash generalisations and cheap assessments. Refusal to reflect promotes conformism and half-education. These protective positions spare critics the arduous work of self-criticism – intermediate tones, ambivalences and contradictions are faded out. Benedikt Korf analyses the resulting difficulties in a differentiated way. Using the example of critical geography, he illustrates the often hegemonic position of the term ‘critical’ in the social sciences and humanities.

Workshop “Coping with overtourism in Europe”

On November 10-11, 2022 Prof. Gert-Jan Hospers and Sebastian Amrhein organised a successful multi-sited workshop on Overtourism in Europe, taking place both in Kleve at the University of Applied Science, just across the border and at the Radboud University Nijmegen.

During the Covid-19 crisis, the problem of overtourism seemed to have disappeared… What a relief for some places. It also made us aware of the forgotten qualities of these tourist places. At the same time new touristic places, especially those away from the crowded hotspots were (re)discovered. The countryside resorts or individual accommodations were popular for staycations. But currently, overtourism is back again. and maybe in the first instance in even more severe forms as there is a real need for catching up/meeting up and breaking out of our Covid-19 isolation again.

Maybe this is also a crucial window of opportunity to release measures to curb overtourism structurally.  To do so one needs a thorough understanding of what overtourism really is and what causes and effects it has, beyond the superficial and unscrutinised impression that this is a bad thing, even though we all also experience how enriching, recuperative and socially rewarding touristic experiences are. At the same time, for many others, it is also a highly needed source of income. So we need to be careful about oversimplifying and (pre-)judging overtourism.

In the same way, as migration is thought to be the cause of everything evil in our society in the eyes of many right-wing populists, we need to be careful about blaming overtourism for everything evil at the touristic hotspots, as that might distract us from the real causes of some of the problems. For example at some destinations, we notice the precarious working conditions of the workers in the tourist industry, but often migration and employment laws, and not the tourists themselves are the real cause. Sometimes we also observe that certain groups are very expressive about their opposition to tourism, while others who are less vocal are much more ambivalent in their opinion, or are more dependent and cannot allow themselves to be critical, resulting in rather one-sided perspectives. The Covid-19 crisis in tourism therefore can also be rather revealing about the real character of the effects of overtourism or the real reasons for the opposition to overtourism. This kind of critical stance towards the phenomenon of overtourism was also the starting point of this small expert workshop, with the aim to search for the real and core aspects of overtourism, in the hope to find better and more effective ways to cope with it and to make these tourist destinations to better and (socially and ecologically) more sustainable places.

It is therefore certainly useful to first critically deconstruct the way ‘overtourism’ is used in the different debates. What is really meant or unstated implied with the term ‘overtourism’? (Eva Erdmenger). Did we leave out the host community in the way tourism was propagated? (Andreas Kagermeier). What role do digital platforms play in overtourism? (Sina Hardaker).  The local circumstances of overtourism may also differ from place to place (Amsterdam, Prague, and many more of the usual iconic touristic hotspots, but also small places such as Giethoorn or Beuningen) were addressed by several of the speakers (Fabian Weber, Miroslav Roncak,  Gert-Jan Hospers). This also lead to the discussion of different modes of dealing and coping with the return of overtourism after the pandemic (Jürgen Schmude, Lola Kuenen, Robert Fletcher), e.g. by focussing on more quality tourism, which then also coined the question of where the others should go? or by co-designing the tourist attractions together with the local community (Roos Gerritsma). Finally, also those aspects which might only sideways be related to tourism but are often central aspects of the opposition against overtourism, such as the bad labour conditions (Moritz Langer) or the circumstances which make protest more or less vocal (Sebastian Amrhein) mentioned above were discussed, providing a much more nuanced picture of today’s overtourism and the way they constitute the quality of places.

PhD Defence Vanessa Meinen

On September 12, Vanessa Meinen successfully defended her PhD Thesis entitled: Steering Sustainable Events Performance. Towards a more balanced assessment of sustainable association events (Click on cover to download the full version). Together with Prof. Marion Halfmann of the Hochschule Niederrhein, I had the honour of supervising her.

We know from academia, that interacting with our fellow scientists worldwide on the occasion of conferences, consortia meetings, etc. is far from sustainable, especially when we look at the environmental impact of all the travelling involved, not even to speak of the local impact of the event itself. Especially during the past Covid-19 pandemic, we have also experienced many possible alternatives for communicating and exchanging ideas with our fellow scientists. At the same time, however, we have also experienced the loss of the embodied and experiential meetings with our colleagues. It is clearly too simple to think of the sustainability of these kinds of events by only reducing the ecological impact by replacing travel with digital remote communication. One needs to look at the sustainability of these events in a more balanced and multi-modal way.  What is true for scientific meetings, is even more true for other kinds of meetings and events with stronger experiential aspects., like in many touristic events. Vanessa Meinen, based in research and policy-making in the field of sustainable tourism, dedicated her PhD research to exactly this topic well before the pandemic hit us and before we became aware of these different aspects. As such, she was well ahead of her time.

One of her major cases was a large scouts event in Germany. A topical case where it is clear that the embodied experiential aspects are very prominent, and also the location, in the green countryside, is almost by definition not sustainable from an ecological point of view. But such an event is not just about a sheer exchange of information, which could be easily replaced by digital media. This is an event where being physically together in a very special setting and environment is the core business of this event. This is very comparable with many other touristic attractions and events. It would be too easy to disqualify these events as unsustainable. One really needs to look at these kinds of events in a more balanced way in which also other aspects, like e.g. the social, experiential and economic aspects need to be taken into account.

When I was on holiday in Switzerland last summer, a similar event took place in the mountain valley Goms. 30’000 scouts met in this remote location. It was an immense effort, to do this in as much as possible sustainable way, while at the same time also keeping the once-in-a-lifetime experience of a scout alive. It comprised 800 scouting groups, 5000 assistants, 500 volunteer organisers, a budget of 25 million Swiss Francs, a 120 hectares camping site, 5000 Kilos of bread every day, etc. etc. The following video gives a brief impression of this huge event. For me, this underscored once more the relevance of Vanessa Meinen’s research.

It also exemplified, how difficult it is to collect comprehensive data at such an event. Doing a survey among the participants, while they are all having other priorities at this unique event at that moment, does not allow the collection of data that would enable sophisticated statistical modelling of the behavioural aspects of the sustainability of such an event. But even limited and more descriptive data tell us more than no data at all, so sometimes scientific ambitions need to come down from their high horse, and use the data we do have in a pragmatic way to serve policymaking.  In this respect Vannessa has come up with a wealth of data and knowledge on the policy aspects of the sustainability of these kinds of events, allowing for a more balanced judgement. This is also how the PhD thesis of Vanessa should be read. It clearly shows how we could improve the assessment of the sustainability of these kinds of events and how we might strive towards a more balanced way of managing the sustainability of association events.

At the same time, it also shows that places, settings, and embodied experiences, do matter also in relation to events.

Job Opportinity: Full Professor of Human Geography

After almost 25 years at Radboud University, my retirement is in sight. Even though it sometimes still feels as if I just arrived at this university, I more and more am confronted with situations that I am the oldest in certain bodies and fora within academia, and that I am somehow also a historical institutional consciousness with the know-how and know-why, others and even my own supervisors are lacking. This is also a new kind of experience for me. On my birthday in  August 2024, I will be given emeritus status, after which I will still take care of a number of PhD candidates whom I supervise and who will not have their PhD projects finished by that time. Many others will finish before my retirement. This kind of supervision work is something I really enjoy, as it is strongly content-related and links up to my own personal research interests. Until then, I will slowly but surely hand over my current responsibilities to my successor and focus more on some of my personal research interests and also – based on my own experience with online teaching – take care of a university project on the proliferation of professional online teaching. After my retirement, I will occasionally still do some teaching at different universities and be active in international networks. I am already noticing how joyful it is to have more time to read, think and write, and for all those things which make scientists tick.

As the chair of the Geography team, since I started at Radboud university, with the ambition to lift the group to a new level in research and teaching and lead it to the current topical research frontiers, one hardly has time to focus on personal research interests or further building up one’s own CV. The main priority has been the positioning of the Geography team, looking for a balance in different competencies and stimulating the intellectual development and debates within the group, positioning and assisting the (international) career development of the members of the team, while also keeping up our high ambitions.  The last 25 years at Dutch universities were, however, also characterised by a strong urge towards (individual) excellence and at the same time by a continuous succession of restrictive austerity measures. This has had detrimental effects on universities in general and is also totally contrary to the kind of team science, which I believe is the only way to make real science thrive. In other entries on this site I already critically addressed the thrust towards ‘Excellence Stalinism‘. High-quality science, in my view, can only develop through, intensive debate at eye level on a level playing field and through cooperation on joint research interests. Even when times were not in favour, this is exactly what I tried to establish even though this often implied swimming against the currents. This sometimes also implied that the university was not always supportive in reaching these objectives and one needed to be alert for all kinds of resistant forces. Currently, we experience a bit of a turnaround in the Dutch university landscape. Slowly but surely the pendulum seems to swing back. Excellence strategies are now being replaced with more balanced and team-oriented investment policies creating new space for growth, also within our geography group. This opens new opportunities. It will be the task of my successor to lead that development. It will still be a challenge, and I look forward to sharing my experience in this respect with my successor.

Have a look at the Job Advertisement for the open position of Full Professor of Human Geography:
This Job advertisement originally planned to be published before last Christmas, has shown to be a forceps birth and another example of how difficult it sometimes is to get the institutional support for our endeavours. This now resulted in a job announcement in the middle of the summer holidays. Not really an optimal moment for recruitment, but let us hope it does find the response our geography group deserves so that it can contribute to the further ‘place making’ for our geography group.