Welcome to Wageningen

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The Annual Introduction Days start this week. Blogger Nadya welcomes the new students to the best university of the Netherlands.

I have been doing some thorough cleaning in my lovely attic studio to welcome new master’s students, who are going to crash this week for the AID on 18-23 August 2017. During the AID they’ll probably cycle around Wageningen and its surroundings to get a proper introduction to this idyllic Dutch countryside. Doing your master’s, how exciting! You are going to make new friends from around the world because Wageningen University and Research is full of international students.

Indeed, Wageningen needs international students. That’s a fact. As reported by the Student Alliance Wageningen on 14 May 2017, Wageningen University was struggling because there were too few students before 2000. At that time, Utrecht University was interested in taking over the Life Sciences faculty. Naturally, increasing the number of international students was proposed as one key solution to revitalize the university since nobody could expect the number of young Dutch citizens to miraculously proliferate overnight.

When I talked with former students of Wageningen University, they confirmed this story and pointed to the stark contrast between then and now. The university worked very hard to attract international students. The stigma of a dying agricultural university was replaced by the reputation of being ‘the best university in the Netherlands’, for the twelfth time in a row in 2016, according to its own students. We even got a chocolate medal to celebrate this accomplishment. However, Wageningen’s hard-earned reputation also translated into high pressure on its students.

As new students, you might be overwhelmed by the intense expectations at this ‘best university’. But in my opinion, the best university is a university that provides you with the best educational service to equip you with the skills that you need. Bear in mind, the university needs you. You can reciprocate by communicating what you need from the university.

Some of you, especially international students, might think that this attempt is a waste of time in your two-year stint (or even less). But do it anyway, for the sake of practicing the art of negotiation. This is an important life skill. I might argue that it is even more important than any study materials that you will get in the classroom.

Good luck, and welcome to Wageningen!

As seen in Resource online 16 August 2017

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Unplanned Expenses

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Things to remind blogger Nadya Karimasari and other PhD candidates to be aware of unplanned research expenses lurking behind every moment of carelessness.

Unbelievable! When I was about to take a picture of my beautiful and fast-growing garden to show to my husband and son back home, the camera shutter failed to click. What’s wrong? Apparently there’s no battery inside my camera. How come? I remember that I’ve charged the battery just before I flew to the Netherlands. i have the charger is with me, so the battery should be inside my camera, but where did it disappear?

Of course, a battery would not disappear just like that. I lost it due to my own carelessness and less-than-enough obsessive checking of all my equipment. Damn! My family back home couldn’t find the battery. A new battery, another unplanned research expense. May I remind myself that this is not the first time?

During my preliminary fieldwork, I fully trusted the driver. Three different maps were kept nicely inside my backpack. Don’t expect any GPS, there’s no internet signal in this remote area – I’m looking at you my tech-savvy friends. He had brought me to the destination before. I should be able to sit back and relax because he would be much more knowledgeable about the route than me or my co-promotor, right? Wrong. I should’ve been obsessively aware and checking our map and asking people question along the way. That midnight, we should’ve reached our destination on the mountain six hours before. Instead, we were lost along the coast, where the road was broken and full of cracks from the water. And I had to pay the driver and the rented car for an extra day. I thought my co-promotor was almost crying! But at least I could use this information for the methods section in my proposal: the area was not chosen due to the damaged road and difficulty of access!

Last but not least, I lost my phone! This happened just before I returned to Holland after my brother’s wedding in Indonesia. It’s a cheap brick phone, but I love it, and it works best in my fieldwork location. I assume my elderly mother-in-law brought it back to her hometown, because we have exactly the same phone. You might know that a brick phone is synonymous with phones for seniors (I am not a senior – yet, but I also don’t use a smartphone; at least I don’t use a banana phone). I called her, but she said this or that grandchild was taking care of her phone and she had no idea. Things got complicated and I had to accept that I might not find my dear brick phone. Which means I lost most of my research contacts that I painstakingly collected during preliminary fieldwork. I double-save my contact numbers on my sim card and phone, but I should’ve made additional back-ups. There was a little bit of fear that if I backed it up and the police or the intelligence agency found it somehow, they would know the phone numbers of ‘rebellious’ farmers, so hey, let’s just memorize it the old-fashioned way. Anyway, I also lost the number of the VIP head of district and the person from which I was about to rent a family house for my fieldwork. Oh, man! Shit happens!

This story is for all of you who feel undeserving as a PhD because you don’t feel good enough. If you thought that a PhD candidate is somehow an exceptional human being who always got their shit together, think again. To err is human, to forgive is divine – so let’s do it all over again.

As seen in Resource

Move?

Should I blog-move? (I mean, making a new blog or moving to a new address). I am a bit hesitant to continue blogging and uploading post here in wordpress.com because mine is almost full (97%). It shouldn’t be so surprising. I have been blogging here since the very first time wordpress.com was available for free, more than a decade ago. Of course, eventually it will be full.

Hfffttt, I’m supposed to upgrade it to a premium account but it will cost 99 dollar/year. I am really really unwilling to pay that much, although my salary from blogging at Resource will cover that pretty quickly. Having a paid blog makes me want to up my blogging game because … well, it’s not free anymore so it has to be at least not embarrassing! Other option would be moving to wordpress.org with a self-hosting domain and pay less – I don’t know how much? – and get unlimited storage. But, just thinking about self-hosting gives me headache. Last but not least, I am tempted to move to a new blogging service: squarespace.com for two reasons: 1. the templates look beautiful, and 2. as a Wageningen PhD candidate I will get 50% discount for the first year (discount, should I say more). But, I am a bit worried because I am not familiar with the squarespace system, and I don’t know if the slow internet connection in remote Indonesia (when I would be fildworking) would be good enough for squarespace. Also, I don’t know how worthy is my blog here in this address as I’ve been blogging here forever and I heard that the older your blog, the bigger chance it appears on the google search (like I care! but dude, I really know nothing about this, is it true?)

Blogging is the only thing that I’ve been consistently doing since the very first time blogging exists in this universe (that means since I’m in highschool, before wordpress even existed! I remember the good ol’ times of blogging with diaryland and I had to write all the html codes manually, what a learning curve!). If you count the times before blogging existed, I’ve been journaling or writing diary since childhood. Considering that, I imagine “not blogging” would not be an option for me. And, this blog also has landed me the best job in the world as a blogger at Resource online. But … it seems like my time is up for free blogging. Either way I have to pay. Hmmm, what should I do? Any suggestions on the pro and cons of (upgraded) wordpress.com, self-hosted wordpress.org, or squarespace? Thanks in advance!

Back

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Blogger Nadya Karimasari has just come back to the Netherlands after some intense physical and mental travel.

It’s good to be back in the Netherlands. My landlords are still as lovely, my 125-year-old home is still as charming and cosy, the cat is still fat, the sheep are still smelly, the birds are still chirping cheerfully and the rooster is still crowing. The plants in my small patch of garden started growing. I took a deep breath of the clean air of this idyllic Dutch countryside. Ahh, it’s so good to be back.

I have been ‘all over the place’ lately, not only in terms of location, but also in terms of experience. Earlier this year, I did my preliminary fieldwork in Indonesia. My admirable long-time friend whom I used to stay with when I was in Jakarta visited Leiden from Harvard. We shared an uninterrupted day walking and talking. In Spring, I was a teaching assistant for Rob Fletcher’s Research Methodology course. I have a fond memory of the experience and the students. Then, a sudden death. The next day, with trembling knees, I went to Toronto for a Summer School with Nancy Peluso, Peter Vandergeest and Libby Lunstrum. The North American graduate education system was completely different than in the Netherlands. Afterwards, I organised a panel at the international conference of the Center for Space, Place, and Society at the Wageningsche Berg and gave a (chaotic) presentation, met my co-supervisor from Melbourne and other new and old friends. I also gave another (chaotic) presentation for my proposal at the office. Last but not least, I went to my brother’s wedding in Indonesia where I met most of my extended families. And back I am.

For many of us, doing a PhD is a cultural experience too, with a lot of moments of ‘taking up challenge’ and first-times that may or may not be directly linked with our research and may or may not be having an immediate ‘productive’ effect for our writing process. On the other hand, life goes on beyond our research, and a lot of times, it’s hard not be taken over by momentary shock. As a PhD student, it’s equally hard to ignore your research that is poking you and saying hello from the back of your mind from time to time. The result is a mess. But, it’s okay. We’re gone, and back, and we’re always where we’re supposed to be.

as seen in Resource online

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Academic Celebrities

Many academic celebrities in the social sciences visited Wageningen University and Research in the past year. Blogger Nadya Karimasari shares her latest encounter with one of them.

I’ve lost count of how many academic celebrities I’ve met at Wageningen University and Research. I couldn’t imagine a better timing to do a PhD. Earlier this month, James Ferguson, a well-known anthropologist from Stanford University, USA, gave a public lecture at Orion about share, presence, and social obligation. A couple of days after, other famous names participated in the two-days Hauntology seminar on psychoanalysis and political economy. Don’t ask me about the seminar, I swear I have no idea.

While having my daily dose of sunbathing on the outdoor bench in Leeuwenborch, a participant of the hauntology seminar casually sat down next to me. My half-closed eyes were transfixed by his beautiful shoes. They must be expensive, I guess. He opened the lid of his cigarette box and asked me what I thought of the seminar. I looked up and my jaw dropped in disbelief. It was Erik Swyngedouw, a world-leading political economist from Manchester University.

Keeping my cool, I answered him in shameless honesty, ‘I didn’t understand a single word.’ Why pretend, not everyone is familiar with Lacan. A slight smile curved up in Erik’s face, ‘I still remember what that’s like.’ And that’s the beginning of our jovial conversation.

‘When I was teaching at Oxford, I was a regular participant at the monthly seminar of Amnesty International. I was a supporter. I always attended their seminar in order to purchase the ticket so they would get money’, he said. ‘In 1998, Slavoj Zizek was one of the speakers. I came out of the seminar, thinking: what a bloody circus!’ he told me.

‘I owned two books by Zizek because everybody said he was so good, but I just read the back covers and put them right back on the shelf. That day, after the seminar – I remember it vividly, it was May – I went straight to a very beautiful bookstore …’ I cut him off, shortly, ‘Blackwell, was it?’, ‘Yes, Blackwell’, he continued, ‘I bought more than ten books by Zizek and paid around 400 pounds.’

‘Later, during the summer holiday, I spent three months reading all his books at a house by the sea. I read from morning to evening, just having a break for lunch, and I still didn’t understand most of it. Only around ten years later, in 2007, did I start to understand half of it. And now, once I got it, I can do whatever I want with it’, he said animatedly with his hands flipping up and down.

‘Learning is slow’, his words sounded like music to my ears. ‘Sometimes, students would think I’ve got it all easy. They only see me now. But I was also a student like them once. Nothing is easy. It was also difficult for me. I also took a long time to learn to finally get to where I am now’, he confessed.

‘The most important thing is to not give up on our enjoyment, and not give in to fear’, he added passionately. ‘I remember when I studied Marx when I was a student like you. Everybody said it was an academic suicide. But, I am still here’, he smiled victoriously.

‘I followed my enjoyment, and do not give in to the fear.’

as seen in Resource online

Don’t Panic

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Don’t panic when things don’t seem to fit. It might be your contribution to science! – Self-talk

Today as I finished my proposal I’m freaking out and shedding tears – woman, the joy was very brief, shit, okay back to – … tears because I am looking at my two different set of papers, one is my proposal and one is my reality notes from preliminary fieldwork, in which both seem to be world apart and not relating to each other at all (underlined, bold, highlighted, italicized: at all).

What the hell am I going to do with this piece of concepts that I’ve just written, what the hell am I going to do in my long fieldwork. Why was I painstakingly writing theoretical concepts if it didn’t seem to resonate with reality or it might be tentative or it might still be very vague or it might not be directing and narrowing my focus in any way during fieldwork. Maybe I’m still confused about what the hell is a proposition and why do I have to think about proposition at all, and the proposition might collapse in the field and right now I can’t be relaxed about that very inevitable thing going to happen.

But, as I am writing this, I ask myself, why am I worried, why? … This is why I’m worried: this proposal doesn’t fit and I will be left with nothing (conceptual lens) to comprehend what’s going on during fieldwork. In other words I might be lost and return to a blank page without a clue of how to make sense of what happened during fieldwork. And also just the horror of having to cramp up a new write up on the theorization in two weeks (because that’s just how I did it). I have done it twice so why am I wasting energy. That was what I thought ….

Then just while writing this post status I see a silver lining. I am writing the conceptual framework to learn new things – well at least it’s new for me. It’s not about applying that conceptualization to reality. No. It’s about understanding that the concepts – as they are presented right now in the academic literature – is still very full of holes and unclear and contradictory etc. My job is to try to understand how and why the academic understand it that way – and differently, where’s the difference and why, etc, and then use my preliminary understanding as a tentative shadow that still needs to be furnished more and more through dialogue-ing it with fieldwork.

And in the field, when I am trying to comprehend stuffs, as people do stuffs or say stuffs, this universalized concepts in my mind are being refurnished and refurnished again and constantly to make it contextual and incorporating the lively mind and action of the people that I will be interacting with on fieldwork. Hence the people’s knowledge would gain a little bit more of a level-playing field in relation to the dominant academic way of thinking. It would enrich our understanding and trim the paralyzing conceptualisation and perhaps poke the power relations that keep those misunderstanding and misrepresentation persist overtime.

So, I really do need to understand the abstract spirit of concepts, to let it enter my intuition and hence provide a lens that will make me notice stuffs that might not immediately seem to relate, also to have a dialogue to say why it doesn’t relate, what’s missing. So, anyway this is the reason why I had to write and learn that damn theoretical concepts, keep learning and might be rewriting it all over again from scratch or whatever. Destructing, constructing, it’s never a waste of energy, and I thought the process would be like laying one brick over another, but no, it’s not.

This piece of mind is also tentative though. Now, drinks. Thanks mom for loving me unconditionally.

March for Science

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As a scientist, did you join the March for Science last weekend? Blogger Nadya Karimasari shares her thought on this first-time event.

Some of my friends in Wageningen, like Suzy Brandon, Lea and Tabi, went to Amsterdam last weekend to join the March for Science. This event was a protest against Trump’s administration in the US that routinely shows a blatant disregard for science.

Looking back, I would like to scrutinise what kind of science I would wholeheartedly march for. Will I march for science? It depends. Just using the word ‘science’ is not specific enough for me, because there are awful, unethical and dangerous forms of science – and I do not mean the subversive type of dangerous, but the lethal type of dangerous. I will share my personal experience on this matter.

When I finished my master’s degree, I was asked to assist in research on the social-economic recovery of disaster victims in my hometown, where a mountain had just erupted. I was shocked when during my first meeting, the scientists of this research team – mostly economists – complained mercilessly about how stupid and lazy the disaster victims were. ‘They have a beggar mentality! They are too dumb to understand our intention to help them!’ said these economists.

According to them, this was the reason why their business plan to recover the economy was rejected by the community. My blood was boiling when I heard them loudly scorning, condescending and blaming the disaster victims. I wanted to pour lava into their filthy mouths and minds. And they said they were scientists.

In disbelief, I wonder what kind of science allows them to behave as such. How their label as scientists could let them get away with such an attitude that does not hold the slightest spark of empathy. What kind of science buries them in such ignorance of their own scientific flaws and limitations. What kind of science makes them perceive themselves as know-it-alls in their narrow-mindedness. What kind of science restricts them from comprehending that actually, the problem was their faulty business plan, and the community was too smart to let their economy be wrecked by another, not any less destructive disaster.

I wouldn’t want to march for such science.

Boekenmarkt

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During the Easter holiday, blogger Nadya Karimasari spent her day at the second-hand book bazaar in Wageningen Centrum.

Looking back, it seems weird that I’ve been anticipating the boekenmarkt since the very first time I had heard about it. What did I expect? I knew most books would be in Dutch, a language in which I have no vocabulary other than ‘ik begrijpt u niet’. I also knew that I wouldn’t be buying any, because the books would be most likely collectible antiques or English fiction paperback, which I would not read for the time being – I am staring at you, my beloved piles of research related books and articles.

It’s just the incomprehensible impulse to meet and be surrounded by books, no matter how foreign the written words are.

I marked the date on my calendar, set my alarm very early in the morning, quickly ate a bowl of blueberry yoghurt and granola – which I wouldn’t consider a proper breakfast on any normal occasion. I even skipped my regular ‘Skype Saturday’ morning with my husband in Indonesia so I wouldn’t miss this rare event in Wageningen. I usually have to travel to far-off Amsterdam just to find English second-hand books!

On that cloudy day, I felt a moment of bliss from looking at rows of second-hand book stalls. Where have they all been before? To my surprise, the first stall that I visited was remarkably suitable for my studies – and my wallet. It was a very small collection of an ecology student at Wageningen University, but it comprised the must-have anthropology textbooks. Every single book had to go through a long and thorough examination by me, as I had a difficult time to decide which one not to buy.

With such a high degree of book compatibility between me and the seller, I wondered for a split second what it would be like to see each other more often and having endless conversation about … books? Would it be like what people often said about the comfortable feeling of ‘meeting an old friend’ in a new person?

Like a snap, I was immediately brought back to reality by the sight of a beautiful sound story book that I eventually bought for my son.

more pics: here

On the Dinner Floor

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When conducting fieldwork, most anthropologists will have to eat with their host. Blogger Nadya Karimasari elaborates why this matter is not as simple as it may sound.

What I like most about my preliminary fieldwork is the interaction that it brought. Eating together is one of the most essential ways to build a relation. Providing food for a new ‘guest’ or ‘stranger’ is not just a simple act of hospitality. Through food, the community that I lived with offered to have a relationship with me. By eating the food together, mostly on the floor, I opened myself up to commit to this new relationship and be more than just a guest or stranger.

The generous act of giving and taking food is not to be taken for granted in every setting. In the first days after I arrived in a remote highland in Aceh, I spoke with a man from the city who worked for a development agency. The first advice he gave me was the following: ‘Don’t eat with them. Bring your own bottle of water and cover the top of your glass.’ Why so? ‘This community still strongly practises sorcery. They will poison you with their food. I immediately got ill after eating their food,’ he explained.

I can’t imagine people like him doing anthropological fieldwork in a remote area. Of course, social research is not only about trying to understand the community, but also trying to understand ourselves as a product of our social context and interaction. If he were a social researcher, he would have to be more aware of the origin of his judgement. For a researcher like me, this small conversation says a lot about the interaction and non-interaction through food.

In my case, I never did get any stomach ache, did not get any food poisoning, nor did I experience any sorcery. I ate whatever they ate. My hosts almost always ‘forced’ me to have some more. The more I ate, the more they felt appreciated. When I was feeling full, they would frown, ‘oh, our food was not tasty enough!’

Of course, I wanted them to be sure that I fully enjoyed their meal and our little moments of feast together. But I also needed to be careful not to let my stomach become too full, because it would mean that I would have to go to the nearest river… and, let me assure you, this ‘river’ thing is not any less complicated.

 

Public Imagination

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Today is general election day in the Netherlands. Blogger Nadya Karimasari writes a commentary from her hometown in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

As a Dutch resident, I am more interested in the upcoming Dutch general election than the previous U.S. election, which ignited wide global attention. Both have quite an intense process leading up to the election, with figures such as Donald Trump and Geert Wilders occupying public discourse with controversial stances and questionable reasoning.

Today reminds me of how living in the Netherlands has taught me what ‘public’ means. Writing from my provincial hometown in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, with very limited manifestation of the ‘public’, I must say that the ‘public’ is not something to be taken for granted. Public parks, very safe public roads with bicycle lanes, public transport, public education for four-year-olds and above, public healthcare, and other public mechanisms are considered ’basics’ in the Netherlands. Hence, it is quite easy to forget that these are actually quite an awesome public achievement. Different individuals with public imagination have been demanding and working together to realise a better quality of life, not only for the benefit of each individual, but also for the greater good of the general public.

But what constitutes the ‘public’ in the dynamic situation of contemporary Dutch? This is where the matter gets a bit more complicated. The public system in the Netherlands taught me that no matter where I come from, no matter what my religion is, no matter how long I have been living in the Netherlands, as long as I pay taxes, I am part of the Dutch public. It is clear, sensible, and reasonable. But it implies that in order to pay taxes, one must have an income, a job. It means that better job provision for people in the working age should be the next agenda point of the public fight.

We will see whether the Dutch opt to have someone like me join and be part of that fight or not. Would they be strategic and adaptive, as the Dutch are famously known to be, will they embrace and take advantage of the current situation in which the Dutch public is becoming merrier, more diverse and colourful? Or will it be the opposite?

picture source: wikimedia

Research in conflict

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In the last days of her preliminary fieldwork, blogger Nadya Karimasari entered a contentious area where she needs to be extra cautious about her relations with both conflicting sides.

In a couple of days, my preliminary fieldwork will be over. The last place in Northern Sumatra that I am currently visiting is also the most contentious area. The farmers here have been protesting against the national park that has destroyed patches of farmers’ plots scattered over different villages. According to the national park officer, those plots were located inside the national park, but the farmers have a lot of evidence to disqualify that claim.

 

The farmers are strongly organised and on 15 February 2017, their candidate has won the local election at district level without any support from large, conventional political parties. The farmers’ organisation was very welcoming and supportive of my research. They brought me to meet five farmers who were leading the protest and had been imprisoned for 22 days. They brought me to their partially destroyed fields, and more.

I spent more time with the farmers and their families, because they are more diverse and complex than the national park bureaucracy, who have more of an official and uniformed version of what happened. The national park also asked me to stay at their barrack and observe their day-to-day office work, but I was afraid that the farmers would think I am a spy who works for the national park, no matter how hard I tried to explain.

As a social scientist at the beginning of my research, I tried to cover both sides to get a general overview. But there are different advices in social science about conducting research on conflicting parties. Some argued that if the researcher is trying to be neutral, she will only get superficial information from both sides.

I must make choices and along the way, I have made and will keep making mistakes. I should do what is right according to my judgement at that given moment. Instead of feeling afraid to make an imperfect decision, I should remember that mistakes are the best teachers. I learn through mistakes. Instead of trying to stay perfect and be a perfectionist scientist, I will try to be forgiving of my shortcomings and embrace what I learn from them.

When in the field (2)

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Awkward, unexpected, and extraordinary things happened during fieldwork. Blogger Nadya Karimasari shares a list of such events.

For approximately 10 days, my co-promotor Dr Stasja Koot visited me in Medan, together with my promotor Prof. Bram Buscher, who visited me for 5 days. Some funny and memorable things happened during my supervisory team’s visit that made us laugh; looking back:

  1. My promotor and co-promotor, both frequent world travellers, stayed at the transit airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a while, not realizing that their connecting plane to Kualanamu airport, Medan, had just left.
  2. When they arrived, they wore the exact same white, light, v-collared T-shirt. I thought they were twins.
  3. On multiple occasions, my promotor and co-promotor ordered the same menu. They took turn each day on who was the copycat and who was the original.
  4. Bram accidentally bit off a whole chunk of super-hot small chilly. Fortunately, no tears were shed.
  5. ‘Black coffee, no milk, no sugar,’ was Stasja’s key sentence. People in Indonesia tend to put sugar or condensed milk in the coffee they served in such a way, that the coffee tastes exactly like liquid sugar.
  6. A giant frog in the cottage room in Bukit Lawang that suddenly just … vanished. ‘I’m sure it’s in your suitcase, Stasja,’ teased Bram.
  7. A waiter at the Bukit Lawang cottage speaks Dutch in a very old-fashioned way – because he learnt from his grandfather, he told us. He also sings hilarious, old-fashioned Dutch songs, this time bringing tears of laughter to Bram and Stasja’s eyes.
  8. Earthquakes in North Sumatra. Quite a lot of small earthquakes while we were there.
  9. Two sleepless nights for Bram, three for Stasja.
  10. Quite a lot of semi-wild orangutans during our short trek in Bukit Lawang.
  11. One flat tire on our way back from Tangkahan to Medan.
  12. How best to tip local people who helped us. Researchers need local people a lot and it is common to tip them, but tips are not exactly something that comes with an invoice.
  13. It took some time to adjust to the Indonesian currency; you can easily be a ‘millionaire’, but one million rupiah is actually very quickly.

All set, a couple of weeks to go and so many research ideas to bring back to Wageningen.

The gentle humour of Jan Douwe

A tribute to professor Jan Douwe van der Ploeg by blogger Nadya Karimasari. Today her favourite professor and living legend of Wageningen University will give his valedictory speech.

He is professor Jan Douwe van der Ploeg from the Rural Sociology chair group. I hope he will still visit the Leeuwenborch frequently, although he will officially be retired. There is still so much to learn from such a big mind and humble heart.

As a big fan, I was nervous and reluctant to say more than ‘good morning’ to him at first, although we worked on the same floor. I waited nine months before finally speaking to him in December 2016. I asked one of his student from China, Jin Zhang, to introduce us. Jin said that as a supervisor, ‘Jan Douwe is very gentle and nurturing, like a mother.’ I was impressed, because he was a very good listener. I was also his silent observer for a while, and the most striking features that I perceived are his sense of humour and his art of enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

Jan Douwe is full of jokes most of the time. I often saw him having lunch at the canteen with his close-knit friends, and they’re always full of laughter – laughing at Jan Douwe’s jokes. When he struck a conversation with the administrative officers and other workers, I often overheard them speak of delicious, mouth-watering food. Even in his books that I enjoyed thoroughly: in his writing, he would include some relevant, warm and satiric jokes to explain his serious analysis. I believe that the research Jan Douwe has done throughout his career has made some contribution to his outlook on life.

Having done three or more longitudinal studies that each span three decades on peasant farming, I can imagine Jan Douwe is very familiar with the significance of jokes in peasants’ life. Through his deep engagement with peasants, Jan Douwe knows very well that peasants’ life has a lot of challenges, but they also have their on way of mastering the strategy to survive, including through jokes.

This is not a farewell to the prince of peasant studies. Jan Douwe has left a strong legacy for the next generation of researchers to give the serious attention that the peasants deserve.

When in the Field (1)

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Blogger Nadya Karimasari is in Indonesia to conduct her preliminary fieldwork. This is the first of a series in which she will share her experiences.

How are you, Wageningen? I am curious because currently I am in Indonesia. The reason is threefold: to avoid the light snow in winter wonderland, I mean Wageningen (hello, sunshine!), to visit my parents and mother-in-law for some time and to conduct preliminary fieldwork for two months. The objective of this preliminary fieldwork is to visit and explore several potential research locations in order to choose one site for my year-long research that will start in August this year.

I found that what constitutes the “field” or research location is not entirely as clear as I had imagined it would be. From the Netherlands, we arrived at my hometown, Yogyakarta, on New Year’s Eve. I was overjoyed to meet my parents and brothers. My plan was to have an exclusive family time for a while and then fly to the potential research field in North Sumatra and Aceh.

From the Netherlands, we arrived at my hometown, Yogyakarta, on New Year’s Eve. I was overjoyed to meet my parents and brothers.

But, when in Yogyakarta, my husband received a text message from one of my informants, a bureaucrat and authority figure, who was also in the same town during that time. In other words, the second day after I arrived in Indonesia, when the euphoria of the New Year celebration was still lingering in the air, I already had to start working. I had to meet my key informant because he had to fly to Jakarta the next day. Does this mean my preliminary fieldwork started then? Does it mean my hometown is also part of the “field”?

It was funny because I was on the road with my family to buy some groceries when he asked me to meet with him. I was not prepared at all but I went to meet him anyway. I didn’t bring my recorder. I didn’t even bring any notebook or a pen! He kindly gave me his new notebook and pen. He even played with my son and entertained him. I kind of like this familial approach.

It felt like a good start. Then, immediately afterwards, I fell ill. And then my husband fell ill. And then my son fell ill. I started to worry: in these conditions, when will we be ready to go to North Sumatra and Aceh? (to be continued)

Social Science @ WUR

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In the spirit of New Year’s celebration, blogger Nadya Karimasari looked back on what she thought Wageningen University and Research was and compared it with what she has experienced so far.

After completing my master’s degree in Den Haag, the Netherlands, I always wanted to come back, but I never thought that it would actually happen. And I never imagined that I would return as a PhD candidate at Wageningen University and Research. As an agricultural university, WUR is a famous place to study natural science, but it is not traditionally associated with social science.

That impression no longer lingered after I experienced first-hand what it’s like to study social science at WUR. I came to know that social science in Wageningen is famous with its distinct ‘Wageningen style’ or ‘flavour’: a strong tradition of actor-oriented approach, pioneered by (Em.) Professor Norman Long. I am still trying to understand what it entails, especially from the numerous social research it brought about, but of course, WUR hosted several other approaches too. I’ve also started to recognized that some of the literature that I’ve read for my master’s syllabus were written by great social scientists based at WUR.

Although the grade of social science at WUR is lower than that of natural science, it does not matter to me. What matters more is the interaction that WUR stimulates, not only between social scientists, but also between social and natural scientists. This interrelation and multidisciplinarity are what WUR is currently striving for.

It is also funny how,­ whenever I bump into someone, it seems like that person is always doing some form of fascinating research that relates to my own research in various ways. But maybe it has something to do with the fact that my research topic is agricultural and environmental issues, a topic that is the specialisation of WUR. Sometimes, I am still in awe and disbelief when I casually meet legendary social scientists at the bike rack, the photocopier, the coffee machine, the lift, or in the canteen. I feel incredibly lucky to be in Wageningen because it gives me the opportunity to learn as much as possible from the people I admire academically.

I came to WUR at the right time, when a lot of exciting events were taking place. I’ve met important yet humble social scientists from around the world. ‘Emerging’ is the word I would use to describe social science at WUR, not ‘hip and happening’. It’s great to be part of the process in which social science at WUR is still trying to find its shape and identity. It’s the sign that social science is developing and growing, not stagnant nor declining.

Holiday Season

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Blogger Nadya Karimasari is in the holiday mood. What about you?

Earlier this month, on the first of December to be exact, I had a date with my son at a restaurant. We sat by the window on the second floor. He really enjoyed looking out on the street down below and pointing to every ‘auto’, ‘fiets’, or ‘bus’ that caught his eye. The food was delicious and we continued to the public library afterwards.

It was a bit slow to walk in the Centrum with my toddler, because he loves to suddenly stop and explore things, or change direction, but we eventually reached the public library nonetheless. During the cold winter, this is the place where my son goes to play, read books, watch videos, meet friends, and roam indoors. Both of us had a great time and enjoyed the day and I, especially, really cherish this kind of moments. My husband had a deadline and was unable to join us. He is an excellent cook, however, so when we arrived home, we had a nice meal too.

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This kind of simple, everyday celebration is important to keep us happy and healthy and sustain our endurance in our long-term, exciting research project that has been coming along well so far. Overall, I encourage taking intermittent breaks, holidays or small celebration every now and then. It does not have to be fancy and you do not need any specific reason to celebrate. You do not need to wait until the end of your study to have a celebration. This kind of happy ritual is a good thing to counter the academic culture that encourages us to work overtime, or using one of my professors’ words: to be ‘systematically overworked’.

By now, most students and staff in Wageningen will probably be in the mood for celebration too. Take the master’s students for example: this may be their last day of exams and they are going to have a break until the first week of January 2017. Al of us might be ready to head off to go home, whether in the Netherlands or abroad, to meet family and enjoy the holidays together. Most of my PhD friends have already gone back to their respective countries. My family is also looking forward to go home, thanks to the secretariat of Sociology and Anthropology of Development: Diana Dupain, Marielle Takes, and Sanne Hannink who took care of our tickets. What a tremendous help!

See you again next year!

PS: Pics of winter holiday dinner with our lovely landlords:

 

Masochistic PhD

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‘Why are most PhD candidates unhappy?’ blogger Nadya Karimasari was asked by a student. In today’s column, Nadya reflects on the culture in academia that unintentionally encourages unhappiness.

‘The ability to constructively deal with criticism is one of the most important traits for a scientist,’ said professor Jan-Willem van Groenigen during a general PhD course last month. Being critical about oneself is a good sign for a PhD candidate. It means she is aware that her knowledge and capability are limited. This great quality would encourage her to be open-minded, stay curious and learn deep and wide. Jokingly, Jan-Willem gave an example of one of his best students who was almost masochistic in the sense that when she didn’t receive enough criticism on her paper, she thought the reviewers had not read it well enough. ‘However, I am not like that and neither are most people,’ he added.

Unfortunately, sometimes unintentionally, there is a culture in academia in which professors discourage PhD candidates who do not seem to be unhappy enough. It is as if something is wrong when the PhD candidate is not agonizing over how lost, confused, and incapable he is. Perhaps it is a pedagogical approach to remind PhD candidates to be humble. But it suggests that you distrust and underestimate the ability of the PhD candidate to judge his own research capability in a balanced and proportional way. When taken too far, it contributes to bringing PhD candidates to the brink of mental depression. It also normalizes the general aura of unhappiness among PhD candidates.

Of course, Jan-Willem was not advocating for academic masochism to PhD candidates. Jan-Willem himself is a very positive and exuberant person. But it is quite widespread among professors and peers to give students the impression that a good PhD candidate is very self-critical and treats themselves as if undeserving of any good comment on their work.

Other professors practice daily criticism on their students in order to train them to perform convincingly. Being able to have a ‘convincing performance’ is a useful skill to survive in academia. By treating PhD candidates in a way that encourages her to doubt herself, it is expected that she could develop the reflex to push back and be convincing.

‘I never read her comment on my paper before I sleep, because I know I wouldn’t be able to sleep afterwards. I would rather sleep and read it in the morning,’ said one of my PhD friends about her professor.

Peter Tamas, a professor of qualitative research methodology, mentioned the common personality traits of PhD candidates and scientists in general, in which they tend to be internally insecure and are in constant need for external validation. PhD candidates who are prone to identity crisis would look up to an image of the good PhD candidate. It is a pity that the image provided is often of a somewhat masochistic PhD.

Methodology Notes: Fieldwork and Reality Construction

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This month I am following a Master course, “Fieldwork in Conflict and Post-Conflict Setting” with Gemma van der Haar and Peter Tamas. It is very good and gives me a lot of imagination to handle the practice and methodological thinking of doing fieldwork. I would recommend to do this course especially if you already had a fieldwork in mind. In each session, we discuss the delicate and intricate dilemmas based on experiences of other researchers, which is why it open my mind in a good direction. This is perhaps the only Master class (with big credits) that I will be taking in the course of my PhD and I am happy that it is very interactive, not a one way lecture loaded with cognitive material, but it deals with our emotions etc. The point is to put the study materials into a dialogue with our own thinking and research.

Today we study about what are we able to research? We encountered the “social construction of reality” line of thought that shows us how it is perhaps not enough to study hard facts. My own interpretation of today’s class is we are able to study three “layers” of research object: the first is the action or practice, the second is what people say about those action (what they think is knowledge or knowledge claim), and the third (the constructivist approach) is the “structures that enables some societal knowledge to be possible”, it means doing a historical study or an “archaeology” of the knowledge (claim). The implication of our discussion is the question of whether or not is it important that the content of the knowledge claims is true in the sense that it objectively tells the factual reality? Or does it matter more to see what are the frames within which such claims are possible? Does it matter so much that what people say has to be the real truth, or does it matter more to see how their claim, regardless of its “objective accuracy”, implicates their action?

I am a very beginner on this, it seems like the course is persuading me to study the third layer and not taking the first layer for granted. But I am not sure if I would be able to study the third layer, it seems very difficult. So for now, for my own research I would still stick with the first layer, at least initially, you can call me a positivist, it is okay for me. I would still need to have the concrete, material, practices and action, that is something I can research. Then only I will think about the next layers. And I think also each layers are interactive and constitutive of each other. As we discussed in class, it is a process (between the three layers), one does not exclude the other. Constructivist is studying the process of how knowledge comes into being, including within ourselves. We also problematizes how “representation” of realities are often seen as different and separated from “the reality” itself. But it is not separated, it has a dynamic relation. People act based on the representation of realities. “Representation is what informs action, not the brute reality but what they think is real,” said my lecturer.

The second thing that I will be following this week is a workshop on how to write an abstract. It is going to be more informal and intimate, I guess. I will let you know how it goes. Another thing that I am doing this month until December is a reading group on Marx’s Kapital. I am happy to do it together with friends and also a lecturer, Kees Jansen. It is a biweekly reading group and this week we are reading the third chapter about money. I am not doing this because it is trendy or cool to read Marx, but because the labour theory of value is very core in my theoretical framework. But I am also simultaneously struggling to learn the methods and how to do the research in practice. How to study labour relationship? Should I train some households to keep a diary of activities like what Michael Dove did in his research? Well, I am still in the search of different options.

Research Update: Introduction

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Okay, long story short: I haven’t been updating my research process for almost a year now. Thanks to my office room-mate Britt Broekhaus today, we had a short chit chat on what our research is about. It is a challenge for both of us to say what our research is about in two words or one sentence. So, our chit chat helped me a lot to think about how to introduce my research in two words or one sentence.

How am I going to describe my research in two words or one sentence? At this point, I would say community rangers (that’s two words). In one sentence, it would be the relation between community rangers and farmers within and adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park, Aceh, Indonesia (like what you’ve read in my about page). I constantly ask to myself, why? Why do I want to research this? I am not quite done with this question but it is okay.

What concerns me now is my imagination that my research is actually not possible. Why? Because I imagine there is a clash between the rangers and the farmers in the buffer zone, because I imagine the rangers is doing a type of fortress conservation in some sort. But it is also possible that, because they are community rangers, they have a very close relationship in everyday life with the farmers, instead of being in some sort of a clash.

Another thing that I am concerned about is whether or not conservation has a real presence in the daily life of the community (farmers in the buffer zone). I can choose a very isolated area and not getting any conservation presence but it would be the area most likely located within the national park. I can also choose location with strong presence of conservation practices, but again, how to see and what is actually conservation presence? What if it is just an ad-hoc, one-off, temporary thing? It is an important conservation area in Indonesia, arguably one of the most important not only in Indonesia but also worldwide, but I imagine that that doesn’t mean people’s daily life are really heavily affected by conservation the way social scientist tend to describe.

I hope I can start writing this type of logbook under the “research update” menu. It is good to keep track of my thoughts, research process, inspiration, and worries. And it would be fun to look back later on.

The Unconventional Anna Tsing

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Last week, blogger Nadya had one of her best PhD moments: she met one of the most innovative anthropologists of our time.

When I was working on my master’s thesis five years ago, my supervisor told me that I was like Anna Tsing. At the time, although Anna Tsing’s work was mostly on Indonesia, I was not aware of her. Since then, I have been trying to discover myself through her works. I read her book ‘Friction’ three times. Imagine how surprised I was when I heard that she was coming to Wageningen!

I am dying to know what your research is about!

‘I am dying to know what your research is about!’ she said to me in front of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. I will never forget her warmth and genuine enthusiasm. Anna Tsing is a professor of anthropology at the University of California Santa Cruz and Aarhus University. She visited Wageningen University to perform at the internal launch of the Center for Space, Place, and Society. Instead of giving a lecture, she decided to play the ‘Golden Snail Opera’ on this occasion.

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Me and one other student helped her with the performance. She was very generous to say that it was an honour for her to meet us. I learnt about work ethic from her dedication to make sure that we practiced at least twice before the final presentation, despite her hectic schedule. She was also presenting at three other universities before, and she prepared three completely different presentations.

Her ground-breaking work, such as the ethnography of global connection and the multispecies approach, had made her well-known as an original and unconventional anthropologist. When she was a PhD candidate, one of her advisors read three chapters of her dissertation and told her: ‘You are a much more interesting person than this.’

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She had to rewrite her dissertation, but she thanked him for that comment. ‘Otherwise, I would be a much more conventional anthropologist,’ she said. ‘In the beginning, I was trying to please,’ this was the challenge when she was writing up her dissertation. I think most PhD candidates are familiar with this tendency. I hope we can find our way to become independent scientists and overcome the ‘trying to please’ tendency.