Posted in Mentors

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.



on-going tensions between ready-made values and uncharted territory

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