Speaking Together: Exploring Discourses of 'Dutchness' in Language Learning, Voluntarism, and Active Citizenship
Mosher, Rhiannon Michelle
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My dissertation examines everyday understandings of citizenship as expressed by voluntary Dutch language coaches in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Based on thirteen months of ethnographic research, the primary methods used in this study were in-depth semi-structured interviews and participant observation. These methods were complemented by archival research examining policy documents, key discussions in mainstream Dutch media, and promotional materials developed by the voluntary organizations studied. Adopting a Foucauldian approach to governmentality informed by the work of Tania Li, Mitchell Dean, Ann Laura Stoler, and Aihwa Ong, this study considers how volunteer Dutch language coaches both reproduce and challenge contemporary discourses around citizenship and belonging in Dutch society. Since the 1990s, in the Netherlands and across the European Union, concerns over increasing cultural diversity and diminishing social cohesion have centred on marginalized, non-Western (Muslim) newcomers and their descendants. These concerns have developed concurrently with neoliberal interventions that have included the downloading of social service provision including immigrant integration to lower levels of government, private and not-for-profit civil society organizations, and individual citizens as volunteers. Cross-cutting historical, colonial calculations of Dutchness and more recent expressions of neoliberal active citizenship (Ong 1996; Muehlebach 2012), the Dutch language has emerged as a key symbol of belonging, and technique for teaching the technology of government to newcomers. In this context I argue that Amsterdams Dutch language coaching volunteers fill an important role as front-line citizenship educators, offering a unique perspective through which to study citizenship. Alongside teaching newcomers the language skills required to naturalize, coaches convey their own ideas of citizenship and belonging as an everyday ethic and practice of community building. Through their voluntary work and expressions of meaningful social integration and citizenship, these research participants consent to and extend the reach of government into the private lives of (potential) citizens. The tensions, practices, and contradictions around belonging revealed by these participants underscore the awkward continuities (Dean 2010:57) with the powerful grammar of difference and Dutchness developed through the experience of empire, and how entangled discourses of cultural difference and neoliberal active citizenship shape state and everyday notions of morally and culturally attuned citizenship practice.