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"To belong sounds all rosy and warm, but isn't"

Now that Dutch covid-measures have loosened up and people exchange their living room for the cafe, street and park, it is a good time to reflect on feelings of belonging. What makes us feel at home? And what is the shadow side of this emotion? It is the subject of a three-day conference from 9 to 11 June, organised by the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS).

“Feeling at home in your neighbourhood or city sounds rosy and warm,” says Jan Willem Duyvendak, professor of sociology and director of NIAS. “Politicians and journalists use the term carelessly, but have no idea what they are actually saying. Feeling at home, and belonging somewhere, is a complicated emotion. It always has an excluding effect as well. Every time someone says they feel at home, they draw a line that includes some places and people, but excludes others, who don’t belong.”

Emotions such as feeling at home are understudied in the social sciences. “There is surprisingly little research on an emotion that has become so important in politics and policy. With the upcoming conference, we want to set an agenda for this new field of research.”

Duyvendak is director of an institute where researchers from all over the world come together to work, eat and sometimes even live. How does he make them feel ‘at home’? “Not. On the contrary, I emphasize that our researchers do not have to feel at home at NIAS, as long as they are amicable to each other. That’s a better way to live together, without excluding.”


The “Conference on Studies of Belonging” will take place online from June 9-11. In nearly forty sessions, themes such as nationalism, migration and border policy, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, gay neighborhoods in the USA, and ethnic and religious exclusion in India, but also inclusion at universities and academic freedom will be discussed.

It is the first edition of a series of conferences that will take place bi-annually, in which one theme will be studied from a social science, humanities and artistic perspective. More information and registration: www.niasconference.nl.