How Different Minority Groups Redefine the Concept of Public Space

Previously, we talked about how the landscape of the Netherlands and how it makes Dutch design and architecture different to the rest of the world. Most of our discussions focused on analyzing physical structures and the arts of Amsterdam, including museums, monuments, and paintings. On the other hand, this week we predominately looked at Dutch lifestyles past and present and how different groups deal with the issue of limited public space. The problem of limited public space in Amsterdam encourages people, especially minorities such as the Moroccan-Dutch youth and Marken women or specific groups like football fans, to find other outlets of identity and culture. These groups of people have their own distinctive identities that stem from their race or religion that are expressed through outlets such as clothing and football (soccer). This week’s readings demonstrate how “public space” is defined not only by its architecture and history but by how its inhabitants make use of their bodies, clothing, gestures, and behavior. Dutch identity in Amsterdam is based on the clothing people wear or the football team they support.

Amsterdam is similar to the US in that it is a melting pot of different people and culture. For this reason, having an identity and being able to present it has become a significant part of society in Amsterdam. Even potentially little concerns like the clothing we wear can play a major part in forming a person’s identity in Amsterdam. For example, in the case study Moroccan-Dutch Boys and the Authentication of Clothing Styles, Hester Dibbits discusses how the Moroccan-Dutch boys are heavily defined by the way they dress. These boys dress in mainly two different ways; they either dress in expensive Italian brand-name clothing, such as Armani and Gucci (Dibbits 24) or baggy streetwear (Dibbits 16). They dress this way because they are trying to create an identity for themselves that differs from how the media portrays them as criminals, school dropouts, religious radicals, and outlaws (Dibbits 11). Dibbits discusses that wearing expensive Italian brand-name clothing makes the boys seem affluent and makes them look like more respectable members of society. Countering how they’re often viewed, the clothing not only helps the boys present themselves as having career aspirations but also helps them identify with each other (Dibbits 23). On the other hand, baggy clothing allows them to be more “black” and separate themselves from the white majority (Dibbits 18). Although both styles are almost opposites of one another, they accomplish the same task: to give the ability to choose their own identity that separates them the rest of the Dutch population and to allow the boys to be grouped together.


Herman Roodenburg’s case study, Their Own Heritage: Women Wearing Traditional Costumes in the Village of Marken, presents a similar struggle with a different minority group. There are a few women in Marken that still wear their traditional clothing, the Klederdacht. Although they are judged for still wearing their folk wear, they still want to convey their Dutch identity by wearing the traditional dress because they are proud of it. Unfortunately, the public views their choice as a tourist attraction and so much of scholarly focus has been on the viewer’s point-of-view (Roodenburg 246). However, Roodenburg begins to get from the wearer’s perspective. For the women, the clothing ties to their work, heritage, and history. Similarly to the Moroccan-Dutch youth, the Marken women had to dress in certain ways to fit the occasion and portray themselves as employable or fit to be good wives (Roodenburg 249). The women used the clothing to validate themselves as potential wives and workers. More generally the clothing allows the women to negotiate their public lives.

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Marken women in traditional wear

Amsterdam is home to Ajax, which is a great football team with a vibrant history. Simon Kuper touches on the rich history of the club gives the Dutch much pride and gives them a Jewish identity in Ajax, The Dutch, The War. Football or soccer is the world’s most popular sport, and billions of people watch and play it every year. Football is not just a sport in many areas of the world in places like South America is it almost seen as a religion. In countries like the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, and Spain, football may not be as coveted as a religion, but in other cities like Amsterdam, it is an integral part of the culture and daily life where Ajax, one of the world’s most renowned club, is located. Ajax is a club with a vibrant history and a trophy cabinet to match it. Ajax is most well known for being one of the most successful teams in Europe winning the European Cup four times in the 70s with the legendary Johan Cruyff and twice in the 90s with Dutch legends such as Patrick Kluivert, Frank Rijkaard, and Clarence Seedorf.

However, what is not well known about Ajax is the seemingly secondary Jewish identity of the club. A majority of Ajax fans are not Jewish, but they seem to believe that Ajax represents the Jewish heritage and culture. After WWII, a lot of the club’s players and leaders were Jewish or half-Jewish. Amsterdam before the war had a large population of Jewish people, but during Nazi occupation, more than 70 percent of them died (Kuper 189).

Ajax supporters with Jewish flags

Although after the war the Jewish population reduced significantly and caused a lot of controversy over anti-Semitism, Ajax supporters didn’t hate their Jewish players and managers and sympathized with them. This eventually evolved into Ajax fans identifying Ajax as a Jewish club. Even if they didn’t know the reason for the Jewish flags waved around in the stadium or the Jewish chants, the fans’ participations in this behavior promotes a Jewish identity (Kuper 228). In chapter 14, Kuper elaborates on an interesting phenomenon known as the “Jewing” of Dutch football; what is more interesting about this public behavior is that the Ajax fans’ behavior affects the identity of their own club but also that of rival clubs like Feyenoord (Kuper 224). The chants of Ajax fans led other opposing fan bases to then take a sort of Nazi identity to oppose Ajax supporters. The labeling of Ajax fans as “Jews” by the rival fan bases and their chants is not an anti-Semitic gesture but a way to appose Ajax supporters (Kuper 228).Due to the unique landscape of the Netherlands, there is not much public space available in Amsterdam. So, the Dutch need to use the limited public space available to their advantage. The Dutch are known for being innovative and excellent at maximizing the space available because of their landscape. I believe that the lack of public space available created an interesting situation in which the citizens of Amsterdam had to express their identities and culture through other means. One of the innovative methods of accomplishing that feat was through the many different clothing styles that people wear or the secondary identity of Dutch football teams and their fans. These examples suggest that diverse groups of people in Amsterdam purposefully used these other outlets to promote their self and group’s identities in unique ways. Finally, this tells us that the city of Amsterdam is an important public platform in which distinctive Dutch identity becomes an influential part of Dutch culture and way of life.



Herman Roodenburg, “Their Own Heritage: Women Wearing Traditional Costumes in the Village of Marken,” in Reframing Dutch Culture, 245-258.

Hester Dibbits, “Moroccan-Dutch Boys and the Authentication of Clothing Styles,” in Reframing Dutch Culture: Between Otherness and Authenticity, eds. Peter Jan Margry and Herman Roodenburg (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 11-35.

Simon Kuper, Ajax, the Dutch, the War (New York: Nation Books, 2012).




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