In the Media

Learning Malayalam

Article in daily The Hindu, May 1978, Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram), India. On the photo I am second from the left.

In 1978 my anthropological dream came true. It meant the financing of a long-term PhD fieldwork and time for write up.


My research was part of a larger project in the south Indian state of Kerala. With three other PhD students I started with learning Malayalam, that incredibly complex language with 56 letters, expressed by moving your tongue in different ways.


Once out in the field, I discovered we had learned a formal version of Malayalam that differed quite a lot from what people spoke that I interacted with.

Modern Poverty

Manohar Publishers & Distributors in Delhi, a leading business in Indian book publishing in India, devoted a special promotion of my book Modern Poverty, in 1992.

“Pre-modern poverty” arose from underpaid, forced labor for powerful land owners. But it also meant a guaranteed minimum of food and shelter provided by the landlord who needed the labor during farm seasons.


Nowadays, laborers are freer to move, but lost guarantee income. Their “modern poverty” comes from low wages and underemployment throughout the year. Even if wages are not bad, the days of work are often too few in number for a sufficient income, while prices in shops are rising.


For their survival, the modern poor bargain with shopkeepers for food, brave police raids by building huts on government land, buy and sell tiny pieces of land, or illegally collect edibles and firewood from common lands and forests.

Poverty and Environment

The national daily Indian Express interviewed me on poverty and environment in the south Indian state of Kerala, 24 February 1996.

In this interview I discuss my work experiences regarding poverty alleviation and environmental management in Kerala. 

While economic growth per person went on growing, a minority of households, depending casual labor and without land of their own, legged behind. Their purchasing power, resulting from low wage levels and high prices in shops, remained low.

They were also the main victims of polluted river water and car traffic air pollution in downstream areas, and of deforestation and slope erosion in upstream parts of the state.

Kerala Projects

“Peter talks about Kerala.” Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, Thrissur, 3 September 1997.

Click here to read free translation of this article.

Colonial Cousin

My research assistant-interpreter Viswanath Kaladharan, MA, compiled the article Colonial Cousin after his experiences with me in Kerala, India. The Hindu, 14 February 2000.

We worked together during my two years of field work in the green foothills of the Western Ghats, and research visits to the cities of Kottayam, Kochi and Thiruvavanthapuram. During my later projects in Kerala, Kaladharan also came with me. He was an excellent interpreter and a very entertaining companion, with a great sense of humor. He introduced me to a number of prominent persons. He loved to tell me about music and Khatakali dance, passions that he later turned into a profession as a writer and speaker.

Sea may depopulate Holland

Article in the official Dutch Government daily Staatscourant, 4 March 2005, on the basis of research conducted by colleagues and me of the Free University in Amsterdam. The project was financed by the European Commission.

Because the sea level is expected to normally rise 80-90 centimeters in a century, it is unlikely that the Dutch government will protect half of the country against a worst case scenario of 5-7 meters sea level rise. Political interests are dominated by short-term thinking, and costs are regarded too high. In case worries will grow, protection runs the risk of being too late.

Private companies can move to the higher half of the country, or other parts of the European Union. Harbor business and expertise may be welcomed in French Atlantic port towns. Dutch citizens are appreciated for their high education and command of foreign languages.

Sea Level and the Lowlands

Article in the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, 22 May 2005, on an exodus as worst case scenario (Uittocht in het ergste geval).

Half of the Netherlands is below sea level, and protected by dikes and dams. This protection can be continued if the government wants to do so. Technologies, finances and materials are available. But over time, especially economic costs of possible floods will increase. Perhaps it is better to discourage building in the low provinces and encourage settling in the higher provinces. Families and companies may even migrate to Germany, France, and the Belgium Ardennes. Children may do well learning German or French. 
 

Uittocht in het ergste geval

Sea level rise and exodus as worst case scenario. Article in Dutch, NRC Handelsblad, 22 May 2005.

Half of the Netherlands is below sea level, and protected by dikes and dams. This protection can be continued if the government wants to do so. Technologies, finances and materials are available. But over time, especially economic costs of possible floods will increase. Perhaps it is better to discourage building in the low provinces and encourage settling in the higher provinces. Families and companies may even migrate to Germany, France, and the Belgium Ardennes. Children may do well learning German or French.

Protection has a Price

The sea is patient. Life behind the dikes is safe, but it has a price. Article in Dutch daily Friesch Dagblad, 24 December 2005.

Although the low-lying, coastal province of Friesland is vulnerable to sea water floods or even permanent inundation, protection is solid. Local and national authorities are trusted to keep taking their responsibility. But populations living at higher altitudes may become reluctant to share the rising costs of protection in the lower provinces. Meanwhile, some companies, elderly people, and enterprising young families may migrate to higher parts of the country and the European Union.

Culture, Science, Policy

Interview on Culture, Science and Policy (Cultuur, wetenschap en beleid) by Michiel van Drunen, Free University in Amsterdam. YouTube 6.54’. 5 December 2011.

Our thinking, feeling and acting are largely shaped by our subconscious. Because this subconscious is difficult to reach, attempts to change our behaviors are easily doomed to fail. In a society or community we share an important part of our subconscious pattern with others, and transfer that pattern to next generations. This dynamic can be called ‘culture.’ 

Scientists and policy makers who ignore the force of such culture will meet with disappointment. Technicians, entrepreneurs or development workers, operating in societies new to them, often face hard to grasp resistance because of cultural differences.

Gardener Ancestors

“Sons of landscape gardeners. Interview of Gert de Kruif and Peter van der Werff.” (“Tuinbaastelgen: Gesprek met Gert de Kruif en Peter van der Werff”). In quarterly Ons Bloemendaal, 2017, No 3.

Gert de Kruif has ancestors who lived as landscape gardeners with their families on buitenplaatsen. Some of my ancestors had similar lives, while others ran gardener companies.

A buitenplaats is a landed property with a large mansion surrounded by a lush park, but without rented out farms. As a consequence a buitenplaats costs rather than earns money. The original owners often had an emerging burger background. They usually maintained their buitenplaats (‘a place out in nature’) in order to spend summers away from hot and dirty cities.

A landgoed is a landed property with a castle or large mansion, surrounded by a garden, a number of farms managed on lease, and perhaps fish waters and forests. The owner’s income was the rent paid by farmers, fishermen and wood cutters. The owners often had an old aristocratic background. The owning families lived on the landgoed throughout the year.

Shot in the Void

Review of my book Schot in de leegte (Shot in the Void), by Richard Kruijswijk, Alderman in Bloemendaal, 2017. 

I find your book a top example of how precise family stories sharpen our vision on local and wider history. A truly successful project! It gets a central place in the bookcases of myself and the municipality of Bloemendaal.

Shot in the Void Review

Book review of my book Schot in de leegte (Shot in the Void) by René Dessing, 2017.

The author’s ancestor Gerrit van der Werff (1815-1879) migrated at a young age from Arkel, a village near River Rhine, to the Lindenheuvel Estate west of Amsterdam. He was to be the first of four generations of landscape gardeners and estate managers. The ample information provided about work of gardeners and managers is a joy for lovers of such monumental complexes.

The successive Van der Werff generations interacted with prominent families, such as Borski, Cremer, and Fokker, including the aircraft pioneer Anthony Fokker. But inner emptiness, even bipolarity, hampered happiness in the family. The title of the book refers to this emotional poverty. The stories of their adversities met during the Second World War are impressive. They also explain a lot of what happened in the postwar period, events that deeply affected the author in his personal existence.

The book makes for a compelling read and informs us richly about two centuries of living on Dutch estates, before they fell victim to urbanization.

Drop me a line

Peter van der Werff, PhD

peterwerff@gmail.com

+31 652 478 975

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