Utopian Aspects of Social Movements in Postmodern Times: Some Examples of DIY Politics in the Netherlands (1)

Article excerpt

`Newspapers, magazines and television want me to believe we, the kids, have no ideologies anymore. [...] Well (ha!) they're wrong, I could write a book about everything I believe in and strive for. [...] The only problem is that it's their ideology to have us believe ideology and dreams belong to the past. [...] But when I go to a hardcore show like last night and meet all those people that have opinions and voice them in discussions, as bands or in zincs, I know there's an alternative force that goes against the stream, one that doesn't stop and only grows stronger.'

(Dutch punk zinc It's Raining Truths #4, `s Hertogenbosch 2000).

`If it's hard to change opinions in the public domain, then why not try to form other opinions in a domain of our own, in a counter-domain where we can articulate our true feelings and authentic experiences without them being distorted and made harmless by the corporate world that ultimately doesn't care about us, but only about our money'

(Dutch punk zine Reflections #12 [1999]: 77)


IN THIS ARTICLE I DISCUSS THE REMARKABLE FACT that in the Netherlands, and perhaps in other Western countries too, s social scientists and left-wing political parties complain about political apathy, stating that there are no longer any social movements that undertake political activities, whereas at the same time, Dutch punks in their `zines' may be quoted as above. How are we to understand these different opinions? And why are political scientists not aware of all the alternative activities taking place before their very eyes?

The aim of this article is threefold. In the first place, I show that the idea that nothing is happening is connected with the dominant (modernist) theoretical approach to social movements. Political scientists and left-wing politicians characterise social movements as ones that make demands on the political system; they study these movements by counting how often their actions are mentioned in the media (Van der Heijden, 2000: 12, 47). But what if people who are politically involved have an aversion to the political system and have stopped trusting the media? What if the media are simply not interested in their ideas and activities and consequently do not mention them?

Secondly: by giving some examples of Dutch contemporary political protest groups and their international connections, I show that in fact much political activity is taking place in the Netherlands. Since the 1990s this type of politics has often been referred to as DiY: Do-it-Yourself, or `We-do-it-Ourselves'.

Thirdly: I will discuss these protest groups in the context of two theoretical discussions: a) postmodernism and the similarities and differences between the 1960s and 1990s; b) utopianism and its relationship with postmodernism, as expressed in DiY politics.

Because I believe that the politicians' and scientists' ignorance of contemporary political activism in the Netherlands is connected with some typical aspects of Dutch society, I start by sketching these.

The Dutch context: the `Poldermodel'

At present the Netherlands is considered one of the most `liberated' and tolerant countries in the world. We have legalised soft-drugs, brothels, euthanasia, and gay and lesbian marriages; abortion and the pill are covered by the national health insurance and in case of unemployment we have a good social security system. Nowadays we are one of the richest countries too: we have one of the lowest unemployment rates of Europe and we work the shortest hours. (2) A well-known Dutch philosopher spoke about the Netherlands as a utopia nearly completed (Achterhuis, 2000). And according to the Dutch authorities, both `liberation' and wealth are the result of the typical Dutch `Poldermodel' (Trendreport 1997; Lof, 1998: 9).

This name for the Dutch style of government was invented in the 1980s. It refers to a unique form of `consensus policy' in the socio-economic field. …