Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Randa Farah

2nd Supervisor

Adriana Premat

Joint Supervisor


Notions of citizenship in the Netherlands are increasingly shifting away from liberal models of civic citizenship that, in theory, promote diversity, pluralism and, multicultural understandings of citizenship and are moving, instead, towards a mono-cultural and assimilationist understanding of national identity and belonging. This trend, known in the literature as the ‘culturalization of citizenship’ constitutes the primary topic of this project.

In this dissertation, I argue that official and populist discourses concerning non-western Muslim immigrants in Dutch society today work to inscribe difference onto “foreign” (“allochthonous”) residents of the Netherlands while upholding an idealized notion of “Dutch identity”. My research revealed that it was not just government-sponsored integration programs that reproduced dominant understandings of belonging or difference through integration activities, but also, the everyday discursive practices of Dutch “natives” (called “autochthons”) who, at times inadvertently, reproduce exclusionary notions of national identity and belonging.

My ethnographic research, based in three different neighbourhoods in Rotterdam (Bergpolder, Liskwartier, and Nieuwe Westen), revealed how local and national discourses of belonging are expressed in everyday practices. Although other scholars have explored immigrants’ integration and the politics of belonging in the Netherlands, this project takes a unique approach by exploring ideas of belonging using space as an entry point for analysis, paying particular attention to how individuals’ use, access and understand neighbourhood public places. Using Ryan Centner’s concept of ‘spatial capital’, I argue that “autochthonous” individuals are more spatially privileged in their ability to define and design public places in the neighbourhood than individuals who would be perceived as “allochthonous”. Contrary to the declared objectives of official citizenship “tests” and integration programs, the process itself reproduces boundaries and differences between “autochthons” and “allochthons”.