The Autonomous Life?

Hier kun je discussieren over The Autonomous Life?.
In 2005, Nazima Kadir, an anthropologist from New York City, came to Amsterdam to ponder the subject of her PhD dissertation. She became quickly drawn into the political and cultural sphere of the city's radical housing movement. After a short sneak preview as an outside observer, her own housing problems pushed her to actively join as a squatter for a couple of years. She shared the movement's struggle in work and pleasure, victories and defeats and (most importantly) in it's intense external and internal discourse around all things political.

Her book, 'The autonomous life?' is a lively portrait of the Amsterdam Squatters Movement during the early 2000's, its campaigns for affordable housing and non commercial cultural space, its loud demonstrations, wild parties, endless meetings, tenacious resilience, unconditional solidarity, vicious gossip and its struggle to live up to its own high ideals. Nazima observes with a sharp eye, describes with a sharp tongue and reflects with a sharp mind, with all the depth and insight of a thorough scholar and the fierce conviction
of an experienced activist. 'The autonomous life?' stands in sharp contrast to the academic zealotery romantically glorifying social movements observed from the outside and movement politicians using pseudo science to push their political agendas.

In the acknowledgements, she writes:

'Thanks to all twenty of my housemates and the residents of a specific squatted neighborhood for making space for me in your lives. I treasure the bonds that I share with all of you despite the evictions and the heartaches. Looking back, we were a family,
experiencing the joys and the struggles of family life. I also want to extend special thanks to the collective of a particular squatted social center as well as to the activists with whom I worked on the defense campaigns of the houses where I resided. I would
also like to thank the brave members of the black bloc, who powerfully avenged my evictions.'

The full book is available online Open Acess ( CC license ):

Paperback's should be available in your local Radical Bookstore or at Manchester University Press



im not your research object, universities should burn like all the institutes of power

were you? You would make an

were you? You would make an excellent subject: 'How does alcohol consumption affect CAPS settings in cyberrages?'


I had rad part of her drafts long before this was published and I have to say the final edit is much better. Still her style of presentation could benefit more from sore really good editing. Stylistic questions out of the way, I was part of the same community she describes during the same time and I find that "ethnography" lacking in many parts.

She grasps some issues very comprehensively and follows that with sound analuses, some of which will offend a number of people who don;t like having a mirror presented to themselves. On other occasions she misses complex and interesting parts completely. One of the main drawbacks her work is suffering from is that she never fully immersed herself in some of the groups she is describing or even talked at length with some of the representatives. At several points it becomes very clear to me from knowing the people she uses as examples that she is missing crucial parts of their personal story because she could never converse with them in Dutch. As much as Dutch people in general and squatters in particular are proficient in English, not all of them feel confident to open up fully or can express themselves to the same depth in a language which is not their own. As a US American she remains very much in the English-speaking expat bubble and misses a very fundamental social dynamic that has existed (and probably still exists) in the Amsterdam sqatting scene: the divide between the Dutch born squatters and the immigrant or transitory cohort. In that way, Nazima Kadir retains much of the fetters that have plagued colonialist anthropology where "civilized" people studied "the savages" without ever fully understanding them.

In the same vein she is constantly mixing personal statements and almost narcissistic autobiographical notes with observations of the people around her. From what I know of contemporary anthoropology, this is not generally accepted practice in the field, but then again I come from a social science background that is much more removed from direct involvement with the subjects (sociology and economics) and might be heavily conditioned against.

In the end the book is an interesting read, and many things stated in it strike true. Nothing will be much of a surprise for anybody with a mind that's used to social analysis, many will reject a lot of the content because it might be uncomfortable to them, and under the bottom line I find this book to be more of a conversation starter than a contribution to social science.

Shameful voyeurism from the

Shameful voyeurism from the queen of gossip.

best thing to do is laugh

I am in the boek I guess. After the feeling of anger has past, I like to forget this stupid thing.
Of course everyone can write like Nazima and take gossip and things said at 3am and twist them into something, of course we could also caracter assassinate her just the same way. And then run away to London and never look someone in the eye again.
I say the best thing is to laugh.
Please do not purchase the boek but read the online version. Enjoy the terrible scholarship! Laugh at the hypocrisy from someone who criticises all else and is always right.
Let the academics play in their stupid academy and it keeps them busy. Why do they do it? I do not know. Still not understanding.
Shame that she talks about privilege and does not examine her own, nor use it to write some interesting study about marginalised squatting.

Excuse me, but I thought

Excuse me, but I thought there already was a scientific investigation in the squatters movement, published in 2009 (Kraken in Amsterdam anno 2009, Frank van Gemert et al, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, sectie criminologie, 2010). People did not complain about that investigation (though it looked a lot more "policing" than this one) and a lot of people collaborated voluntarily. The outcome was rather embarrassing, but nobody shouted about burning down universities back then.
So what is it that makes this particular book more awkward for the current squatters movement? I find the premise really tempting: a woman of color writing an ethnographic study of the Amsterdam squatters movement and criticizing it as a bulwark of male and white domination. "Paradoxes of hierarchy and authority", now is that something completely out of the blue or do people maybe recognize certain things?
I'm afraid this movement is just too small, too narrowminded, too much of a scene or a subculture to use this book for it's own advantage, to look in the mirror and learn something. Isn't questioning authority something we've always advocated?


You should probably read it and then see what you think

I think this is generally

I think this is generally good advice. For the matter, I have. And I get the impression that most commenters feeling 'character-assasinated' and 'studied' actually have not. Luckily it's integrally online, dus eerst lezen dan zeuren;)

Funny enough

I am not in the book, despite being one of the major contributors in the group she was studying (Kraakgroep Amsterdam Oost). Basically everyone except me is in there.

I find that pretty funny and at the same time a sign of the author's lack of professionalism. The two of us didn't like each other much, but I wouldn't have been so childish as to refuse her a contribution. I can only assume that she was unable to set her personal feelings aside and interview me for the book. Instead she took the cheap way out and focused on her lovers, her housemates and other people she had access to without having to take the slightest effort, just as it is really apparent from the whole book (yes I read all of it) that she didn't do the legwork which would have been involved in interviewing people from other squatting groups.

When I started studying I began with journalism, and as one assignment we had to make a report. I wrote about some stuff that I was doing anyway in my free time. The prof told me that it was a cheap cop-out to do so, and that the assignment was meant for us to immerse ourselves into an environment and a theme that isn't our default setting. That is exactly what she did there though, and I can only agree with my former teacher.

Maybe you are overrating the

Maybe you are overrating the contribution you were actually making?
Look, when she really didn't like you she might have realized that it wouldn't be very easy to give an objective account of what you were actually doing. So maybe it was the best choice to leave you out, for the sake of a more or less accurate and objective narrative.
And you write that you both didn't like eachother. Now you don't make the impression of being very objective about her either.
By the way: the book is supposed to be an ethnographic study, not a piece of journalism. But what she was doing as a whole was obviously exactly that: to immerse herself into an environment and a theme that definitely wasn't her default setting...

Well ...

I guess as one of the most active members of the KSU and main police spokesperson throughout those years I guess I did some stuff worth mentioning, but that's beside the point. In fact I guess I can be happy that she didn't put some second-hand hearsay negative stuff about me in there as she did with some other people she didn't get along with.

As for the default setting, squatting in Oost was her default social environment during those years. She states herself that she got into it to solve her housing problems. What I would have loved to see in this study is some self-reflection. She talks a lot about the concept of "squatter capital", but she never reflects how she herself was busy playing the very same game by offering services (there is even a picture of her cooking at Joe's) and dating a kraakbons (a fact she avoids mentioning throughout).

All I'm saying is, that her research process is flawed, her presentation disingenuous and the end-result therefore not as good as it could be.

If you want to read a good ethographic study that shows how it could be done then I can recommend Kapot Moeilijk by Jan Dirk de Jong (if you read Dutch, no idea if there is a translation)

In the introduction, she

In the introduction, she explicitly mentions both things that you say she did not mention:

squatter capital: "I believe that my reliably working in the social center as a cook, and then, my conforming to the role of a “good squatter” set me apart from other researchers who often limited their contact with the squatters movement to analysis of websites, indymedia articles, books, and at most, one visit to a kraakspreekuur or by attending a squatters’ demonstration."

dating a kraakbons: "Outside of the squatted neighborhood where I lived and worked, Amsterdam squatters mainly related to me as the girlfriend of a kraakbonz (squatter boss)."

Did you read the book or are you just spending lots of time trashing it?

Both :)

Yeah, so she mentions it in passing during the intro, but she doesn't reflect on that at all.

In fact there is a whole part where she is using a fictional person as a stand-in for her own relationship.

"Frida, who was a good squatter friend of mine, was a non-punk Canadian activist from the alternative globalization movement who had an affair with Damien."

Frida is a nickname she often used and the story which follows is clearly her story which she tries to pass of as something that happened to another woman who was her "good friend".

I mean, seriously?!

Cannot help thinking: do you

Cannot help thinking: do you feel hurt that you are not in the book somehow? Or maybe that there was not enough negative gossip about your (real and imagined) sexual escapades going around in the squatters bar of those days to be reported on?

That fact that she (allegedly) focused on 'lovers and housemates', rather than the supposed 'main actors' actually sounds rather intriguing and interesting, as most of the social movement literature out there does not even get close to that intimate level, simply by lack of involvement of the authors in the movement whatsoever. The easy way out would be the reiteration of movement self representation (like done over and over again in 1000's of boring volumes. The sociogram of the living rooms of squats and public movement venues (after or near closing time) looks like something gathered on a a much more thorny path actually.

LOL no

I really don't mind that I'm not in the book. Also, AFAIK I never turned up in the GraKra. No idea what people were talking about me behind my back, but I don't think much. I'm not a very interesting person in that respect. The few really stupid things I did were before Nazimas time. The issue I have is, that I am generally looking forward to things like this book and others that are/were written about the squatter activist scene. I am interested to see what an analytical viewpoint yields because I have also spent years thinking about such things and discussing them. I am disappointed with the result in this case.

Also, there are a few really petty jabs against some characters in there who I have considered friends or at least good "partners in crime". The analysis of the book doesn't hinge on making those statements or choosing particular pieces of gossip about the people in question. Other things could have been chosen and the same result could have been achieved. I wouldn't go as far as calling it character assassination as another commenter here did, but it's pretty unprofessional of the author.

As far as the lovers and housemates are concerned, she does mention that she heard something or other from housemates, but she never admits who her lovers have been (one of which is featured prominently in the book) and she never admits how much of the information she based her book on came from him. There are in fact some parts which sound so much like his established view of things that I can hear his voice in my head while reading. I find that disingenuous and very lazy of the author.

Oops ... a voice with an

Oops ... a voice with an Austrian accent, perhaps? That's really awful!


Yeah, I'm with you on the learning part, and don't get me wrong there are some things that can be learned from this book. On a personal level not so much because I have spent many years in that scene and reflected a lot on how it works and what everyone's contribution meant. Like I said in my first comment, nothing in this book will be an eye-opener for people who have been involved in this and are capable of self-reflection and analysis.

Still, there are people who can potentially benefit from reading this. On the other hand, I reject the whole "woman of colour" angle. She may be female and non-white, but she is also US American and a Yale graduate. She never really dealt with the gender or race/culture issue. There are characters in her book who have dealt with it, and in her laziness she completely misses that. She could have gained some great insights if she had ever talked at length with "Lianne" and "Karima". I know who both of those people are and I see from her characterisation that she didn't get what they were actually facing and had dealt with in their past. I could write another 20 relevant pages for that book just based on the personal conversations I had with those women, and then I didn't even have the intention to do some serious research about their role in the squatter scene.

It's a mediocre effort, but I guess it's sufficient to get a doctoral title on a U.S. university. Here in the Netherlands, you actually have to present and defend your doctoral thesis before your academic peers for it to be accepted. I have had an exchange with the author where I proposed to her that she would not have succeeded if she would have had to do that. Her reaction was basically that she dismissed that as a ridiculous tradition.

Yeah sure. Uhm, I was just

Yeah sure.
Uhm, I was just wondering ... is every doctoral thesis pubished by some academic publisher like Manchester University Press?
Oh by the way, just one review I came across:

This is far and away the best ethnography of a squatters movement, or really any European anti-authoritarian movement, I have yet to come across. Nazima Kadir's bold interrogation of the concept of "autonomy" alone is well worth the ticket. But the book is much more. Combining vivid and sensitive ethnography with a willingness to ask challenging and fundamental questions about contemporary anti-authoritarian ideas, this book does everything good anthropology - the best anthropology - should do. I hope it provides a model for the ethnography of social movements in the future.'

David Graeber, Professor at the London School of Economics, activist and author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) and The Democracy Project (2014)

Good question

This lauding review by David Graeber surprised me. Not only because it was so gushingly positive but because I was surprised that someone of this caliber would review some random PhD study in book form. Then again, publishers often push their products by having some big-name person give an overlypositive review for money or perks.

I have read anthropological studies by other people. I have been privy to their process of creating those studies. Most of them were much better than what I read there. It may all be subjective and I don't know the process, but I can only assume that Nazima Kadir - like many other people - is good at getting her work out there. At the end of the day she is milking this one for many years already. We shall see what she is made of if she ever produces something else.

I am not holding my breath though.

there is tons of analysis

there is tons of analysis about race, gender, and culture. did you read the book?

Analysis, yes

She is analysing the factors of race and gender in the squatting scene, I am not saying she didn't, but what I meant is she was never subject to this until she became the girlfriend and later wife of a prominent member.

In fact, the nonchalance which she uses to describe "Karima" is an example of something that Egyptian feminist Nawal al Sadaawi has often criticised about women-of-colour from feminist movements in Europe and the United States. A position which assumes that their position in a first-world country can be directly projected onto women of similar ethnicity in African or Asian countries. An anthropologist should know better than to generalise in such a shallow manner.

[sentence removed because it might bring people into trouble, indymedia mods]

That being said, I miss "Karima" I have lost contact with her, which I maintained for years after she was kicked out of her house. I am afraid she might have been deported since at some time she stopped responding to calls and texts. I hope that wherever she is she is doing fine. She is a very smart and resourceful woman. We had many very deep personal conversations about various difficult subjects like sexuality and gender. I was never a lover and she never tried to come on to me in an effort to find a guy to marry her, despite the fact that I had built up a rather good position in society.

The people from the house where she lived and who told her to leave were good friends of mine at the time. I still count them as good people, but what they did with her was wrong in my view. Nazima's story adds insult to injury for no other reason than increasing her "academic capital"

Karimas story is indeed one

Karimas story is indeed one of the most striking ones in the book. I am sure she is not the only one that had such an experience with the broader spectrum of the undoubtedly sincerely solidaric radical left in the first world. The way the story is told explores the underlying dynamic in a unique fashion. While you seem to have a judgement ready ('what they did with her was wrong'), none of the like can be found in text.

Conversely, it shows the insurmountable incompatibilities of expectations of all actors involved without shunning away from breaking the many taboos (on either side for that matter) that cover up the often fraught and awkward relation that radical left communities have with people from very different cultures.

I asked a greek comrade who is involved in an radical LGTB social center in athens where they run a refugee solidarity project, how they deal with homophobic sentiments in the group they are working with. The answer illustrates quite well how things are usually handled in practice: 'Of course it exists, but we do not talk about it at all. Our solution was to raise the price of coffee from free to 50 cts to keep away non politicized types'.

Just judging such an attitude as 'wrong' and doing similar stuff at the first possible occasion does not make things better. Addressing what really causes the awkwardness _without_ judging might.


The reason why I say that what they did was wrong is because they judged her on the basis of a framework that she herself didn't even under stand at that time. If I would have been in the same position I would have let her stay, because I understood what her problems were.

Like I said, I do not consider the people involved as bad people, they just didn't know how to deal with her and she didn't know how to deal with them. If I would have had the possibility I would have offered her a place. I did so once when I could and she refused because she wanted to go her own way (so much for her desire to get men to support her).

Yeah, she was difficult, and she was struggling with her identity as an African woman from a muslim country all of a sudden being thrust into this super edgy white, atheist European scene, but she forged her own path until I lost contact with her. The last time I saw her she was working in a restaurant close to my home and was very happy that for the first time in her life she was entirely making it on her own. She may have gone to the other extreme at some point and refused help because she wanted to prove that she can make it on her own. I know very well what that feels like as a guy who struggled for half his life to be self-sufficient.

As for the LGBT angle you bring in, there is a major issue when it comes to people who are simply not used to that kind of stuff from where they come from. In fact I had a really long conversation with "Karima" where we talked about all of that and I tried explaining to her how fluid gender indentity works in this strange identity melting pot we live in. In the end she understood and accepted it, and that made her a great person in my eyes. The fact that she could transcend the cultural norms that had been hammered into her by a society she left behind. Something that is the sign of a human being who has matured and become conscious; able to form her own view of the world and the people around her despite all the "culture shock"

This would have been a valuable observation to make in this book, but instead the U.S. American woman-of-colour uses an African as a vehicle to express her cheap and stereotypical view of a "lost child" while smugly judging her as unfit for the European scene she found herself in.

I find that shameful .


Het is één ding om grappige roddels in de (toenmalige) Grachtenkrant te zetten en dit onder het genot van een (goedkoop) bietje door te praten. Het is een ander ding om vulgaire roddels en flagrante leugens in een academisch stuk te zetten om er carrière mee te maken. Volgens mij weet Nazima het verschil niet tussen roddels, laster en leugens. Het gaat mijn verstand te boven welke meerwaarde dit aan het boek geeft. Toch hoop ik dat het goed gaat met haar en Momo, die twee hebben elkaar wel verdiend. En nu ga ik een biertje drinken en daarna mijn haren verven....


Hoi JP

In dat boek staat wel dat jouw uitspraken niet betrouwbaar zijn. In deze trant geloof ik er helemaal niets van wat je hier vertelt. ;)



Dat die zijn haar niet gaat verven bedoel je zeker (dat met het bier zal wel kloppen) ?

Maar als jullie de was toch willen uithangen (terwijl die in het boek helemeel niet zo erg uithangt eigenlijk, zeker staat er voor buitenstaanders niet goed zichtbaar bij welke wiens onderbroeken dan precies zijn): Welke roddels zijn dan wel grappig (en blijkbaar ten minste voorzien van een kern van waarheid;) en welke weer niet (de leugens en de laster dan)?

Enne: ik mis de GraKra heel erg! Jammer dat die daar geen carriere mee hebben gemaakt eigenlijk.

Geen idee

Ik weet niet zo zeer of de roddels die zij telkens citeert waar zijn of niet. Tevens geeft ze vaak toe dat het roddels zijn. Maar daar was wel een specifieke zin die mij heel erg tegen de borst stuitte:

"this kraakspreekuur was dominated by Lianne, who was well-known for being hostile to capable women."

Zij zet dat gewoon neer als een feit, niet als roddel. Ik weet wel wie "Lianne" is, en ik kan wel met redelijke overtuiging zeggen dat dit een volslagen onware uispraak is. Wel werd het vaker als een soort grap gebezigd dat dit zo zou zijn. Maar dat toont juist weer aan hoe oppervlakkig haar onderzoek is. Feiten checken en hoor-en-wederhoor is gewoon niet haar ding blijbaar :P

Verder is er ook nog een ander citaat over "Lianne" dat ik redelijk ongepast vind en hier niet zal herhalen. In de context waar zij het gebruikt is dat citaat niet nodig om iets uit te drukken wat niet anders had gekund. In mijn ogen is dat simpelweg uithalen naar een vrouw waar ze geen goede verhouding mee had.

Voor zover ik het uit de

Voor zover ik het uit de context begrijp illustreert dit 'ander citaat' over 'Lianne' wel degelijk een punt, met name dat je dominante figuren in de scene eraan kan herkennen dat er dat soort vieze verhalen over ze verteld worden als je aan de zoveelste laatse ronde zit. De viezer het verhaal, de dominanter de figuur dan. Past uitstekend in het plaatje eigenlijk.

Als je zelf deel hebt uitgemaakt van die klup, kan ik me wel voorstellen dat je het ene of andere dwaarszit. Het zou een zaai boek zijn als dat niet zo was.
Evengoed kan ik me voorstellen dat lui, die in vergelijkbare groepen meedoen de geschetste gedragspatronnen gaan herkennen. Hoeven niet eens krakers te zijn trouwens.

Ik krijg trouwens nergens in het boek de indruk dat er dikke waardeoordelen worden geuit, laat staan dat er met iets of iemend wordt afgerekend oid.
Zij verslaat gewoon wat ze daar heeft meegemaakt en hoe ze dat heeft opgevat. Wat je nou mag vinden over wie dan juist of verkeerd heeft gehandelt wordt aan de lezer overgelaten. Al in al wordt de groep die ze daar omschrijft best als georganiseerd en capabel afgeschildert.

Iig blijkt dat allemaal in dikke debat van 18+ reacties op indymedia waard te zijn...


Zoals ik zei, het is een "conversation starter" ;)

Dat haar

Dat JP zijn haar zou verven was een van de vele grappige momenten in dat boek waar ik dacht "waar heeft ze het over?!"

Ik kan me wel herinneren dat JP grijze haren had. Misschien zag ik hem alleen op de momenten waar hij zijn haar net niet had geverfd :D

goss 'bout a gossip

Why not read it in the first place?
For me personally it's both my environment that's the subject and a lack of respect of the teller of the fairytale.
Yea sure the scene is mostly white middle class, both male and female. (More men than women, granted.) But rough and tumble as it is, the scene is made up of both strong women and men.
But the books author comes from such a privelaged level of America that she couldn't even recognize American anti black rascism when we takled about it 5ish years ago. I'm a white male from a poor part of L.A. and I saw it even when I left 30 years ago..
That's not too observant of her of the real world.
Amother example of this is the quote "this kraakspreekuur was dominated by Lianne, who was well-known for being hostile to capable women."
This is maybe about dissagreements between N's husband (a dominant middle {or higher} class white male) and one of the scenes "most valuable assets" op zijn Americans gezegd.
Though really Lianne's lack of tolerance was with the incompetant, wheather man or woman. Maybe N. got her opinion on L. from being on the receiving end of this sort of hostility?
Maybe I'm just externalizing my jealousy with this post. Everyone who knows me knows how important my Feacesbook and Twits**t and whoseas* profiles are to my sence of being, and the lack of mention in the book has crushed me. Or maybe I don't care too much if I was used to sell high grade fertilizer. (really rather not)
that's for others to proclame in future gossip sessions.

skoolgirl politics

Radical culture as a skool project. Who gives a crap.

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