In recent years, concepts such as connectedness, community, identity, diversity, tradition, nation, and folk have found a prominent position in the socio-political debate in the Netherlands as well as abroad. These concepts often appear in discussions about the consequences (be they negative or positive) of processes such as individualization, secularization, immigration, and globalization. These debates reflect a search for identity and belonging. Since people feel that society is changing and feel threatened by that change, a growing need exists in the Netherlands, as well as throughout Europe, to make a distinction between ‘the self’ and ‘the other’. The rise of nationalist political movements is merely one form of expression of this need in nearly all western countries.
In the current political climate, language and culture are often held up as the ultimate expressions of identity or being different – frequently in conjunction with ideas of what ‘belongs’ within national borders. Language and culture are seen as contributors to ‘collective’ identities. Although this appears to be an international phenomenon, this raises the question of the extent to which these distinctions are made and what unique characteristics are exhibited in the Netherlands. What role do language and culture play in everyday life?
For decades, research at the Meertens Institute has been focused on the language and culture of everyday life in the Netherlands from an international, comparative, and historical perspective. The developments in Dutch language and culture can be better understood through comparisons with other places in the world – this is what the Meertens Institute intends to contribute to international academia.
Researchers from the Meertens Institute are seen and heard more and more often in the media. In light of the aforementioned social developments, the need for the research provided by the Meertens Institute has recently become more urgent. The nuanced perspective that scientific research offers for social differences can act as a counterbalance to the sometimes intense emotions that arise during the debate. In the years to come, the institute’s research program will also zero in on questions about the current dynamic of interactions with language and culture and how the resulting changes to political identity should be interpreted. The various research fields in the diverse range of disciplines at the institute are unified by a focus on the disparate ways in which people think of and work on collective identities in society, such as how these are given form in everyday cultural and linguistic practices. With a multidisciplinary approach from several linguistic and ethnological perspectives, the institute would like to highlight how these processes of identification are layered. The ambition of the Meertens Institute is to give research a clearer voice in the social debate and to use the Dutch research data and conclusions to obtain a leading position in the scientific debate.
The ambitions of the Meertens Institute for 2018-2023 are, in sum:
1. We study culture and language in the Netherlands, in a globalizing world;
2. We study how language and culture change, how collective identities are constructed, and how these processes are shaped through embodiment and cognition. Both in the societal and the academic debates on these topics the Meertens Institute aims to play a leading role;
3. The Meertens Institute has a rich tradition of empirical and historical research into processes of change in culture and language. This long-term research is connected to the creation of extensive collections: documenting the gathered materials remains a key task of the institute;
4. We are open to innovations: we employ our existing expertise but are open to new paradigms, methods and techniques. We explore digital innovations and shape some of these innovations ourselves.
5. The institute is uniquely placed to take on long-term commitments and projects, such as digital infrastructure development, and take care of the active afterlife and long-term exploitation of such projects.