Conversations on Insider Activism: Civil servants & social justice activism in the municipality of Rotterdam
Lieshout, V.H. van
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This thesis investigates how civil servants negotiate their social justice activism in the workspace. With the use of a narrative focused interview method, stories of lived experiences by civil servants with an activist drive that work for the municipality of Rotterdam, were gathered. The stories are put into dialogue with several theories in order to analyse, interpret and contextualise the experiences. For the analysis, an interdisciplinary and intersectional theoretical framework, with a focus on Gender Studies theory, is developed in this thesis. The common binary way of thinking, with activists on the one side and the government on the other side, erases the existence and experiences of insider activists. The stories in this thesis illustrate this ambiguity and difficulty for activists in working for an institution that is considered part of the oppressive system that they try to dismantle. This thesis examines assumptions around deradicalization, co-optation and tokenism that form obstacles for insider activists. Next to this, the norms that exclude activists from the municipal space, making them space invaders, are discussed. This thesis contextualises the experiences of the interviewees by providing an overview of the socio-political landscape that they work in. It is argued that the experiences are part of structural mechanisms instead of individual encounters. These structural mechanisms are rooted in the socio-political landscape of the Netherlands, such as post-feminism, homo-nationalism and white innocence. All these mechanisms counteract change. This thesis argues that the experiences of resistance and obstacles around social justice activism, have a negative affective impact upon civil servants with an activist drive. This often leads to activist burnouts. But this thesis also explores the potentials in community formation and safe spaces. It argues that for people who are perceived as space invaders because they do not fit the white, male, cis, hetero norm of the municipal space, safe spaces offer the possibility to build stronger alliances and form communities that can help prevent the activist flame of these civil servants, from burning out.