Ivory tower watch: ‘racioethnic closure’ in the Netherlands

Remember when I was complaining about the normalisation of the non-whiteness of race? Well I have another highlight from moral relativist Ivory Tower types, this time from over in the Netherlands.

I have just read ‘The Impact of Migrant-Hostile Discourse in the Media and Politics on Racioethnic Closure in Career Development in the Netherlands’ by Hans Siebers, a sociologist from Tilburg University. Yes, the term ‘racioethnic closure in career development’ was a bit of a giveaway that perhaps this article was not going to be one worth paying much attention to.

See, most of us would have said ‘racial discrimination in employment’ – a perfectly adequate term in plain English to describe what Siebers is talking about. But why use plain English when you can write a paper that no-one but a handful of wankers social scientists could ever understand/want to read? After all, if nobody is reading your work, there’s nobody to tell you that you’re wrong.

But I digress. Here is a choice passage from Mr Siebers that I think really captures where he’s coming from (my bold):

Although there were mutterings of discontent in the 1990s, such as statements by liberal leader Frits Bolkestein (see Prins, 2002), a clearly negative tone towards migrants and migration gained momentum in the Dutch media and political arena basically after the turn of the century (Prins, 2002; Vasta, 2007). The events of 11 September 2001 did not fail to leave their imprint, but such a negative tone has also been amplified by domestic developments. For example, populist politician Pim Fortuyn managed to challenge established political parties, in part by mobilizing against minorities. While he called Islam a ‘backward culture’ and called for the abolition of the constitutional article that bans discrimination (de Volkskrant, 9 February 2002), his party became by far the strongest party in the local council of Rotterdam in March 2002. Only his assassination (6 May 2002) could stop him from doing something similar in the upcoming national elections.

Since 2000, it has become standard discursive practice in the media and politics to associate migrants with all sorts of problems – crime, fraud, ghettoization and societal decay – without feeling the need to support claims by facts. Somali immigrant Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become one of the spokespersons of this migrant-hostile discourse. She was welcomed into a governmental party as an MP in 2002 and mobilizes against Muslims and blames Islam for many societal problems. She joined filmmaker Theo van Gogh to produce a film in which texts from the Koran are painted on a naked female body that supposedly legitimize violence against women. She received death threats, and van Gogh was actually murdered on 2 November 2004 by a radicalized Muslim. That event triggered a spiral of violence against Muslim schools and mosques and retaliation against churches.

Is it just me, or was there some glee in the way Siebers described Fortuyn’s assassination? There was definitely a subtext of ‘well luckily he was killed before he could do any more damage’ to it, which makes me very uncomfortable.

What makes me far more uncomfortable, however, is the way he deals with the Hirsi Ali/Van Gogh incident. Let’s be clear: Hirsi Ali is a Muslim apostate from Somalia who left her country and her religion because she was being subjected to horrible abuse. Yes she blames Islam for many of society’s problems, however she has been at the receiving end of these ‘problems’.

When she made the movie Fitna, she was not just using texts that ‘supposedly legitimize violence against women’, she was using texts that had legitimised violence towards her, and are still being used to legitimise violence towards her – by the people who murdered Van Gogh, which again Siebers does not seem too upset about.

The actual research that Siebers did for the paper is quite interesting – he was trying to draw a link between vilification of immigrants in the Dutch media, the way that immigrants are dealt with by their employers and the difficulty that they then face in advancing their careers. I know this because months of reading about discrimination has given me the ability to translate his academese and look past his third-worldism/moral-relativism/borderline endorsement of assassination as a method for combatting anti-Islamist rhetoric. But most (sane) people would never be able want to go through that.

Problem is, he did this (my bold):

Only minority (92) and majority (1267) respondents (N = 1359) were included in the data analysis. In line with official categories and other Dutch studies (see Tesser and Dronkers, 2007), people with a western non-Dutch or Indonesian background were left out because of their successful integration into the labour market.

Ie in his study, he only looked at migrants that were not successfully integrated. He did not think that it may be worth considering why some groups of migrants could integrate successfully when others could not.

And since we’re getting kind of technical, there was this little flaw in his experimental design. See, he explained career advancement like this (my bold):

Career advancement can … be seen as the result of such a process at a certain moment and be measured in terms of one’s position in the hierarchy of job levels. … The old bureaucratic idea was to gradually pass through these increments, being awarded one increment every year. … If this framework were applied mechanically, the factors educational level, age and tenure would simply determine one’s position on this hierarchy of salary scales with little room for racioethnic closure. However, over the last 15 years, these factors no longer automatically determine one’s position on this hierarchy and upward mobility has become more flexible. Nowadays, applicants and employees are assessed on a variety of criteria and competence profiles. 

But designed his experiment like this:

Control variables. Since I wanted to measure racioethnic closure in career advancement, i.e. racioethnic inequality in career advancement that is not due to inequality in human capital, I used level of education, age and tenure (proxies for relevant work experience) and language proficiency as control variables.

Ie he identified that education, age and tenure are no longer the factors that determine career advancement… but just went ahead and used them anyway. He noted that career advancement is assessed on ‘a variety of criteria and competence profiles’, but then used the old redundant criteria plus language proficiency.

In other words, his experiment is looking at migrants who had not integrated successfully and seeing if they were being discriminated against by a system that no longer exists. Surprise surprise, the experiment confirmed his hypothesis that the media causes migrants to struggle to advance themselves in the workplace. This may well be true, but Siebers’ ‘research’ doesn’t confirm that – his experiment was more or less designed to prove him right and not to actually measure anything useful.

The real issue is Siebers’ paternalistic ideology. We can see this when he laments the fact that the Dutch government is trying to push ‘Dutch norms and values’ on immigrants, but does not acknowledge that Hirsi Ali had a legitimate point regarding the treatment of women (including herself!) amongst some immigrant communities.

In his desire to ‘protect’ Muslim immigrants from his fellow Dutchmen, he does not see the immigrants as autonomous human beings capable of flaws. He completely glosses over the culture of violence that led to two prominent critics of the immigrants being assassinated but spends pages and pages on the Dutch response (this happens in the part that I didn’t quote).

That is how he managed to design an experiment that does not consider the possibility that the immigrants are not advancing in their careers because of something to do with them, but only allows for the possibility that it is discrimination holding them back. That is why he refuses to compare immigrant communities that do integrate successfully with those that don’t – he is fixated on the idea that Dutch society must be responsible and not the immigrant groups.

The sad thing is that Siebers is probably right to an extent – immigrants probably do suffer from negative stereotyping by their employers due to vilification in the media. However, there will be much more to it than that and Siebers’ ideological myopia means that he misses a huge part of the picture.

So to Siebers I say this: thanks asshole, you just wasted an hour of my time reading your shitty paper.


*Update* Siebers’ name is now spelt correctly.


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  1. #1 by hans siebers on September 3, 2012 - 2:55 am

    Dear commentator,

    Who are you? It is a bit unbrave not to sign a text with one’s name I would say. Moreover, it is a bit indecent not to write the name of the author of the text you comment on in a correct way. As I happen to be the author of the text you refer to, just a few comments.

    First, this is a text in an academic journal meant for academics, not for people like you who are not trained to read such a text. Many comments on my text simply show that you do not understand what the text says simply because you are not trained to do so. E.g you suggest I should say that the text is racial discrimination in employment. Well, that is simply not where the text is about, you apparently do not understand what the term racioethnic refers to so, please abstain from comments on issues about which you lack sufficient knowledge.

    E.g. suggesting that I would have written that education, age and tenure are no longer the factors that determine career advancement is simply very silly. One uses control variables because one assumes that these factor DO influence career advancement, what they actually turned out to do. Just silly.

    E.g. my research is NOT an experiment, as you claim.

    Numerous other examples of silly mistakes in your comments.

    Second, you read a lot of meanings in the text that are simply not there. Most of your comments distort the meanings of my text since they simply are not there in any way. E.g. suggesting that I would have applauded the murder on Pim Fortuyn is simply a grotest misreading of my text. What you suggest is simply not there.

    E.g. accusing me of paternalism? Many of the female Islamic respondents complained about the fact that Hirsi Ali treats them in an unexcusable maternalist way.

    Numerous other examples of malicious comments.

    Third, if you want to insult someone, as you so, it may be more effective to use terms that have a meaning. E.g. you accuse me of ‘third-worldism/moral-relativism/borderline endorsement of assassination as a method for combatting anti-Islamist rhetoric.’ I have not got a clue what that would mean. No idea. By the way, what is an asshole? I am not a native English speaker and have been educated in a decent way, so I do not know such words.

    Fourth, you have not spoken to any of our numerous respondents and are not able to understand the basics of the concepts we use and the methods we applied. So you disqualify yourself as reader of my text.

    Finally, I am very sorry I have wasted an hour of your time reading my text. But you can avoid that in the future by not trying to comment on text you are not qualified for. This text was simply not meant for you.

    Kind regards,

    Hans Siebers

    • #2 by jaguarpython on September 8, 2012 - 10:32 am

      Mr Siebers,

      As a doctor, I am very uncomfortable with the idea that an academic article is “not meant” for the general public. The general public has every right to read and critique articles. That you need a qualification or a job as a sociologist to even critique an article isn’t just elitism, it’s dangerous. I could understand if all you meant was that most non-sociologists won’t understand the text, however it seems to me that what you mean is that non-sociologists shouldn’t be allowed to read or critique the text.

      Outsider views are responsible for some of the great innovations in science and thinking. One only has to think of Albert Einstein as the obvious example.


      • #3 by MK on September 8, 2012 - 6:05 pm

        Very well said!

        The article was clearly not designed to be read by anyone except a handful of sociologists, but I don’t think that that is a good thing at all. See here for more on this: http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/9383/

  2. #4 by MK on September 5, 2012 - 10:04 am

    Mr Siebers,

    I understand why you would be upset about my anonymity, however it is unfortunately something that I am required to keep in order to have a blog like this. I am hoping that my circumstances will change one day and that will no longer be necessary, however I will have to maintain it for now.

    I do feel that your article was paternalistic. I have no doubt that Hirsi Ali’s views create some displeasure amongst immigrants in the Netherlands, however she is speaking from a position of much credibility as a person who has directly suffered from some horrible and intensely oppressive aspects of the culture in which she was raised.

    You do not have to disagree with her, however your qualified statement that the texts in ‘supposedly legitimize violence against women’ does not do justice for the women, like Hirsi Ali, who have suffered or continue to suffer violence at the hands of those who preach these verses.

    Throughout your article, you did not acknowledge these kinds of issues and did not consider whether the immigrants you interviewed were responsible in some way for their own situation. I use the word ‘paternalistic’ because this perspective infantilises the immigrants, they become passive objects of Dutch influence with no agency or autonomy.

    I will concede that I am not a trained sociologist, however I am a trained statistician and because of that I can confidently say that your research IS an experiment — a natural experiment to be exact. You gathered data and analysed it using dependent, independent and control variables, that is an experimental design.

    You are correct in stating that ‘[o]ne uses control variables because one assumes that these factor DO influence career advancement,’ however in your article you identified that other factors also influence career development as employees are now promoted using ‘a variety of criteria and competence profiles’.

    Other than education, age and tenure, you only controlled for language proficiency. I would hazard a guess that the ‘criteria and competence profiles’ you mentioned would include many other variables as factors in promotion and you do not seem to have considered or controlled for these.

    Assessing whether a decision was discriminatory is very difficult, however it is essential to look for the actual causal mechanisms in the decision and whether and how it may be influenced by prejudice. Reading your paper, I felt that you had omitted a lot of crucial information and jumped to the ‘easy’ conclusion of discrimination.

  1. Ivory tower watch: we don’t need free speech protections when we have vague ideas instead « Major Karnage

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