Understanding Society

Tilburg University is convinced that it can contribute to solving social issues by developing and transferring knowledge and bringing together people from various disciplines and organizations.

Juliette Schaafsma, Professor Cultures in Interaction

‘You need to understand the world to improve it’

Juliette Schaafsma is an innovative interdisciplinary researcher interested in social issues like exclusion, polarization and reconciliation. In 2016, she was appointed professor to the chair of Cultures and Interaction at the Tilburg School of Humanities. She also received a prestigious Consolidator Grant (European Research Council). ‘If the research is successful, the societal and scientific gain will most likely be great.’

Juliette Schaafsma

“Before I started on my studies in Anthropology in Leiden, and for a while still while I was studying there, I could not imagine science being something for me. What I envisaged instead as a future for me as a person was improving the world in a hands-on capacity, for instance by building schools in developing countries. But it takes a lot to make the world a better place, which is why I decided I wanted to learn to understand it and to become a researcher.”

“Meanwhile I have been working in Tilburg for seventeen years now. My field of activity has gradually shifted more and more in the direction of social- and cross-cultural psychology. The topics that I am particularly interested in are those that are closely related to society, current societal issues mostly. This also applies to the research I am engaged in right now, on the value of political apologies.”

“Political apologies are a much debated issue at the moment. Take the apology our country may have to make for its past involvement in slavery, for instance, or the case of an apology on the part of Japan to Korea for the large-scale abuse of Korean women in the Second World War. While some view such apologies as an important step in the reconciliation process, others look upon them as empty or even risky gestures that do not suit all cultures. So far, no research has ever been done to establish if this really is the case.”

“We investigate how different cultures view political apologies, whether there are cross-cultural differences, and how these are valued, interpreted and expressed. In this research, we look at the role of cultural values such as collectivism and individualism, and norms like honor and loss of face. Our research extends over fifteen countries and five continents. This requires a logistically complex organization. We are going to interview as many citizens as possible on how they look at political apologies. This is so-called high risk-high gain research; there is a chance that it will fail. This, by the way, is a pre-condition for getting this grant. If it is successful, however, the societal and scientific gain will most likely be great.”

“If you are awarded a Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council this is implicit proof of the quality of your research work. It allows me to compose my own team of PhD students, postdocs and student-assistants. In that sense, it is logical that I got offered a professorship. I can now be supervisor of my own PhD students.”

“The fact that my appointment as professor was part of the Philip Eijlander Diversity-program was something I initially felt slightly ambivalent about. I think it is only fair that something be done about the underrepresentation of women at the top of the university. But on a personal level, you first and foremost want to be appointed because of the work that you do, rather than because you are a woman. My doubts disappeared when I saw that the School adhered to very high quality criteria in the appointment. No concessions were made there.”

Philip Eijlander Diversity Program

In 2016, the Tilburg School of Humanities (TSH) appointed three women professors in the framework of the Philip Eijlander Diversity Program. The goal of the Tilburg University diversity program is to tackle the gross underrepresentation of women in high positions. It makes extra funds available to attract talented women or to promote them to the ranks of professor or associate professor (UHD).