Heleen Schols holds an honours MSc in Social Psychology from the University of Amsterdam, and a MA in Development Studies from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex.
Currently, she is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on interactions between state representatives and civil society groups in which Zwarte Piet is criticised. The figure of Zwarte Piet ('Black Pete') is part of a winter holiday tradition which is object of a heated polemic since some see it as a beloved part of Dutch folklore, while others denounce it as a racist caricature. Using both discourse analysis and ethnography for an in-depth study of cases, Heleen Schols analyses how notions of 'appropriate behaviour' influence what arguments can be made convincingly. Specifically, the research is designed to show the way these interactions function, often implicitly, as negotiations about the meaning of racism, national identity and history.
A growing attention, in academia as well as practice, to ‘deepening democracy’ beyond institutions like elections and parliamentary debates opens up the public sphere as a relevant site for democratization. This raises the question in what ways and on whose terms this democratization takes place: which voices, practices, and places are included and which are excluded? When people are engaged in democratic debate they do more than negotiate about solutions for the issues at hand. The interaction can also serve to negotiate ‘meta-issues’ such as what types of reasoning and behaviour are acceptable and what constitutes legitimate political intervention. Attention to this aspect of interactions is important as a vibrant democracy needs more than public debate. There is also a need to critically examine, and in some cases adapt, the rules governing such debate.
Heleen Schols is a civil servant who holds a position as a policy advisor for the Amsterdam Municipality. Her main focus as a policy advisor is on issues around gender and sexuality.