In a ceremony on the Lova Study Day of September 20, 2023, the tenth Lova Marjan Rens Master’s Thesis Award 2023 was handed out to the three winners. Organiser Marina de Regt first explained the history of the award and then presented the report of the jury formed by Fenneke Reysoo (chair), Lenie Brouwer and Kim Knibbe. Marina’s speech will be published in LOVA Journal #44 of December 2023.

In February 2023, the call for submissions had been sent around via the Lova Mail Service and published on Lova’s website and Facebook page. Students of Master’s programmes at Dutch universities were invited to submit their thesis written from a feminist perspective, graded with an 8 or higher, and completed between January 2021 and December 2022. Eleven theses were submitted and the jury had quite a job to select the best three of these.

Below we present the three prize winners with links to their digital theses.

Bente Janssen was awarded the first prize for her thesis Beyond Human Eyes. Een sociomateriële visie op de digitalisering van workplace surveillance in de schoonmaakpraktijk (Beyond Human Eyes: A Sociomaterial Perspective on the Digitalisation of Workplace Surveillance in the Cleaning Business). With this thesis of July 2022, she completed the (Dutch language) Master’s programme in Organisations, Transformations, and Management (in Dutch: Organisaties, Verandering en Management) at Utrecht University.

Janssen investigated how new digital systems of control of employees in the Dutch cleaning sector influence the power relations between digital technology, cleaners and managers. During three months of fieldwork, she did participant observation in temporary jobs as a cleaner at a holiday home park, a public transport company and an airport. The research was done in cooperation with a labour union and aims to contribute to the improvement of employment conditions of the cleaners.

By using a socio-material theoretical perspective in which people and technologies both are considered as actors assigned with agency, Janssen rejects the anthropocentric classical panopticon analysis in which people assign meaning to technology. In the methodology chapter, she reflects extensively on ethical issues and the rapport that she has been able to build with colleague cleaners. The research findings show that the application of new digital surveillance technologies by managers (by using apps) and by guests of the facilities (by using smiley machines at toilets and filling in review forms) strengthens the hierarchy between cleaners and managers and implies a heavier administrative burden for cleaners; with their reviews, guests are a new category of actors in the surveillance system. The new technologies also increase existing social hierarchies of gender and ethnicity, as women and people with a migration background work mostly in the lower ranks of the sector. However, these cleaners also do have agency in their response to the new means of control by various inventive ways.

You can read Janssen’s thesis here.

Wilke Geurds received the second prize for the thesis F*ck Endo. A Study about/with Women Having Endometriosis of July 2022 which was produced to receive a Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University with a specialization in Visual Ethnography. That is why the thesis consists of a documentary and a written accompanying text.

Geurds produced the documentary to enhance awareness and understanding of the illness of endometriosis, a condition where endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus leading to chronic abdominal pain and impairing a regular social life. Endometriosis is often underdiagnosed although one in ten people with a uterus suffer from it. In the sixty-minute documentary, the daily lives of four Dutch-speaking women living with endometriosis are shown, filmed by the researcher and the women themselves; also a gynaecologist is interviewed and the footage is intermixed with more poetic parts and animation visuals. The film presents an impressive picture of how the women learned to live with the disease and why a holistic approach in the care and medical systems is much needed.
In the accompanying text, Geurds explains her anthropological approach to illness in which embodied experiences formed by cultural and social structures are central, as well as her feminist approach by focusing on women’s voices, by reflecting on power relations between researcher and interlocutors, and by her wish to contribute to improvements. Next to the four women in the documentary Geurds held interviews with some more women with endometriosis, and with experts of the Dutch Endometriosis Foundation and the health care system; she also collected information by reading and by listening to podcasts. Geurds reflects extensively on the choices she made regarding various research methods and the compilation of the footage in the documentary.

You can read Geurds’ thesis here.

And watch the documentary.

Agnese Bardelli was given the third prize for the thesis I am not ashamed anymore, but… Normative Pluralism and Intimate Partner Violence in Italy of July 2022, written for the completion of the Master’s in Social and Cultural Anthropology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam).

In her thesis, Bardelli investigates how women in the Italian province of Arezzo experience intimate partner violence in the context of two co-existing contradictory normative systems, that of the culture of gendered respectability on the one hand, and of state laws and policies regarding egalitarian gender relations on the other hand. Next to interviews and informal talks with victims of violence she spoke with local administrators and made an overview of recent changes in laws and policies of the national state regarding the issue. She hopes that her data will raise awareness about the phenomenon and can be used to improve policies for prevention and support of victims.

The main finding is that victims of intimate partner violence perceived themselves as failing both normative systems. In the culture of gendered respectability, derived from traditional gendered systems of honour and shame, everyday forms of gender violence against women are normalised and accepted and that explains why victims feel personally responsible for the abuse of their partner which was said to be provoked by her behaviour or dress. The system of the egalitarian-oriented state laws and policies expects strength and independence of women and caused those victims to feel ashamed and guilty for not immediately recognizing and resisting the abuse and quitting the relationship. Intimate partner violence held an ambivalent status among the women interviewed as degradation and abuse of women is so much embedded in everyday life making it difficult to realise when it becomes extreme and unacceptable.

You can read Bardelli’s thesis here.

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