Life & Growth


In 2005, I described the "onion-model" of life, how layers of meaning are continuously being added to the lives of individuals and communities. Two years later, I have gotten ever more interested in the processes of growth that lead to this de-velopment of life in all its facets. Communities and individuals are not built, but grow, which is a fundamental different notion: in building, the initiative and creativity come from the builders, while the building materials are nothing but passive objects. In growth, however, evolution comes from within the growing organisms themselves. The - modest but essential - role of the grower is limited to facilitating the growth, to ensure that all the necessary conditions for healthy growth are met. Such growth leads to well-developed individuals and communities, displaying unique and complex features and behaviours that make them be in harmony with their environment. I am interested in the basic question of what such online community growth processes look like and how they can be effectively and efficiently supported. In my academic career, I have been establishing the theoretical and methodological foundation for answering this question. I now look forward to work together with many different communities in developing useful applications for community growth.


Life is a fascinating concept. One of its remarkable properties is the idea of development. Often, a living being is seen as just going through a sequence of steps, as if the entity itself is immutable. However, this is not true, of course. The person you were 10 years ago, is no longer the person you are today. A definition that illustrates this idea well is that development is "an act of improving by expanding or enlarging or refining". The old you is not lost, but grows by a continuous adding of layers of meaning. This, of course, holds not just for persons, but also for communities, which can very well be seen as living organisms in their own right. As a semi-joke, this page describes some parts of my life in an "onion-model" form, adding layer upon layer, fast-forwarding through time. It contains bits and pieces of personal things I wrote on my home page in 1995, 2000, and 2005. Often, we just see snapshots of people. However, these don't tell the whole story. When each later snapshot is seen as adding meaning to all previous ones, one gets a much richer idea of the whole person (or community...)


One of my favourite hobbies is African drumming. Unfortunately, I have not been able to actively enjoy this music a lot lately, but I used to play the djembe regularly. This instrument is a large, conical-shaped drum originating from West-Africa. Few things are more beautiful than playing together with a large group of people, and really 'getting into that rhythm'. It makes you forget all your worries, and you can literally go on for hours. Actually, I think making music and 'doing science' are very closely related: it's the same universal stream of creativity one tries to plug into. Another favourite pastime of mine is experiencing (wild) nature, like mountains and forests. Unfortunately, in The Netherlands the closest such experiences one can get are mostly at sites like the Tilburg municipal wastedump and the Warande-park, hardly satisfying to 'rugged nature adepts'.

Which brings me to probably my best-liked hobby, actually it's more like a way-of-life: meeting people from and immersing myself in different cultures. I think it is wonderful to explore the incredible diversity of the human race. Unfortunately, the cultural climate all over the world these days is becoming chilly, as xenophobism and racial hatred seems to be on the rise. However, the more people one meets, the more one discovers that there is actually only one 'homo universalis'. There is so much one can learn from the wisdoms of foreign cultures. I have had the opportunity to see quite some corners of the globe already.

For my Masters thesis research, I worked at the Agricultural University of Malaysia (recently renamed to Universiti Putra Malaysia) for one year. It was a most impressive time, in many different respects. In a way, it turned my world view upside down. Instead of belonging to a majority, I was suddenly a very visible 'orang putih (white man)' minority. Instead of looking at society from a first world perspective, I was forced to look at it from the way the average `developing country' sees things. It showed me there is not one but there are many ways to look at reality. This, I think, is a very healthy principle to adopt as a researcher.

After my graduation, I spent a year in Canada, first at the University of Guelph in Ontario, then at the University of Victoria in the province of British Columbia. Among other things I was working there on the Global Research Network on Sustainable Development project. I also experienced first-hand the large, community-wide demonstrations against the logging of British Columbia's remaining old-growth forests. It was most impressive to meet people from all walks of life who were working together so hard, trying to find and fight for new, more harmonious ways of integrating environment and economics. To find out about the current state of affairs in this province, contact the Ecoforestry Institute.

In January 1995 I went for a three-week research trip for the network to South Africa, where I worked with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on the definition of a research network project on small, medium and micro-business development. This is what I wrote then:


"The creation of small businesses is considered to be one of the cornerstones of sustainable development in South Africa. Their approach should also be of interest to many other countries in the world. As for the country itself, it is currently at a turning point in its history: everything is changing, nobody knows what will happen in the future. People are poised between hope and fear. In general, the atmosphere is surprisingly cooperative and conciliatory, considering what has happened in the past. The problems the country has to face are immense, such as poverty, which especially within the black population is terrible. Anyway, it's not just gloom and despair: the majority of South African society is working very hard to make the 'Reconstruction and Development Programme' turn into reality. All in all, there seems to be quite some good reason for optimism. I would urge everybody to help this country to succeed in its brave endeavour for realizing lasting peace."

Although in the past few years some of this initial optimism has disappeared, I think the people of this country still deserve a lot of credit and support for their hard work to change old ways of thinking.

I could go on for quite a while about my hobbies and dreams, but I guess you get the picture. If you want to find out more about who I am, you can always mail me, or even better, drop by in my office at B430 to have a coffee. Although, knowing the average lack of quality of this fluid in a computer lab, we perhaps could better just talk... P.S. In case you still don't have a clue about how to have a life, take a look at these helpful instructions.