View across the Spree to the Reichstagbuilding in Berlin

“A marketplace of ideas and thoughts”

Born and raised in the southern part of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in a poor and deprivileged neighbourhood Jan Rath studied anthropology and urban studies and eventually became a professor of urban sociology at the University of Amsterdam. He still holds this position today, while he is also affiliated with Erasmus University Rotterdam and Koç University in Istanbul. Since 2009 he has been one of the Chairs of Metropolis International.

Prof. Dr Jan Rath

Prof. Dr Jan Rath

Professor of Urban Sociology and one of the Chairs of Metropolis International

Department of Sociology of the University of Amsterdam (UvA)

Prof. Dr Jan Rath

Prof. Dr Rath, would you please tell us a little bit about your personal background?

Yes, of course. I grew up in Afrikaanderwijk, which was and still is a working-class neighbourhood. This area is closely connected to the port and used to be the home of numerous unskilled dock workers. Here, I witnessed and experienced the severe socio-economic decline, the arrival of the first cohorts of guest workers and the manifestation of various social tensions – including rioting – that went with that. My parents never enjoyed education, not even secondary school, but they understood that education was the key to a good life – and I found my way through the educational system. This experience has taught me not only that education matters, but also that poverty, lack of opportunities, and urban blight are conditions that shape the course of life for many people — migrants and non-migrants alike.

Why do you feel as strongly as you do about issues surrounding questions of migration, integration, inclusion and diversity? What drives you personally?

First of all, after finishing secondary school, I became extremely interested in the stories of migrant workers and started travelling to their home countries. While in academia, politics and the media – in everyday public life in general actually – migrants and their relatives are often considered as a separate category of human beings, I mainly observe similarity and continuity. I suspect my upbringing as a member of the lower classes interfered here. Still, why are so many people obsessed with differences and what are the consequences of this? Secondly, I strongly believe that all individuals enjoy the right to a piece of the pie. And I can contribute to that endeavour by doing valuable research and reaching out to the public.

You are one of the Chairs of Metropolis International. Could you just sum up for us what the main aims of the organisation are and who participates in the conference?

Metropolis International is a global organisation that aims at bringing together both leaders and professionals from the worlds of research, policymaking, civil society and business. All share an interest in contributing to a better world and all are aware that each of us fulfils a specific role in that endeavour. Metropolis International promotes the exchange of relevant facts and insights. Our International Steering Committee in concert with the local host, moreover, see to it that plenaries are cutting-edge, innovative in nature and relevant for all constituencies around the world. Also, each speaker, plenary session, workshop and seminar always provides the latest insights and addresses the policy implications thereof.

What led you personally to Metropolis International?

As an academic researcher myself, I strongly believe that academic research and policymaking are two different things that should never be confused. Researchers and policymakers may be interested in similar phenomena, but they possess and value different types of expertise, serve different aims and have different forms of accountability. Yet, while appreciating this, they can strongly support each other. In fact, academic researchers, who are often paid by the taxpayer, have a social responsibility and a moral duty to give back to society. And policymakers would be arrogant if they would ignore the insights that academic researchers produce. Metropolis International is an organisation that enables them to accomplish their goals and be inspired by each other. The first conference I attended was in 1998, in Zichron Yaakov, Israel, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was like a marketplace of thoughts, ideas and plans – both academically and politically.

The 25th International Metropolis Conference is going to be held in Berlin following what will have been a two-year break due to coronavirus. The conference is set to be defined by the extremely fascinating topics that are the impacts of Covid-19 on migration and mobility; technological developments; climate change; and conditions for fair migration. What are your expectations concerning the programme?

These are obviously urgent topics, although their titles are extremely broad at the same time. We do not want to devote much time to common sense or widely accepted knowledge, and it is therefore a serious challenge to carve out a new perspective or highlight an element that thus far has been ignored. We are still in the process of fine-tuning the programme and we are confident of cooking up a fascinating one.