In Memoriam professor Bonno Thoden van Velzen
On Tuesday 26 May 2020 professor H.U.E. (Bonno) Thoden van Velzen passed away.
H.U.E. (Bonno) Thoden van Velzen studied Cultural Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and did his PhD research at Utrecht University under the supervision of André Köbben. In 1961, together with his wife and anthropologist Ineke van Wetering, he went to Suriname to do fieldwork among the Ndyuka, whose ancestors had escaped slavery. He published and taught extensively about how political processes were shaped by changing economic circumstances, emotions, and social imaginaries. His work offered important insights into why and when people become aggressive and violent, and how people attempt to take control over their own lives as well as that of others. Analytically, he relied on a historical analysis of material conditions as well as unconscious dynamics, for the latter taking inspiration from Freud. Empirically, his deference to historical and ethnographic evidence meant that Thoden van Velzen was acutely aware of the shortcomings of universalising theoretical claims.
Upon completion of his PhD, Thoden van Velzen worked at the African Studies Centre (1966-1971). He and his family lived in Tanzania for three years where Thoden van Velzen studied the consequences of the Ujamaa reforms that were implemented by the socialist government. He revealed how Ujamaa, which formed the ideological backbone of major development programmes, intensified social inequalities instead of diminishing them. He became professor at the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University (1971-1991) and at the Amsterdam School for Social Science Research at the University of Amsterdam (1991 until retirement in 1999). In 1990, he was awarded membership of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was visiting researcher at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University (2014–2018).
Throughout his career, Thoden van Velzen supervised a great number of PhD researchers and played a stimulating role as teacher and mentor, also to several of the Institute’s faculty. Generous, compassionate, and an anthropologist at the core, Thoden van Velzen continued fieldwork in Suriname until old age, with his latest fieldwork visit in January 2019. Until the end of his life he worked on the book Prophets of Doom; A History of the Aukan Maroons, which will be published by Brill.