Thinking about conflict
Talking to Hiske you understand why the organisation she co-founded is called Critical Mass. Throughout her educational career and participation in HIA she has come to realize how important it is to focus on one’s own social environment. Hiske and her co-founders started with the idea that young people, especially those with a low level of education, do not always have easy access to information and can be heavily influenced by the media: “The limited accessibility makes the children more dependent on the information they do receive.” More importantly, the children need to become aware of their own social dynamics and identities and the way they contribute to conflicts themselves. In addition to the distant conflicts, such as in Rwanda, Critical Mass focuses on those that are close to the children in their neighbourhoods and schools. When the children become aware of how conflicts evolve, they develop a critical approach and are able to handle conflicts in a constructive manner. “You can see how the children become inspired,” Hiske says. “They feel the need to be more present in their own society.”
Critical Mass was started after the murder of film director Theo van Gogh in 2004. Four HIA Senior Fellows, Antoine Buyse, Enno Koops, Floris van Eijk and Hiske Arts, realized that instead of only focusing on conflicts abroad, it was important to reflect on the presence of violent conflicts in The Netherlands itself. Initially called Generating Tolerance and Insights, their organization was officially registered as Critical Mass in 2005.
The four HIA Senior Fellows are still all involved in the organization, but Critical Mass has now extended beyond the HIA network, with over 40 volunteers who are internally trained to help and teach the children about social processes. Their main project, Inbox, has already been exhibited for two years throughout large cities in The Netherlands. The interactive exhibition focuses on confronting youngsters with issues of identity, violence and group formation in society. As a complement to the exhibition, Critical Mass has also developed a Toolbox for children to create their own exhibitions by conducting surveys, taking pictures and organizing events in their neighbourhoods. The volunteers provide support with the hope that children will become more expressive and aware of their environment. “Diversity is a fact of life,” Hiske states.
“Critical Mass focuses on the positive effects, but also on the problems that may accompany diversity, such as stereotyping, exclusion and social identification. We realize that different groups may clash and that diversity could lead to strong, at times negative emotions. But as long as it is approached with curiosity towards ‘the other’ – also towards the person who fears or rejects diversity – diversity will be an asset, rather than an obstacle.”