If you made any changes in Pure these will be visible here soon.

Personal profile

Personal information

I hold Master degrees in Cultural Anthropology (cum laude, 1988) and history (1988) from Leiden University and obtained my PhD in Social Sciences from the same university in 1994. My research interests cover urban anthropology, environmental sustainability, violence, and, to a lesser degree, decolonization, social inequality, environmental history, and football. I seek to frame my research theoretically in terms of mobility, and the tension between security and freedom. I value comparative and interdisciplinary research and I am inclined to add a historical perspective to my analyses. Most of my fieldwork has been carried out in Indonesia, but I can also point at fieldwork-based publications about Brazil, the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.

My current main research sets out from the paradox why people, knowing what is necessary for a sustainable lifestyle, persist in non-eco-friendly behaviour; in point of fact I am studying waste-pickers in Indonesian cities, urban communities that jointly clean their neighbourhood, and middle-class urbanites that navigate between the  contradictory, global forces of a green discourse and a consumerist lifestyle. For my current research I have annual stints of fieldwork in the Indonesian cities of Surabaya and Semarang. A long-term project, both in scope and in time I have been working on it, is an environmental history of Central Sumatra, Indonesia, from 1600 to 1870.

Apart from winning awards and nominations for teaching awards, both at Leiden University and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, I was granted the Professor Teeuw Award for promoting Indonesian-Dutch cooperation in the field of arts and science in 2007. I am happy I can also call myself “Runner-up, Best Supervisor of PhD students”, Faculty of Social Sciences of the Vrije Universiteit in 2011 (the only year this conquest was organized by PhD students).

I have been co-supervisor of the following PhD-theses:

  • Han Knapen, Forests of fortune: The environmental history of Southeast Borneo, 1600-1880, (Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen, defended 2001).
  • Ota Atsushi, Changes of regime and social dynamics in West Java: Society, state and the outer world of Banten 1750-1830, (Leiden University, defended 2005).
  • Inge Melchior, Guardians of living history: The persistence of the past in post-Soviet Estonia (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, defended 2015).
  • Annette Jansen, Don’t let us be bystanders! Anti-genocide activists and the sacralization of humanity (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, defended 2015).
  • Maaike Matelski, Constructing civil society in Myanmar: Struggles for local change and global recognition (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, defended 2016).
  • Aysegul Çil, on coastal zone management in Bodrum, Turkey (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, scheduled to be defended in 2019).
  • Ibnu Fikri, on green Islam in Semarang, Indonesia (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, scheduled to be defended in 2019).
  • Younes Saramifar, on narrativity of memory in Iran (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, scheduled to be defended in 2020).
  • Dewi Meyrasyawati, on hijab wearing communities and the use of social media by women in Surabaya  (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, scheduled to be defended in 2022).
  • Joris Rijbroek, on mosque construction in Dutch cities (Universiteit van Amsterdam, scheduled to be defended in 2022)
  • Arjan Veering, on the construction and development of the port of Tanjung Priok, Jakarta in colonial times (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, scheduled to be defended in 2022).

Since 2009 I have been entrusted with the position of Editor-in-Chief of the Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land en Volkenkunde, an interdisciplinary journal on Southeast Asia academic journal, first issued in 1853.

Ancillary activities

No ancillary activities

Ancillary activities are updated daily

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities


Dive into the research topics where Freek Colombijn is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • 1 Similar Profiles

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or