Ms Shirley Van Der Maarel

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My background is in philosophy, human rights and visual anthropology. Whatever lies at the crossroad – that is what I am interested in. In the past I have worked on human rights policy in Geneva and London. I learnt about creative research methods when working on social design projects with organisations such as Oxfam, War Child, the Beijing Design Week and the University of Amsterdam. Using visual and collaborative methods I try and understand – with all the senses – how people experience socio-political issues. More information on previous work:

Current research

My current research revolves around refugees who are being placed in depopulating villages in Europe. Where refugees are located matters for their chances to prosper, and yet their experiences have remained under the radar of policy makers and academic researchers. In response, Belonging in Europe’s Depopulating Villages seeks to offer an ethnographically grounded account of contemporary rural life in depopulating regions from the perspective of refugees relocated there. It is supervised by Dr. Andrew Irving and Dr. Chika Watanabe. The project combines an existential, political, audio-visual and collaborative ethnographic approach to understand how new forms of sociality, home-making and belonging are created against a backdrop of forced migration, anti-immigration rhetoric, right-wing populism and violence. 

The project builds on the pilot research Terra Incognita conducted as part of an MA specialisation Visual Ethnography at Leiden University (supervisor Dr. Mark Westmoreland). This research resulted in a triptych: academic text, documentary film and a visual guide for Italian residents to bridge the gap between Italian residents and their new refugee neighbours. It was awarded a 10/10 and received the Janneke Fruin-Huib prize. More information on this research project:


2018 – 2019           MSc in Visual Ethnography (summa cum laude), Leiden University, NL

2012 – 2013           MA in Human Rights, University College London, UK.

2009 – 2012           BA in Philosophy (cum laude), University of Amsterdam, NL.