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In Memoriam Ad de Bruijne

by Isa Baud and Hebe Verrest

Ad de Bruijne held the chair of Human Geography of Developing countries at the University of Amsterdam since 1985 and before that at the Free University. During this period he taught many generations of students at the University of Amsterdam, Free University, and various universities and educational institutions in Suriname and India. He supervised many PhDs, who now themselves hold staff positions in academic institutions.

Ad de Bruijne
Ad primarily focused his attention in research and teaching on issues of poverty, development and exclusion in urban areas, including their linkages to regional and global transformations. Thematically, his interests ranged from urban housing and services, to livelihoods, education and industrial development. For him the academic understandings of poverty and development issues were political as well and he grounded debates firmly in the lives of people and their communities. Already in a newspaper article in 1968, he recognized the agency of the poor and their ability to build livelihoods in harsh circumstances. While he saw empowering of poor people as crucial for meaningful development outcomes, he emphasized the importance of responsible local and central governments in showing more accountability and determination in decision-making and allocating funds.
Ad was a geographer pur sang, expressed in his interest concerning space and place. He has consistently placed his research on urban areas as open systems in their regional contexts, linking his research on cities with their local and global surroundings. He emphasized connecting the global to the local and back to the global again, an approach that many of his PhD students have incorporated in their understanding of the processes of development and exclusion.
In Ad’s opinion, academic knowledge needed to be connected to societal issues and support policymaking at various levels. He put this focus into practice, advising the Dutch and Surinamese governments over a long period of time; by being member of the Dutch Advisory Council on Development Cooperation (NAR), by co-founding the Habitat Platform and during his Directorship of the Indo-Dutch Programme on Alternatives to Development (IDPAD). His ability to bridge the gap between research and policy has clearly influenced the field of Dutch development policy and development cooperation in past decades.
Ad’s work in India focused on new patterns of industrialization, and he drew in young researchers into the various projects he coordinated. Working together with Amitabh Kundu and Saraswati Raju of JNU, Hans Schenk and Isa Baud of the UvA, Ad held a valued position in the research networks that were part and parcel of the IDPAD programme. Modestly preferring to stay at JNU’s guesthouse, he would experience the difficulties of India’s daily life, rather than isolating himself in a hotel. He knew a wide network of people working in local and regional government as well in India, and is well remembered there. As one of his closest academic colleagues put it, with Ad he had “a long period of association – of friendship, serious discussion, conferences and relaxed evenings”.

Suriname is the country to which Ad dedicated most of his academic life. From the mid-1960s to 2014, he must have visited the country dozens of times to teach, do research or supervise. Ad and his wife had even planned a visit to Suriname coming November. Speaking to Ad just a few weeks ago, he admitted he felt a bit uncomfortable with this upcoming trip to Suriname because this time he would go as a ‘pensioner’ and not for work, which had never been the case before. His contribution to the academic knowledge on Suriname’s geography, urban change and development questions are widely recognized. His PhD work on Paramaribo of the 1970s is still a classic text. He built strong friendships in Suriname and continuously supported many initiatives there. Young scholars recognize his mentorship and his loyal support to their further development. His dear friend Deryck Ferrier spoke of half a century of friendship. His commitment to Suriname was rewarded when on his formal retirement in 2001, he was dedicated as “Officier in de Ere-Orde van de Palm van de Republiek Suriname”, by the Surinamese minister of Foreign affairs, a medal he would wear proudly at many formal events.
After his retirement, Ad divided his attention more equally between his colleagues and students and his family. He got involved in several research projects involving the wider Caribbean, bringing him to Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados. He continued to supervise students, and to be interested in what was going on at the UvA. Even recently, he held personal discussions with several of us on current processes of change in IDS and in development cooperation, with thoughtful insights, although he had indicated several years ago that he would not undertake further activities. The second house he had in the north of the Netherlands provided him with a pleasant hideaway, where he could relax, read, and reflect on the issues with which he was concerned. He also immensely enjoyed his family and growing number of grandchildren.


Ad combined his great intellect, with a very gentle, modest and friendly approach. He was one of an older generation of scholars, whose personal interest in people was extensive, and his advice to several generations of PHDs and younger staff was valuable and disinterested. He came to the UvA in a period in which the different ‘streams’ of development studies were at loggerheads with each other. His inclusive approach at the UvA bound the whole group together, while acknowledging the variety of approaches utilized, as Ton Dietz remembers. His modest and inclusive approach also stood out in India, and as Amitabh Kundu, a renowned scholar on urban issues in India put it, Ad was “this wonderful scholar, affectionate friend and a superb human being”.
Ad passed away Saturday 3rd of October 2015, only three weeks after he was diagnosed with an incurable disease. He was not ready, felt that his work was not done and that there was still much to do. With his death, we lose a dedicated, inspired and inspiring researcher, teacher, mentor, colleague and friend. We are very grateful for all Ad has meant and done for geography and our understanding of development processes. We will sorely miss him but believe that he has educated many of us to take his work forward.

1 comment to “In Memoriam Ad de Bruijne”

  • Hi Hebe,

    Wat een naar bericht over het overlijden van Ad. Jammer dat ik dit niet eerder kon vernemen. Ik hoop dat er een mooie uitvaart voor hem is geweest. We zullen hem zeker missen.

    Groet, Eric

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