Barbara Ehrenreich on Optimism

In cooperation with the Erasmus Prize Foundation and Atlas Contact

21nov2018 19:30 - 21:00


Writer and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, winner of the 2018 Erasmus Prize, talks to comedian and interviewer Raoul Heertje about her work.

The location of this program is De Duif, Prinsengracht 756, 1017 LD Amsterdam​

By her own account, Barbara Ehrenreich has a highly attuned ‘bullshit radar’, and over her career she has frequently attacked the cult of positive thinking. As she experienced first-hand, positive thinking plays an important role in healthcare, which she tellingly described in her celebrated book Smile or Die. According to the rules defined by fellow patients on internet forums, a breast cancer diagnosis would only improve her life.

In her recent book Natural Causes, Ehrenreich examines the resistance to growing old. She describes how we have scarcely any influence on that irreversible process, and we would be better off abandoning our fixation on health.

Humour and a sense of perspective are her weapons of choice in attacking positive thinking. Raoul Heertje talks to Ehrenreich about her optimism and realism.


About the speakers

Barbara Ehrenreich (1941) made her international breakthrough with the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America in 2001, for which she spent months trying to survive on her earnings from so-called ‘unskilled work’ in the United States. Other influential books by Ehrenreich are: Bait and Switch, the (futile) Pursuit of the American Dream (2005), about the flip side of the American dream; and Smile or Die (2009), about the dangers of positive thinking at the expense of, among other things, adequate healthcare.

Raoul Heertje (1963) is a stand-up comedian, television presenter, writer and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Comedytrain, the company of stand-up comedians that introduced this art form to the Netherlands in 1990. Together with his brother Eric Heertje, he founded the Toomler comedy café in 1995. He was also a team captain on the television show Dit was het nieuws, and has performed his shows in the Netherlands, US and England. He was an interviewer on the television programme Wintergasten (the international version of the Dutch interview series Zomergasten) and has written for various television programmes.

About the Erasmus Prize

The Erasmus Prize is awarded annually to a person or institution that has made an exceptionally important contribution to the fields of humanities, social sciences or the arts. His Majesty the King is Patron of the Foundation. The Erasmus Prize consists of a sum of € 150,000. The prize will be awarded in November 2018.

The Erasmus Prize is awarded this year to the American journalist and writer Barbara Ehrenreich. She is commended for putting herself on the line in her in-depth journalistic work. By leading the life of people in precarious situations, she has given a voice to groups in society that would otherwise remain unheard. She shows us the world through other eyes. As a journalist, Ehrenreich draws on various disciplines, uniting scientific analysis with literary elegance, and larding her focused writing style with humour. A major voice in the current debate surrounding the search for truth, she is an advocate of critical thinking and fact finding.


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