Accepted Paper:

Norwegian academic anthropologists in public places  


Signe Howell (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

A historical and contemporary survey of Norwegian anthropologists' engagement in the media as public intellectuals and critics of practices and implicit values, investigates the motivation of those who engage themselves and seeks to identify the rewards and the costs of engagement.

Paper long abstract:

Since the nineteen-sixties, many Norwegian university employed Social Anthropologists have, from time to time, stepped down from the ivory towers of academia in order to participate in public debates about current social, cultural and political issues. As a result, the discipline of anthropology is relatively well known in society at large. In this presentation I wish to examine some of the background to why anthropologists have chosen to play this role of public debaters and consider some of the practical, professional as well as ethical aspects of 'engaged anthropology'. I shall also consider why the Norwegian public is so open to anthropological comments. A few topics attract the most anthropological contribution and I shall concentrate on these. These are issues to do with development aid, politics regarding the minority population of the Sami, and questions pertaining to the 'multicultural society' that has come into being following a recent influx of immigrants and asylum seekers from countries outside western Europe and North America. These topics are all highly sensitive - or have been so at various times - and they all challenge what one may call a Norwegian sense of identity as well as the strong feeling of moral responsibility of ethnic Norwegians to others less fortunate than themselves - whether these live inside or outside the national boundaries. In order to throw some light on the current situation, I undertook a small investigation amongst those anthropologists who have been most active in public debates in recent years to get their point of view about their experience of being 'engaged anthropologists'.

Panel W044
Anthropology and engagement