Department of Social Anthropology
annual lecture

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture

Welcome to the annual Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture! The lecture for 2023 will be given by Professor Harvey Whitehouse, University of Oxford.

Logo Fredrik Barth-forelesningen
The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture.
The Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen

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The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture will be held annually during the autumn semester. The lecture series was established in 2015, 50 years after Professor Fredrik Barth founded the department.

The scholar invited to give the lecture should represent some of the trademarks of Fredrik Barth’s anthropological scholarship: the development of theory grounded in solid ethnography and based on participant observation, as well as an attention to comparison. The invited scholar can be a young, promising researcher or an established academic, but should be concerned in his or her work with those regions and topics that Fredrik Barth has explored in his own work.

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture Committee and the Head of the Department identify possible candidates for giving the lecture, based on suggestions and recommendations from department staff.

2023 - Professor Harvey Whitehouse

The lecture was given by Professor Harvey Whitehouse, University of Oxford. 

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2023 is open to all interested

Against Interpretive Exclusivism

This Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture argues against interpretative exclusivism – the dogma that we can only understand cultural systems by interpreting them, thereby ruling out reductive explanation and scientific methods. I will argue that the costs of interpretive exclusivism are heavy and the benefits illusory. Even though inclusivism is neither easy nor cheap, it is arguably the only way Anthropology can hope to realize its intellectual potential as a discipline.

I will show that the work of Fredrik Barth has served as a beacon for those seeking to develop an inclusivist approach by providing a rich foundation of theoretical ideas on which to build. Inspired by such figures, Anthropology would be less concerned about policing its borders or worrying about whether authors or their work should be counted as ‘anthropological’. Instead, it would be more open to methodological pluralism and intellectual diversity. It would contribute to interdisciplinary knowledge creation by providing much needed data for use in comparative analyses. It would maximize its practical relevance by embracing rather than excluding scientific methods. And a desirable by-product of this would be improvements to the long-term prospects of Anthropology as a discipline. 

2022 - Associate Professor Diane E. King

The lecture was given by Associate Professor Diane E. King, University of Kentucky.

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2022 is open to all interested.


2021 - Professor Marianne Lien

The lecture was given by Professor Marianne Lien, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo.

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2021 took place on the occasion of the NAF Conference November 25-26.

Beyond the Ethnographic Presence; Landscapes as relational archives

Among the cherished legacies of Fredrik Barth is his emphasis on ethnographic fieldwork and on the ethnographic presence as a superb empirical entry point for understanding asymmetrical relations, ethnicity and social change. His approach shaped generations of scholars, as well as the anthropological understanding of ethnic identities in Norway, including in Finnmark.

In this lecture, I draw the attention to sites in Finnmark where traces of colonization and atrocities can still be noticed in the landscape, and where ethnic identity, for some, is still a ‘social stigma’.  Mobilising material, archival, human and botanical remains, I ask what such artefacts can tell us about the making and un-making of subjectivites and ethnic identities, both past and present. Tracing the landscape as a relational archive, and the archive as a material site where relations are ordered and negotiated, I explore shifting conditions of possibility and hope in a landscape that holds the legacies of multiple life-forms and multiple losses.

Mindful of how silence is often the companion of shame, I search for ways to articulate the aftermath of colonizing policies. Towards this aim, I propose a multi-temporal ethnography that seeks not only to elicit the past as historical background, but to grasp material traces for what they reveal gaps and absences in the present.

2020 - cancelled

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2020 was cancelled due to the Corona pandemic.

2019 - Dr. Mandana Limbert

On Homelands and History in Southern Arabia

Always thinking against the grain and from fieldsites considered on the margins of the Middle East, Fredrik Barth forced anthropologists of the region and beyond to question presumptions about the force of structuring principles as well as the dynamics of social and political relationships and arrangements. Inspired by Barth’s urging of a more robust “analytic description,” and from the shared margin of Southern Arabia, I will in this talk explore fundamental notions of political home and identity, “nation” and “Arabness,” as they transformed over the course of the 20th century.

Drawing on ethnographic and archival work in a town in interior Oman (a town about which Barth also wrote a fascinating article), I will in this lecture explore how ideas of and practices shaping such categories have shifted, connected to particular political, economic, and religious processes and debates that extend across the Indian Ocean. I argue that examining itineraries of and debates about travel and marriage across the ocean can challenge received understandings of identity and belonging in the Middle East.

2018 - Dr. Michael W. Scott

The Future of Prophecy: Transforming Temporalities in Melanesia and Anthropology

In Cosmologies in the Making, Fredrik Barth staged a playful yet illuminating comparison between the way anthropologists write about cultural others and the way they write about themselves.  Anthropologists, he observed, write about others as though they were always repeating received cultural forms, but portray themselves as always composing ‘an emerging...tradition of knowledge with no pre-set and over-arching order’ (1987: 18-19).  This comparison, he said, was about getting ontology right.

In a similar spirit, this lecture aims to get temporality right by staging a comparison between the thing the Arosi people of Solomon Islands call kastom profesi (traditional prophecy) and contemporary discourses about prophecy in anthropology.  The latter, I suggest, announce a temporality of pure duration in which prophecy proliferates a limitless variety of new and unpredictable futures.  In contrast, Arosi kastom profesi indexes a spatialized temporality in which prophecy reveals the coming realization of a hidden but intrinsically complete whole.  In light of this comparison, and in keeping with an agenda I have developed for the comparative study of ontology, I argue that Arosi kastom profesi warrants theorization of what I call ‘totemic prophecy’.

Were the theoretical implications of Barth’s playful comparison at odds with those of my own, or did he prophesy the different trajectories the anthropology of ontology would take in the twenty-first century – or both?

2017 - Dr. Madeleine Reeves

Scaling sovereignty: intimate militarism and the anthropology of exception

What is at stake in contemporary calls to ‘take back control’ of state borders? What is being hoped for in demands to ‘regain sovereignty’ in places where it is felt to have been lost or compromised?  In this essay I seek to situate state desire as a properly anthropological object of enquiry through an engagement with Barth’s work on scale. My starting point is a critical engagement, through the lens of scale, with recent ethnographic literature that has taken the production of legal exceptions as the starting point for an anthropology of contemporary sovereignty. Such literature has productively illuminated the legal, political and institutional mechanisms through which some human lives are systematically rendered ‘bare’.

Yet anthropology’s concern with sovereignty-as-exception has, I suggest, left us with fewer tools for exploring sovereignty-as-aspiration: with recognizing the bordered, territorially-integral, notionally-sovereign state as locus of material and affective investment. The concept of scale can be productive here, precisely by illuminating how ‘sovereignty’ might appear differently at different ethnographic and analytical scales. Drawing on research along Kyrgyzstan’s borders with neighbouring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, I seek to develop this argument ethnographically by exploring what I call ‘intimate militarism’: the normalization of, and desire for, military presence as an index of social and geographical legibility in a context otherwise marked by consistent state withdrawal.

2016 - Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen

Flows and boundaries in the Creole world

The boundary is a key concept in Fredrik Barth's work, not only in Ethnic Groups and Boundaries, but also in his earlier writings about ecology in Pakistan and Iran and his later writings about pluralism in Oman and Bali. He showed, famously, how ideas and concepts, practices and even people could cross boundaries without threatening their integrity.

In recent decades, however, the boundary itself has become a privileged site for anthropologial theorising and research. In symbolic or cultural anthropology, an influential tendency interrogates the nature/culture boundary (interestingly enough in ways sometimes reminiscent of Barth's study of Baktaman symbolism). In this lecture, I explore a different kind of boundary, or perhaps non-boundary, by looking at a social identity formation which eschews boundaries, embraces impurities and celebrates openness. Can the post-slavery peoples commonly known as Creoles be considered ethnic groups at all, or do they represent a social form unbeknownst to and incompatible with a social anthropology assuming that groups need boundaries in order to perpetuate themselves? Examples will be drawn from the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, and I shall ask what Creoles could learn from Barth and vice versa.

2015 - Professor Magnus Marsden

Revisiting Entrepreneurs: Afghan trans-regional trading networks across Eurasia and beyond

Professor Magnus Marsden, University of Sussex, ga den første Fredrik Barth Honorary Lecture, 15. oktober 2015. Marsdens forskning fokuserer på islam i sentral- og sør-Asia, som er regionen Barth selv gjorde sitt første betydningsfulle feltarbeid. Marsdens tidligere arbeid har tatt for seg grenseområdet Afghanistan-Pakistan-Tajikistan som et kjernepunkt for møter mellom muslimer på tvers av Den kalde krigens grenser. I hans bok "Trading Worlds: Afghan Merchants Across Modern Frontiers" (2015) videreutvikler Marsden sin interesse for mobile individer og familier i regionen ved å se på afghanske handelsnettverk og de ferdigheter og verdier menneskene her knytter til handel og arbeidsliv.