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Undergraduate course

Current Anthropological Research: Corporations and the Sustainable Development Goals - Ethnographic explorations

Level of Study


Teaching semester

Autumn 2020

Objectives and Content

This course gives a comprehensive introduction to a specific area of contemporary anthropological investigation. Current research trends and recent theoretical developments are explored through critical discussions with emphasis on anthropology's evolving engagement with the selected field. The course offers a unique opportunity to be acquainted with diverse aspects - methodological, epistemological and theoretical - of the research process, aspects that lie at the very basis of anthropological analysis and practice, and of ethnographic production.

This course explores the complex relationship between large corporations and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Large corporations are among the major creators of the challenges that the SDGs set out to solve. At the same time, there is a tendency among companies to celebrate the idea that `sustainability is good business¿. How do companies actually relate to SDGs?

In this course, we will critically examine both how the corporations create challenges (e.g. pollution, human right violations, etc.), how/whether they actively work to reduce their negative impact, and how they manage the image of themselves in a public increasingly concerned about SDGs. Since many of these corporations operate transnationally, we will also consider the role of the emerging international framework for guiding trans-national corporations towards responsible and ethical behaviour.

Corporations have developed tools such as `corporate social responsibility¿ (CSR) and `environmental and social governance¿ (ESG) to better address and incorporate sustainability issues in their strategies. This course will critically examine how effective this framework is in challenging the behaviour of the corporations towards the SDGs. Are CSR, ESG and related reporting regimes only PR tools for the TNCs, or do they contribute to real change in the way in which the corporations work? Will the corporations be able to undertake deep and fast changes and be part of the solution rather part of the problem?

Drawing on the recent research in the Energethics project as well as other relevant anthropological literature, we will analytically explore the questions above by attending to three specific dimensions, namely knowledge, ethics and power. What kinds of knowledge are mobilized by the corporations, how do they negotiate ethics, and what kinds of power dynamics emerge in dealings with the SDGs? Empirically we will focus on agribusiness, the seafood industry, energy and the extractive industries. There are several large Norwegian corporations within these sectors, which provides an opportunity for direct interaction with a selected number of corporations during the course. The course will be interactive in the sense that it will combine lectures with discussions, panel debates, field visits, and invited speakers. The course is therefore premised on the active participation of the students.

Learning Outcomes

A student who has completed the course should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:


  • provide an overview of the field of study addressed in the course, with particular reference to its history and theoretical and methodological debates in social anthropology


  • explain the current state-of-art of research in the field of study addressed in the course
  • explain the various methodological and theoretical considerations that must be taken in order to further develop the field of study

General competence

  • apply key concepts and perspectives from the course and its field of study independently, in the understanding and analysis of local and global processes
  • apply an understanding of the correlation and difference between empirical data, theory and analysis in text production

Required Previous Knowledge


Access to the Course


Teaching and learning methods


Compulsory Assignments and Attendance


Forms of Assessment

Take home exam, 5 days. Words: 3000 (+/- 10 %)

Grading Scale


Assessment Semester

Assessment in teaching semester.


Department of Social Anthropology


Contact Information


Phone: +47 55 58 92 50

Exam information

  • Type of assessment: Take home examination

    Assignment handed out
    19.10.2020, 09:00
    Submission deadline
    23.10.2020, 14:00
    Withdrawal deadline
    Examination system
    Digital exam