Identifying new class inequalities

Professor Don Kalb will establish a research group to do research on the escalating contradictions of the new global capitalism in China, the global South and Europe.

Don Kalb
REVOLUTIONARY THINKER: According to social anthropologist Don Kalb, the intellectual historical, economical and political context that Marx described is repeating itself today and creates a ground for future revolutions.
Eivind Senneset

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“The aim is to identify exemplary trends in class relationships, in politics and capitalistic urbanisms in these three diverse world regions, which are thoroughly interconnected,” Professor Don Kalb explains.

He will work closely with Professor Bruce Kapferer and Professor Ståle Knudsen, both at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen (UiB), but is also interested in creating new alliances within the wider faculty.

“UiB’s Department of Anthropology is one of the best in Europe. I have already been involved with Bruce Kapferer and his project on egalitarianism, something that has been very inspiring,” says Kalb.

“When I got the opportunity to lead a great research programme of my own for a five year period, it felt great,” says Kalb, who hopes his project also would lead to a next face, such as an ERC grant.”

Broad international network

Kalb has enjoyed an international career from the very start of his life as an academic and has built an extensive international network. He has published numerous articles in renowned journals and has held positions in several countries such as Hungary, Italy, Austria, Germany and USA as well as his native Netherlands.

“I think my experience from very different sorts of institutions, and my contacts, is something that would be interesting and a resource for my colleagues at UiB’s Department of Anthropology,” Kalb believes.

Research on labour history, power and class

Kalb’s primary interests are in research on the connections between power, labour, history and class. A look at his personal biography explains why this became an early interest for him.

He grew up in the corporate Dutch town of Eindhoven, which houses among others the headquarters of the electronics giant Philips. He himself comes from a family background of cigar workers and workers in textiles. The city was growing fast in the 1960s with a contradictory mixture of high tech culture, self-procuring peasants, a reverent working class culture, pockets of poverty and informal economy.

“I was growing up in a complex kind of modernity. I was very interested in social and political history, but I found that anthropology was the most suitable way to describe the complexity, unevenness, and inequality I witnessed, even if anthropology had its roots in Africa or Oceania, ” Kalb explains.

Kalb became politically active, and even became a part of the Dutch squatter movement for a while. Along the way his interest grew in issues such as urban transformation, capitalism, speculation and rent taking.

He later moved to Eastern Europe, mainly Poland and Hungary, to develop his research further. It became clear to him that all the talk about successful transitions to democracy in the east was quite hollow. According to Kalb, the sceptics were right, the growth never came to the majority of East Europe’s people.

“Performing deeper anthropological studies in out-of-the-way-locations, taught me a couple of basic insights about important economical processes, and allowed me to identify subterranean streams of resentments that are now coming out in the form of the populism that is being observed everywhere, long before journalists and other experts caught on to these trends. That became a fascination and a great inspiration for my work in the last twenty years,” he says.  

A 20 year prediction

Kalb, who has done research on class related issues for most of his life, regards his work of the last 20 years as a prediction.

“We have reached a very important moment in capitalist history. The beast is not working, investment is zero, capital is worth nothing, and labour is worth ever less. That has not happened before,” says Kalb, pointing to the last G20 meeting, where the world’s top leaders openly admitted that they had to find a way to civilize capitalism.

Xi Jing Ping made a point of saying that the global Gini coefficient had reached 0.7, and that this cannot continue. That is an insight that I, and many others with me, have emphasized over the last 20 years. Politically we have lost, but intellectually we are winning,” says Don Kalb before adding:

“My project is going to contribute to the ways we allow and enable ourselves to think about capitalism, how to help civilise it, possibly to end it and transform it into something else. That is entirely open to me,” says Don Kalb.