Say hello to the guerrilla anthropologists

The changing landscape of inequality and protest demand a new form of radical anthropology, suggests Professor Bruce Kapferer.

Associate Professor Bjørn Enge Bertelsen (left) and Professor Bruce Kapferer opened a new ERC-funded project on egalitarianism with a two-day workshop in Bergen.
KICK-OFF IN BERGEN: Associate Professor Bjørn Enge Bertelsen (left) and Professor Bruce Kapferer opened the new ERC-funded project with a two-day workshop in Bergen.
Kim Andreassen

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“Guerrilla anthropology is anthropology that radically challenges dominant ways of thinking in the discipline of anthropology, as well as in the humanities and social sciences,” says Professor Bruce Kapferer, from the University of Bergen’s (UiB) Department of Social Anthropology.

In August 2013, he was awarded an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The ERC is funding Kapferer’s project Egalitarianism: Forms, Processes, Comparisons for a five-year period. On 1 June 2014, the project was officially opened with a workshop in Bergen.

The project aims to develop anthropological research beyond the traditional. The researchers want to avoid reproducing old ideas and open up new avenues in the public and anthropological discourse on egalitarianism.

“One of our goals is to look at new forms of equality and inequality that have developed in recent years,” says Associate Professor Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, who organised the workshop.

Research on egalitarianism deals with questions of equality and inequality. According to Bertelsen, the postindustrial era has brought about changes in the landscape of equality and inequality in a way that traditional thinking on egalitarianism does not capture.

This may involve a changing concept of freedom that brings with it new forms of oppression, coercion and loss of control.

“One example is our planned study on how cosmopolitan capital-rich groups colonise countries in the Third World and create new forms of control in these countries,” says Bertelsen.

“At the same time, we see the emergence of new forms of radical protest against the new powers, such as street protests in Asia and Africa or the rolezinhos in Brazil,” explains Bertelsen, referring to gatherings of tens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of youngsters which is convened via social media and text messages or by other digital means.

“In short, we will look at egalitarianism within a broader framework than has been done before. We will conduct anthropological research on a whole range of cultural, political and social responses to the challenges that people meet in our time,” says Kapferer.

The opening workshop consisted of 40 hours of lectures and discussions between the partners in the ERC project. According to Kapferer, the workshop exceeded all his expectations. Several research groups within the project got off to a flying start and Kapferer suggests that the project will encompass academic disciplines beyond anthropology, thus benefitting overall research at UiB and the other partners in the project.

(Translated from the Norwegian by Sverre Ole Drønen.)