The Hot Lava Edge of Cultural Flows

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The Hot Lava Edge of Cultural Flows: Global Social Inequality and the Anthropology of Uncertainty, Contingency and Future Orientation is a project coordinated by the Department of Social Anthropology, NTNU. In addition to participants from NTNU, the project also has members from Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), University of Tromsø, University of Oslo, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The project, which is funded by the Research Council of Norway, started in January, 2013 and ends in December, 2016.


The project is headed by a core group from the Department of Social Anthropology; Liv Haram, Project Coordinator, Anne Kathrine Larsen and Harald Aspen. 

The Ruler of Dubai Gazing into the Distance. Beneath, Immigrant Workers Pausing in the Shade. Photo: Anne Kathrine Larsen



The «hot lava edge of cultural flows» alludes to the forceful transformative power of hegemonic and powerful streams that flow over the world - often destructive, but also sources of creativity and novelty, when the directions and nature of the flows are altered by active resistance and contrariety, or by opportunities that open up for entrepreneurship. The project explores the edges of these flows; what new forms of social and individual realities are formed where global forces meet with local agency. These meetings may spur creativity and improvisation, but also apathy and inability. By studying the «hot lava edges» we ask how social inequality at a global scale is created, recreated and solidified, or, alternatively, how it may take new and surprising turns, resulting in altered forms of inequalities. We claim that the lava flow represents uncertainty and contingency, and as such, it affects how the future can be acted upon, if at all. A major question is if the present has changed to such an extent that the past gives no directions, can then the future guide planned action? The project is composed of a number of ethnographic studies from different local communities and societies around the world, which form the case studies of how the «hot lava edge» affects i.e. identity, health, economy and citizenship. They also form a common basis for testing out some analytical tools and concepts to explore if they can enable us to critically theorize new understandings of social inequality. Our aim is to arrive at a higher level of generalization in our statements about local processes of power and inequality and to infer from the local to the global.


Foto: Harald Aspen