The lecture has been cancelled!

Max Planck Day: Observations from the Helicopter and through the Magnifying Glass

Public Lecture by Thomas Hylland Eriksen

August 09, 2018

Norwegian social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen will give a public lecture at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology at 18:00 on 14 September. The lecture, which is titled “Implications of Small Scale in a Globalised World”, was organized as part of the 2018 Germany-wide Max Planck Day. Under the motto “Research is Curiosity”, the event offers visitors in 32 cities an opportunity to experience research at Max Planck Institutes first hand. Thomas Hylland Eriksen is an External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.

For more information (in German) about the Max Planck Day, click here.

“We are delighted that our renowned colleague has agreed to give our Max Planck Day lecture,” says Managing Director Marie-Claire Foblets. Eriksen draws on many years of research into the consequences of globalization for humans and their societies, and he places special value on understanding both the general and the particular: “For a perspective on the contemporary world to be convincing and comprehensive, it needs the view from the helicopter circling the world just as much as it needs the details that can only be discovered with a magnifying glass. The macro and the micro, the universal and the particular must be seen as two sides of  the same coin,” writes Eriksen in “An Overheated World: A Short Introduction to Overheating”.

Lecture abstract by Thomas Hylland Eriksen:
Implications of Small Scale in a Globalised World
Throughout the twentieth century, most anthropologists studied what were thought to be small-scale societies. This methodological approach, which was always problematic in its lack of attention to the larger systems in which these communities took part, is now indefensible. Virtually all societies studied by social scientists are multiscalar and ultimately connected to global processes, from climate change to neoliberal capitalism, from tourism to identity politics. Yet to the extent that a state is a society, which it often is in important respects, small scale continues to be a relevant concept. This lecture argues that as a result of accelerated global change and intensified interconnectedness, fuelled by economic deregulation and new technologies, small states are facing a new situation that makes their continued viability more difficult than it was in the previous century.

My main cases will be the Indian Ocean states of Mauritius (pop. 1.2 million) and the Seychelles (pop. 90,000), with a few glances to the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. Foreign appropriation of property, reduced competitiveness owing to deregulation and decreased costs of transport, the increased presence of the English language and the effects on identity of tourism, mobility and the new media situation on identity result in new forms of dependence and a weakening of self-determination in these island states. On the other hand, small scale can also have its advantages, rendering societies more flexible and capable of changing; approaching a reef, a small sailboat can change course in a matter of seconds, while it takes a tanker a full day or more to perform the same operation.

The comparative study of social and cultural scale has been strangely absent in recent anthropology, since the publication of Barth’s edited volume Scale and Social Organization (1978) and Leach's dismissive comments in his Social Anthropology (1982) about cultural anthropologists comparing ‘the culture’ of China with that of a small Pacific island. By exploring the significance of small scale in the contemporary world, I hope to stimulate some interest in large scale as well, and not least the relationship between scales, within and between societies.

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