Thomas Hylland-Eriksen is Professor of Social Anthopology at the University of Oslo. He is one of Norway's most important and influential social anthopologists. Now he joins CMI as an Associated Senior Researcher. 

-What was your relationship to CMI before?

I’ve known people at CMI for many years — mostly anthropologists, but also some of the others — and have followed some of the research there from a distance. I should nevertheless confess that I have visited the centre quite rarely, but had a very pleasant and rewarding visit there last year.

-What will a closer collaboration with CMI mean for you and your research?

First and foremost, I am looking forward to familiarising myself with recent and current research at the centre and to learn about the projects. I am also hoping to help build relationships and collaboration between people in my own network, in and outside the department in Oslo, and CMI researchers where there are overlapping interests. Not least the fact that CMI research mostly deals with real world problems is attractive to me. 

-What do you hope to contribute to CMI?

I hope to bring in current theoretical perspectives on globalisation, including perspectives on global crises, neoliberalism and environmental problems, and to explore their relevance for the research at CMI, contributing, as we go along, to funding applications as well. Also, I’m hoping to develop my own project on ‘overheating’ in collaboration with the CMI researchers. I see the production of knowledge as a collective enterprise, and am looking forward to good and stimulating discussions. 

-What common ground is there between your research and the development research at the institute?

The most important connection is probably the desire to engage the tools and insights from social science in an effort to make a difference — to understand the present, interconnected world in order to contribute to positive change. There is also a clear convergence in the attempt to understand not only the connections between places, but also between levels of scale, from the very local to the transnational and global. 

-What can development researchers from all disciplines learn from social anthropology?

Well, let me first say that the learning process is mutual — it goes in both directions. What social anthropology can bring to interdisciplinary contexts can be various things, and it is not just its emphasis on what people actually do (and not just what they say) in local settings, but it could also be a way of viewing social life as mainly informal and improvised, in other words less predictable and structured than it may often seem from the outside.

-How can the Christian Michelsen vision of research and scientific work to promote tolerance between nations and people – religious, social, economic and cultural – inspire development research today?

This vision is more important than ever before, precisely because we now live in an overheated world where change is accelerating, frictions are ubiquituous and encounters often take on the character of clashes. Yet at the same time, the increased connectedness entailed by overheating has a positive potential in making a truly global conversation about the future of the planet possible. Development research is part of this project, but we can always do better, not least in trying to contribute to a democratisation of the means of communication. Phrased differently, we have to find ways of creating more equitable partnerships with our collaborators in the South.