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Books in English by Thomas Hylland Eriksen

Below, you will find presentations and links to my books in English. For translations into other languages, go to the translations page; for books written in Norwegian, click this link.


Fredrik Barth: An intellectual biography (London: Pluto 2015)

A lightly edited and translated version of the 2013 biography. This is how it is presented on Amazon: ‘Fredrik Barth is one of the towering figures of twentieth-century anthropology. This intellectual history traces the development of Barth’s ideas and explores the substance of his contributions. In an accessible style, Thomas Eriksen’s biographical study reveals the magic of ethnography to professional anthropologists and non-practitioners alike. Exploring his six decade career, it follows Barth from early ecological studies in Pakistan, to political studies in Iran, to groundbreaking fieldwork in Norway, New Guinea, Bali and Bhutan. Eriksen argues that Barth's voracious appetite for fieldwork holds the key to understanding his remarkable intellectual development and the insights it produced. The book raises many of the same questions that emerge from Barth's own work - of unity and diversity, of culture and relativism, of art and science. Thomas Eriksen is himself a major contributor to the study of anthropology, as well as a distinguished educator, and is therefore ideally placed to introduce the life and work of Fredrik Barth. This will surely be the definitive book on its subject for many years to come.’


A World of Insecurity (London: Pluto 2010)

Edited with Ellen Bal and Oscar Salemink at the Free University of Amsterdam, where I had a Special Chair from 2004 to 2006, this book explores the possible uses of the concept of human security in anthropology.

The concept of human security was introduced by the UNDP in 1994, in order to expand the scope of development work and research. Human security is defined as ‘freedom from want and freedom from fear’, and thus includes the subjective or existential dimensions in an area which has been dominated by quantitative and ‘objective’ measurements of well-being.

So far, the concept of human security has been largely absent from academic anthropology. This is regrettable insofar as anthropologists thereby exclude themselves from relevant theoretical and policy debates that touch on the heart of the discipline, as well as from potentially fruitful exchanges with other disciplines. This book represents an effort to sharpen and broaden the scope of human security research, placing it at the very centre of social inquiry.

The introductory chapter can be read here.

The publisher's page is here.


Paradoxes of Cultural Recognition (Ashgate 2009)

Edited with Sharam Alghasi and Halleh Ghorashi, this book brings together researchers working with minority–majority issues in the Netherlands and Norway (with fleeting glances to the UK and Sweden). Explicitly comparative in its approach, Paradoxes of Cultural Recognition discusses central issues regarding multiculturalism in today's Europe, based on studies of Norway and the Netherlands. Distinguishing clearly the four social fields of the media, education, the labour market and issues relating to gender, it presents empirical case studies, which offer valuable insights into the nature of majority/minority relationships, whilst raising theoretical questions relevant for further comparisons.

The first chapter can be viewed here.

The publisher's page is here.


Flag, Nation and Symbolism in Europe and North America (Routledge 2007)

A labour of love, this edited volume began as a workshop I co-organised with Richard Jenkins at Lysebu in the picturesque and, at the time, icy cold forest above Oslo in December ... 2006, it must have been. Bringing together a clutch of scholars from a variety of disciplines who shared a passion for flags, we seemed to cover the entire range, from nerdy focus on minuscule detail to grand and irresponsible theories about modernity and human nature. The result ... well, at least it was enjoyable for us. The chapters deal largely with North America and North-Western Europe. The sub-title could actually have been ‘A North Atlantic Perspective’. Recommended for anyone interested in nationalism and symbolism.

My introductory chapter can be downloaded via this link.

This is what the publisher says.



Globalization: The Key Concepts (Berg 2007/Bloomsbury 2014)

First published in 2007, this book demanded a substantial amount of work when the time came for a revision and update. Seven years can be a long time when many of the empirical examples refer to contemporary events. The new edition also bears the mark of my recent and current research on accelerated change. From the new preface: ‘We live in a shrunken world, a world of contacts, frictions, comparisons, communication and movements which are sometimes unrestricted by distance. At the same time, and partly for that very reason, boundary-making of various kinds has gained a new and heightened significance through attempts to stem and regulate such flows, and besides, many human activities continue to take place without any consequences beyond the local. The aim of this book is to outline some of the main dimensions of globalization, to highlight its dual (local/non-local) character, and to indicate some ways in which they are being studied and critiqued. ’

A useful review of the new edition, read from an Australian perspective, can be viewed here.

The Preface and Introduction of the first edition have been made available here, while the chapter on disembedding from the second edition can be read here.

This is the publisher's presentation.


Engaging Anthropology: The Case for a Public Presence (Berg 2006)

One of my most personal books in English, this long essay argues that anthropology should reclaim its place as a central intellectual discipline – but that in order to do so, we must ask lucid questions and explore them in engaging, intelligible ways. Since the book was published, obscurantism has returned with a vengeance, but so has a widespread desire to take part in the big conversation about who we are and where we are going.

This is what the publisher says: ‘Engaging Anthropology takes an unflinching look at why the discipline has not gained the popularity and respect it deserves in the twenty-first century.While showcasing the intellectual power of discipline, Eriksen takes the anthropological community to task for its unwillingness to engage more proactively with the media in a wide range of current debates, from immigrant issues to biotechnology. Eriksen argues that anthropology needs to rediscover the art of narrative and abandon arid analysis and, more provocatively, anthropologists need to lose their fear of plunging into the vexed issues modern societies present.’

The book is presented more fully here.

The publisher presents the book here, and I am pleased to see that it can be bought as an e-book directly from them.


What is anthropology? (Pluto 2004)

This book came about as follows. In 2003, I was invited to contribute a short, introductory book (not primarily for students, but for that almost mythical entity called the interested layperson) about social anthropology. It was to be written in Norwegian, and would subsequently be published by Universitetsforlaget (HVA ER sosialantropologi?). When, soon after, I got the chance to translate it into English, I included the two chapters that, for reasons of length, had to be omitted from the Norwegian edition (those on thought and nature). As a result, the English edition is somewhat fuller and (to my mind) slightly more satisfactory than the original.

A sample can be accessed here.

The publisher has this to say about it.


Globalisation – Studies in Anthropology (Pluto 2003)

A tangible outcome of the ‘transnational flows’ project at our department, directed by my colleague Marianne E. Lien, this book – a drop in the ocean of books with ‘globalisation’ in the title – has methodology as its main focus, and emphasises the continuity between classic antropological preoccupations with networks, scale and change, and current research into transnationalism and globalisation.

The essays in this book show how the focus has shifted from traditional studies of specific sites, towards the movements and shifts assoicated with increasing migration and population flows -- the result of living in an increasingly globalised world.

The first chapter can be accessed here.

Pluto's presentation of the book is here.



A History of Anthropology (with Finn Sivert Nielsen) (Pluto 2001/2013)

It was on the eve of the millennium. My colleague Finn Sivert Nielsen had just written a great book about field methodology (in Norwegian), and I had written quite a bit myself. When we were approached by Fagbokforlaget in Bergen (hello, Tor Paulson!) with a request to write a history of anthropology, we pounced on the idea, although it took a while for us actually to write the thing. A long while, to be precise. Finn has a great eye for detail, anecdote and fact, while I seem to have a rather un-anthropological flair for the large canvas. We felt that the writing process went pretty smoothly, drafts bouncing back and forth in cyberspace for weeks and months. Pluto wanted an English edition, and we duly translated and condensed the somewhat bulky Norwegian book. After a decade or so, it was time for an update and revision, and I think Finn was especially pleased with this, as it enabled us (actually, mostly him) to correct a handful of embarrassing errors in the first edition. In addition to rewriting not only the recent past, but perhaps to an even greater extent the slightly more distant past. It somehow seemed that between 2001 and 2012, the 1870 changed more than the 1970s did.

A chapter from the first edition can be read here, while the preface to the second edition and a sample chapter have been made available here.

You can also read about the book here.


Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age (Pluto 2001)

This book, published in Norwegian in January 2001 and in English in the same autumn, became an unexpected success, in the sense that it was translated into lots of languages and enjoyed healthy sales in several countries. I still (2014) receive requests to give public talks about the subject, which must have struck a nerve in the turn-of-the-millennium Zeitgeist.

The publisher says this (among other things): The turn of the millennium is characterized by exponential growth in everything related to communication – from the internet and email to air traffic. Tyranny of the Moment deals with some of the most perplexing paradoxes of this new information age. Who would have expected that apparently time-saving technology results in time being scarcer than ever? And has this seemingly limitless access to information led to confusion rather than enlightenment?

In my current Overheating research, I'm building on some of the ideas first developed in Tyranny of the Moment, notably that of converging exponential growth curves in otherwise distinct areas, as well as flexibility as a key variable.

The book is presented here.

The publisher presents it here. By the way, I am pleased to see that it is still on display, thanks, Pluto!


Common Denominators: Ethnicity, nationalism and the politics of compromise in Mauritius (Berg 1998)

An anthropological monograph based on my fieldwork in Mauritius (1986 and 1991/92), this book uses the ethnic and cultural complexity of Mauritius as a context for raising questions of broader relevance: Can multiethnic nations be stable and meaningful imagined communities? Are multiethnic societies necessarily multicultural ones, or is the very term 'multicultural society' a contradiction in terms? To what extent do processes of modernisation lead to an obliteration of ethnic boundaries, and in what ways are the very same boundaries strengthened through social change? Is it possible to avoid discrimination against minorities in multiethnic society? How can ethnic conflict be avoided? And what does the word 'we' mean? Questions, I should add, that I have been pursuing in much of my later work elsewhere, not least in my native Norway.

A chapter from the book has been made available here.

The publisher presents the book here.




Small Places, Large Issues: Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology (Pluto 1995/2000/2010)

Little did I know, when I was drafting the first, Norwegian edition of this book in 1992, that I'd still be working on the same book two decades later. Third, revised and updated editions of both the Norwegian and English editions were publised simultaneously in May 2010. And it now seems exceedingly likely that there will be a fourth edition published in the next couple of years.

This book is, in all of its incarnations, an introduction to social and cultural anthropology written by a practitioner who believes in ‘the militant middle ground’ (Michael Herzfeld's term). There is no attempt here to redefine the field radically, or to ride hobbyhorses along paths seen only by the author. In my view, that kind of strategy would have been irresponsible, and would have rendered the book far less useful as a first full introduction to anthropology at the university level. Inevitably, ‘my kind of anthropology’ shines through – it is probably more ‘European’ than ‘American’ in its dominant approach – but the book should be reasonably representative of anthropology as it is being practiced across the world today. Omissions are many (again this is inevitable), but at least it is getting better with each edition. Or so I think. Otherwise I wouldn't have bothered.

A chapter from the first (1995) edition can be read here.

The third edition is presented here.

The publisher presents the third edition of the book here.




Ethnicity and Nationalism: Anthropological Perspectives

As with Small Places, Large Issues, this book has followed me throughout my professional life – I was thirty when I wrote it – to an extent I couldn't possibly anticipate at the time. When Richard A. Wilson, editor of the brand new Anthropology, Culture & Society series at Pluto Press, asked me if I would consider the possibility of writing an introduction to ethnicity, I was surprised and flattered. Naturally, I felt I had to give it a try, and this spontaneous decision would, as it turned out, mark the start not only of many years of collaboration with Anne Beech and Pluto Press, but also the beginning of a long and rewarding friendship with Richard and his family. Not that I knew much about him, or Pluto, when I set to work. Beyond the bare bones of embryonic e-mail, we didn't have Internet at the time, and I couldn't google the enigmatic Dr. Wilson, and so I naturally imagined him to be an elderly don with the natural authority that befits a book series editor (benevolently bearded, pipe-smoking, tweeded etc). It was only when we met in London that I came to realise that he was younger than myself. Blimey.

It was easy, and fun, to write this book back in 1992. I based the scaffolding on my lectures on ethnicity and nationalism at the University of Oslo, adding and subtracting, elaborating and condensing as I went along. The subsequent revisions were harder. The field had grown in all sorts of directions, and I had grown somewhat more ambivalent myself. If anything, the third (2010) edition has the advantage of being more nuanced (and hopefully more mature) than the first (1993) one. It is theoretically updated, but not only academic views of the world, but aspects of the world out there have changed in the last couple of decades. There is, accordingly, increased attention to the growth of politicised religion, for example in India and the Middle East, the increased commercialisation of identity in a neoliberal world, the heightened tensions between quests for purity and hybrid identities and so on. I should nevertheless concede that the cover design has improved immeasurably more than the stuff inside the covers.

The first edition is presented here.

The third edition is presented here.

And the publishers have their say here.


Us and Them in Modern Societies: Ethnicity and Nationalism in Trinidad, Mauritius and Beyond (Scandinavian University Press 1992)

Thanks to the anthropologist Berit Berge, then an energetic and innovative editor with the Scandinavian University Press/Universitetsforlaget, I got the opportunity to publish this book, somehow out of turn. (Soon after, she invited me to write an introductory textbook in social anthropology for Norwegian students – the book that would turn into Small Places, Large Issues in English.) This is not a monograph. It is not even my Ph D dissertation, but a collection of articles, published and unpublished, framed by a newly written introduction (and a generous preface by one of my heroes, Professor Bruce Kapferer). It is about groups, boundaries, pluralism, the straitjacket of ethnicity as well as its existential and material rewards, non-ethnic nations and the difficulties of moulding imagined communities out of diverse human materials. First and foremost, it is about two tropical islands which did not only shape my anthropological interests, but also taught me a number of lessons about life, the universe and everything.

The book is now hard to find outside of well-stocked university libraries, and for that reason, I've made parts of it available in two formats on this site. The first chapter (in html) is here, and a couple of later chapters can be downloaded (in pdf) here.


Languages at the Margins of Modernity (PRIO Report no. 5, 1991)

Too long to be an article, but too short to be a book, this extended essay was published as a PRIO report (the International Peace Research Institute, where I spent a year as a research fellow in 1990–91). Written simultaneously with my Ph D, ‘Languages’ is an attempt to think through the relationship between equal rights and the right to be different in the context of the homogenising pressures of the modern nation-state. As the title implies, the empirical focus was on language, which had been less central to my doctoral work. This is the original abstract:

On the one hand, cultural differences in the contemporary world seem to vanish rapidly. This is effected through homogenising processes of economic and political integration into nation-states and into the global system, as well as the globalisation of culture brought about through modern means of mass communication. On the other hand, the last decades has seen the widespread resurgence of ethnic sentiments and revitalisation of local cultural identities. This apparent paradox is seen as an inherent aspect of modernity.

The processes of integration into nation-states puts strong pressures on minorities to assimilate. For this reason, many minority languages are threatened. The text, defending the rights of minority languages and criticising their nationalist antagonists, compares several linguistic minorities. The comparison focuses on their relationship with the nation-states to which they are subjected, their strategies of resistance, and problems in challenging linguistic hegemony. Perhaps paradoxically, cultural minorities may have to assimilate culturally in important respects in order to present their case effectively and thereby retain their minority identity.

A main conclusion emerging from the comparisons is that states need not be nation-states relying on nationalist ideologies proclaiming the virtues of absolute cultural homogeneity. Although they may be unspectacular, forms of linguistic oppression are forms of oppression no less, and demand the attention of peace and conflict researchers."

Since the report is out of print, it is reproduced in its entirety here.


Communicating Cultural Difference and Identity: Ethnicity and Nationalism in Mauritius (Department of Social Anthropology, Univ. of Oslo: Occasional Papers in Social Anthropology, 1988.)

Originally an MPhil* dissertation in social anthropology, this was my first full-length book, modestly but properly published in the Occasional Papers series at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo. It presents the history of Mauritius – slavery, Indian indentureship, wars between France and Britain, Independence – briefly before moving to the analysis proper. Its focus is the maintenance of ethnic boundaries between the main categories of Creoles (Catholics of largely African descent), Hindus, Muslims, Tamils, Chinese and Franco-Mauritians; as well as discussing the conditions for a multi-ethnic Mauritian nation. I later came to realise that the idea of a multi-ethnic nation is a rather controversial one among theorists of nationalism, many of whom tend to see nations as identical with ethnic groups which control a state. Nevertheless, I argue that the sense of nationhood is sometimes strong in Mauritius and occasionally surpasses ethnic loyalty in importance. In my later work on Mauritius, I moved a step further and looked at interethnic marriages and the emergence of hybrid and post-ethnic identities.

The concluding chapter can be read here. However,
I was recently given to understand that the entire book is available as a PDF file, so here it is!


* Since 2003, the Norwegian academic system has been standardised in accordance with the European ‘Bologna Process’, and we now have two-year MA degrees. In the old days, however, the postgraduate degree in anthropology in theory took three and a half years (in practice often longer), and involved a full year of fieldwork. As a result, a cand. polit. (MPhil) dissertation could easily run for two or three hundred pages.