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Bruce Kapferer



The ERC-funded Egalitarianism Project hosted by the University of Bergen aims at a multi-dimensional critical approach to the issue of Egalitarianism. The concept of Egalitarianism is extraordinarily broad, as is the no less nebulous ideal of equality, having virtually ontological value in modern Euro-American thought, increasingly so globally.

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The question of wealth (project description)!

Theodoros Rakopoulos and Knut Rio For Marx a critical aspect of modernity and capitalism originated when forms of immovable and Read more …

Ideas on Populism; The paradox of democracy and the rise of the corporate state

Bruce Kapferer

This article was first published as a text feature in the Australian Arena Magazine, issue 145, February 2017.

  • All forms of the state have democracy for their truth, and for that reason are false to the extent that they are not democracy.- Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

– Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

  • The power of the people is always greater than that of the people in power.

– Wael Ghonim, a Google executive at the time of Egypt’s popular uprising against President Mubarak

When Hillary Clinton attempted to counter Trump and his supporters’ populist attacks by explicitly branding them a ‘basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it’ she was hoist on her own petard. The chant ‘Lock Her Up’ drew its enormous potency from her alleged corruption and from her being a figurehead of the ruling Washington elites who have leached the American state’s democratic egalitarian idealism. Calling Trump and his followers racist and sexist was waving a red rag to a bull. She played on a negative view of populism, an immanent anti-democratic elitism, which elicited outrage, making a mockery of her own populist appeal. The occasionally rank dominant-class prejudice that accompanies anti-populist sentiments (inclusive of those that assume it is a working-class phenomenon, when it is frequently cross class) was egregiously apparent in a CNN pundit’s observation that Trump ‘was throwing red meat to the base’ in his highly controversial travel bans.

Populism has a bad press. It’s a synonym for extremism, racism and exclusionary prejudice of all kinds; the very antithesis of democracy and the orientation of state systems to egalitarian social and political ideals. There is no doubt that this is one of the possibilities of populism, as the rise of rightist extremism throughout much of the Western hemisphere demonstrates today. But populism, even of such a negative kind is born of an orientation to democratic value, even if this is of the Orwellian Animal Farm contradictory kind, where some have more value or rights than others. Populism is not by definition undemocratic, even though it may produce those effects. The current reaction to Trump is no less the force of populism.

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The guerrilleros of the state: Pacification, violence, policing, and predatory forms of accumulation

About: Thomas Salem has just finalised his master thesis in social anthropology at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, named “Taming the war machine: Police, pacification and power in Rio de Janeiro” . In that regards he received additional funding from the Egalitarianism project to help out on his fieldwork . The following text is based on his thesis which received a price for best master-thesis from the Norwegian Association for Development Research .


Picture 1: The main base of UPP Alemão strategically perched on a hilltop above the favelas

Tomas Salem

After decades of soaring violence, partly as the result of a public security paradigm articulated through the rhetoric of war on drugs, and of aggressive and militarized policing, the first Pacifying Police Units (Unidades da Policia Pacificadora, UPPs) were established in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 2009. The UPPs or Pacification Project, as it is also known, allegedly sought to bring peace and security to the city, and to the impoverished residents of the favelas [informal settlements]. Arguably, the pacification strategy represents the largest shift in the local government’s policy towards the favelas since Brazil’s return to democracy in the mid 80’s. Between January and July 2015 I followed police officers at three different UPPs, as part of the ethnographic fieldwork for my MA thesis in Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen. My objective was to analyze the changes in the exercise of state power towards favela residents through the pacification. Specifically, I focused on how patrol officers at the UPPs enacted a particular state order in the favelas, and at the institutional attempts at producing a new police subjectivity through a taming or pacification of what I describe as the wild masculinity of patrol officers. In my thesis, I tied the process of pacification of the favelas, and of the police, to larger political and economic dynamics on a national and global scale. This text is a brief summary of my main findings and conclusion.[1]



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Publications Egalitarianism Group, 2014-2019

Publications related to the project ERC Advanced Grant “Egalitarianism: Forms, Processes, Comparisons”. 2014-2019. The Egalitarianism group have been rather active Read more …

Not Utopia Yet: Income-Sharing Egalitarian Intentional Communities in North America


Mari Hanssen Korsbrekke

How is egalitarianism negotiated in self-proclaimed egalitarian intentional communities?

This project is an exploration of inner dynamics of intentional communities in the US, and the history and meaning of utopian egalitarian social experimentation in relation to historical contexts in modern times. Intentional communities are groups of people coming together in most often residential spaces to achieve a high degree of social and communal cohesion. Through the tensions between the individual and the communal I explore the micro-negotiations of egalitarian communards and their understanding of egalitarian and in-egalitarian dialectics.

Community visions poster.


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Post-polis: The (in)egalitarian dynamics of emerging urban orders (project description)




Bjørn Bertelsen

What does the notion of the urban mean when the city is replaced by megapolises lacking physical centres and clear-cut boundaries? What egalitarian and inegalitarian possibilities and dynamics do such globally emergent urban configurations hold? Many of the new structures, and in particular in what is commonly referred to as the global South, experience the disintegration of a centrally governed city with a polis that was often colonially imposed. Simultaneously and in both the global North and South many urban areas experience an increased use of automated and digital systems of governance that emerge in tandem with urban zones that reflect corporate forms of experimentation, privatization and, thus, fragmentation.

This project aims to compare mainly two large-scale urban contexts in what is commonly labelled the global South and North, namely, Maputo and San Francisco. Such juxtaposition addresses the questions raised by critically investigating ongoing and future urban configurations in terms of how these constrain, structure or open up egalitarian possibilities. This will include analysing the socio-political impact of various forms of technology (such as implementation of the Internet of Things, infrastructural arrangements and digital surveillance and tracking possibilities), novel forms of ordering urban space (such as privatized cities, gated communities, security arrangements), emergent forms of politics (such as autonomous or occupied areas, urban citizen-run zones or riots) and questions relating to the urban comprising depositories of wealth.

Picture 1: Bairro Polana Caniço, Maputo, January 2016.
Eradication of housings of the poor as part of rapid gentrification. New gated community condominiums about to be constructed in the background. Photo: Bjørn Enge Bertelsen.


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Violent Becomings in Mozambique

Rolf Scott How does the state of Mozambique configure it self in relationship to the people defined within its borders? Read more …

Refugees and Human Rights, a Project Description!

Marina Gold

My research project has been looking at the refugee crisis from two distinct perspectives:

1) the relationship between human rights discourse (as an egalitarian ideal) and the refugee crisis

2) the managing structures of refugees

Initial fieldwork has been carried out in Switzerland, given the high numbers of international NGOs that articulate human rights discourse, and the increasing numbers of refugees arriving from Italy and Austria. Switzerland has received 479 asylum applications per 100,000 inhabitants, which is above the European average of 260 applications per 100,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, 24.6% of Switzerland’s population is composed of foreigners. The other particularity of Switzerland is its highly democratic system of government, where people are involved in direct decisions affecting the country’s national and international policies. This was the case with one of the last referendums which voted to establish a quota on European citizens working in Switzerland, which has placed enormous stress on the Swiss government’s negotiations with the EU.



Dr Marina Gold

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Fracking and the Price of Democracy

Anna Szolucha

How much will fracking cost the people of Britain? The promises of jobs and economic wealth seem increasingly illusory in the face of the real costs already paid by local councils and residents.

All developments involve change and all bring benefits as well as costs which are not evenly distributed. The prospect of financial gain for the companies exploring for shale gas, the promise of new jobs and local prosperity come at a price.

The imbalance in benefits and burdens that are involved in all shale gas developments has already been experienced by local residents in Lancashire even though fracking has not really started yet. They report few benefits but a whole range of adverse health and social impacts such as increased stress, community conflict and an atmosphere of distrust and surveillance that are an effect of the prospect of fracking in the area.


However, the costs of fracking for the local communities are not merely figurative but also quite literally – monetary. The costs that local councils and communities have to incur in order to be able to participate effectively in the planning process raise questions about the price they have to pay just to have a say about fracking; the price they have to pay for democracy.

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Revolution Through Practice and Fluid Relations

Rolf Scott, Marina Gold of the Egalitarianism research group, has recently published a new book at Palgrave Macmillan US, named Read more …