Engaging with the world

About Thomas Hylland Eriksen's web site



Why this web site?

Site history

About the author

Main index

Thematic index

Alphabetic index


This page, which has not been updated since the early 2000s, traces the early history of this website, from 1996 to around 2001.

This site is devoted to ideas, current politics and social theory, epistemology and theory of science, anthropology and cultural criticism. Its serious character notwithstanding, I cannot guarantee that it is entirely devoid of silly jokes. Waiting for greater bandwidth to become generally available, I am using graphics sparingly on these pages, but if you must, you may click here. (Actually, clicking here may provide more updated directions.)

These pages are being constructed with several aims in mind.

  • You are invited to partake in my work in progress on some of the pages. There, I present some of the loftier aspects of my current work (breadwinning belongs to another basket) and ask you, the unknowns who inhabit cyberspace, for perspectives, ideas, arguments and disagreement. Since protectionism in the realm of ideas is tantamount to murdering the public sphere, I do my best to be explicit and accurate.
  • Further, you are invited to read some of my work. A relational diagramme used to give some directions, but it was abandoned early in 2000. This is what it looked like (the links are no longer working):

At the moment, five indexes are available for the archive section of the site (see below): A thematic index, an alphabetical index , and my untidy desktop. The world map has been abandoned for the time being, the recent additions index has been superseded by a news section on the home page; and the remaining three are updated with irregular intervals. Hyperlinks and new material are added whenever I have the opportunity.

Non-Scandinavian readers are hereby warned that a number of links lead to Norwegian-language destinations.




Why this Web site?

Many personal Web sites straddle the narrow boundary between the frivolous and the impertinent. This is understandable since the Web is an extension in McLuhan's sense of the term: a supplement and enhancer of the body, including thought and sentiment. It therefore seems appropriate that I should provide some information about myself. I am a social anthropologist employed at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo, Norway. My professional work has largely focused on identity politics and globalisation, particularly ethnicity and nationalism; and I have carried out fieldwork in Mauritius and Trinidad. However, I have also written introductory texts for various audiences in English and Norwegian, as well as essays and articles on a variety of topics, academic and non-academic. In 2001 and 2002, I am associated with the Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture (TIK) at the University of Oslo, working in an interdisciplinary environment on issues of technology and society. From 1993 to 2001, I was editor of a general cultural journal covering politics, literature and culture both in the narrow and the wide sense, called Samtiden ("Our Times"), published by H. Aschehoug & Co. I also edit, with Dr Jon Mitchell and Dr Katy Gardner of Sussex University, a book series called Anthropology, Culture and Society, published by Pluto Press (and started in the early 1990s by Dr Richard Wilson). I should also add, for the record, that I am committed to a radical humanism which sees one of its main challenges as coming to terms with relativism without losing enlightenment values on the way and thereby regressing to nihilism and aestheticism as an alternative to politics.

Why am I constructing this Web site?

The answer is obvious: Communication.

As is well known, the world is flooded with information already, and perhaps there is enough for everyone. Being in the situation of having something to communicate, and knowing that millions of others are in a comparable situation, it can be comforting to know that a great deal of interesting, relevant and even fascinating things are happening at this very moment -- and that only a tiny minority of us will ever know of them. These pages are, in other words, not set up with an imperialistic vision in mind. Ignoring them is entirely legitimate, and nobody will be any less happy for it. Not much less happy anyway.


Site history

This site, "Engaging with the world", has been online since 11 March 1996. It is physically located on the server MacSV, University of Oslo. The initial structure of the site, later to be abandoned, divided it into four main categories: Books, Articles, Projects and Sites. The two latter have survived more or less unchanged; the "Sites" page is my list of links which I think more people should be aware of, while the "Projects" page has been incorporated into the "21st Century" section.

In the summer of 1996, I finally solved a minor problem regarding image maps (until then, I didn't realise that the difference between UNIX and Mac line breaks made a difference), and made the World map operative, which it no longer is. Later in the same summer (or was it already autumn?), I added another image map to the site, called "Desktop accessories for the Power Macintosh". It is still there, but it now functions as a directory of recent additions to the site.

In the autumn of 1996, I added a bi-monthly column, "Topic of the month", which consisted in comments on current affairs. After the reorganisation of the site, this service has been assimilated into the rejuvenated structure.

In winter 1996-7, I felt that a change in layout was required, and because of recent developments in HTML and browser updates, I experimented for a while with frames and applets, before abandoning them, realising that such fanciness does not necessarily improve functionality (frames have been retained in one place only). Instead, I opted for a simple table layout as evident on this page (generally with more user-friendly colours than here).

In the spring of 1997, I realised that the general structure of the site was inadequate as it scarcely exploited the possibilities of hypertext technology, but instead resembled a heap of publications. I then began working on a re-structuring of the entire site. The individual pieces are still intact and linear, but their mutual relationship is now more flexible and more true to the ideas that inspired this web site in the first place. Further developments are still to come. Everything is in beta.

Eriksen's very occasional web diary contains further musings on web publishing and its effects on thought and knowledge.

The site is a Microsoft-free zone, but as a compensation, smoking is allowed.


Oslo, March 1996/May 1997/September 1998


Changes 2000–01

This site was partly closed down around the transition to 2000, not because of fears for the Millennium Bug, but because I needed some respite to reconsider the form and purpose of web publishing. On the one hand, the site had obviously been useful to a number of people, many of who were seeking particular forms of knowledge that were on offer there. On the other hand, the site did not do well in exploiting the possibilities of hypertext and the dynamic nature of Web materials: the uploaded texts were largely written for paper media, they were static and poorly linked. After a lifespan of nearly four years in cyberspace, the site sorely needed restructuring so that it would not just contribute to the proliferation of content (which I still see as a major priority), but also contribute to the development of web-specific narrative strategies. In other words:

The site is now divided into two discrete spheres: Archive and Network.

  • Archive is structured on the basis of the old site, but it is now exclusively devoted to publishing selections of my own work in English and Norwegian, most of which has already been printed. It will continue to be updated, and as before, new hyperlinks will be added irregularly.
  • Network amounts to the presentation of a variety of strategies for utilizing electronic hypertext in this intermediate medium, which can be located between the conversation and the printed text; between private communication and mass media -- between, in a certain sense, the oral and the written. I envision it as a seminar room, or perhaps a salon, occupied by a handful of persons at any time, where communication is less one-sided and frozen than in a printed medium, but more structured than the river of everyday chatter. Its success depends on the nature of the flows it generates. You will hopefully contribute.
  • Obviously, a third sphere will eventually emerge.

Oslo, February 2000

There has been no development of the Network section in the past year. What will happen in the near future is not for me to tell, and it is still accessible. In early autumn 2001, I re-designed the home page to make it easier to update and more user-friendly.


The site is perpetually under construction. Everything is process. Life is in beta.