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Egalitarianism Report Summary

Project ID: 340673
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Norway

Periodic Report Summary 2 - EGALITARIANISM (Egalitarianism: Forms, Processes, Comparisons)

Egalitarianism was the Project’s key orienting concept as this was conceived in European and North American Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment thought. Our conceptual usage (after the French Revolutionary slogan) condensed also the notions of liberty and freedom. Thus, we were concerned with not only issues of social and economic equality but with libertarian movements and forces of social and political restructuring which, for example, free human beings from social and political constraint and open them to realize human potential hitherto restrained or prevented. The project , therefore, was and is concerned with far more than equality but, effectively with processes of social and political change and transformation so much the concern of a great diversity of political and social ideologies that began to achieve their modern, and, indeed, contemporary form from the Enlightenment on. This approach has facilitated our global comparative aims which has attempted (and is succeeding) in breaking away from the historically and culturally limited largely Eurocentric notions of equality and egalitarianism.
The anthropological position we have adopted aims at general, if not universal, descriptive and theoretical understanding which is alive to socio-historical contextual variation in systems of ideas and practice and that these may refuse the conceptual frameworks of European-centred philosophical and social science concepts. Furthermore, again in line with its anthropological spirit, the project has been concerned with how field information of an observational and documentary kind, including an intensive reinterpretation of extant ethnographic materials, may enable a fruitful critique of existing perspectives and perhaps new directions across the disciplines (realizing, of course that many, if not all, and including anthropology, have developed within Enlightenment assumptions and thought).

1) Methodologically, an outcome of the project is a criticism of the dualism integral to concepts of a Euro-centred orientation to egalitarianism. This tends to oppose equality to hierarchy without sufficiently recognizing their mutual intimacy. The logics operating in egalitarian ideologies often produce hierarchies of the kind associated with social exclusion and racism. This has been demonstrated empirically in our analysis of particular events, e.g. Charlie Hebdo, the refugee crisis in Europe, political extremism of terrorism and movements of liberation and, more, recently populist events such as those surrounding, Syriza, Podemos, Brexit and the Trump Presidency.

2) The project has as a developing outcome the demonstration of the limitation of what we would call economic reductionist approaches to equality and the individualist value attached to such perspectives that under-attend to systemic dynamics and the logics of structural processes. Major results along these lines are being realized in empirical projects on Wealth and forms of capital accumulation, promising reconsiderations of dominant orientations to such phenomena as globalization, concepts of risk etc. Research has been focusing on the cosmologies of wealth in different parts of the world and the various socio-cultural forces (in which the economic and wealth production are embedded) underlying what may be generally conceived as forms of capital accumulation, display and distribution.

3) A concept that is being developed relates to that of the corporate state as a political economic transformation out of the globally dominant form of the nation-state. This has resulted in the development of what may be termed a global egalitarian crisis (increased poverty, populism, new patterns of warfare).

4) At the level of research methodology directed to theory and understanding through comparison the project researchers continue to develop the concepts of event and network as well as attempting some resolution of universalist/relativist arguments in anthropology.

The research progamme is now entering an intensive phase of the writing up of empirical research results in which major outcomes will be more clearly developed. A strong comparative structure of the research more centered outside Europe and America than hitherto is at the point of being developed with a particular focus on east and South East Asia.

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