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OVERHEATING Report Summary

Project ID: 295843
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Norway

Final Report Summary - OVERHEATING (The three crises of globalisation: An anthropological history of the early 21st century)

‘Overheating’ investigated local responses to accelerated change in a number of interrelated domains, including, notably, the economy, climate and the environment, and the dynamics of identity and culture. A main premise, documented in the monograph Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change, consisted in the realisation that change had accelerated after the end of the Cold War, which coincided with the rapid spread of cellphones and Internet. While the concept of crisis loomed large in the early phase of the project, it soon became evident that rapid change is not always perceived as something negative, but rather as offering new opportunities for improving society and well-being. Yet, the volatility of financial markets, the contradiction between the fossil fuel economy and the need for ecological sustainability, pollution and looming resource shortages, and politically aggressive responses to globalisation and cosmopolitanism were factors that influenced the communities we studied, in different but often comparable ways.

The main empirical fields studied were: Coal, gas and sustainability in Australia (PI), tar sands and indigenous issues in Canada (PhD 1), mining controversies in Sierra Leone (PhD 2), food regimes in Sri Lanka (postdoc 1), water management in Peru (postdoc 2), economic change, labour and globalisation in the Philippines (postdoc 3) and right-wing populism in Europe (postdoc 4). Altogether 15 MA students carried out smaller research projects on issues ranging from energy use in Nepal to ecological agriculture in Corsica. Owing to extra funding, the project expanded beyond the initial plan.

Although each sub-project is self-containing and unique, there are several commonalities enabling some general conclusions.
• Reflexive modernity, that is a modernity that enables reflection on its own premises, could be found everywhere. People compare their own societies and lives to those elsewhere in the world, and no unilinear notion of progress is all-pervasive.
• There is uncertainty and doubt regarding hegemonic knowledge regimes, and previously authoritative knowledge is being contested, e.g. about the environmental impact of mining, the causes of water shortage, the ultimate motives of the media and government.
• The upscaling of activities is pervasive. Companies amalgamate, NGOs become global, and causes of local matters are increasingly sought at higher levels of scale.
• This leads, in turn, to local responses ranging from withdrawal into ethnopolitics to nativism and right-wing populism. In general, the disdain and distrust of established elites is becoming an endemic aspect of contemporary modernity, caused by accelerated change in a neoliberal economy nourished by new information technologies. Introducing the concept of clashing scales, Overheating has sought to call attention to the growing gap between local communities and decision-making processes.
• At a higher analytical level (moving beyond the local worlds of experience and judgements), the contradiction between fossil fuel growth and the quest for sustainability constitutes a double-bind in the contemporary world, obliterating previous concepts of progress and development.
• The lack of a thermostat regulating the speed of change makes for a volatile and potentially dangerous global situation: The overheating (accelerated change) is allowed to continue in the absence of an instance that might put on the brakes. Resistance and alternatives must be developed simultaneously from above (e.g. through international treaties) and from below (with a basis in local communities).

Through numerous publications, conferences and public interventions, Overheating has addressed these issues. Unlike much of what is published on globalisation by academics, this project is unique in combining the macro with the micro, emphasising that the one cannot be understood without reference to the other, and that it is necessary to distinguish clearly between scalar levels in order to fully understand the global situation: What is good for the world is not necessarily good for Australia; what is good for Australia does not necessarily benefit Queensland; what benefits Queensland could be disruptive and negative in Gladstone, and whatever Gladstone profits from does not work well for all its inhabitants. Our publications include a book series with Pluto Press, which will include seven titles by the end of 2019, as well as a monograph with a different publisher, an edited book, An Overheated World, with Routledge, the free e-book Knowledge and Power in an Overhated World, and numerous journal articles and special issues. Although the project was officially finished in July 2017, marked by an ambitious closing event, the logic of this kind of research project entails that many of the publications are completed after the end. As a result, Overheating work continues throughout 2018 and into 2019.

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