“Optimal Distortion: Comparative Ethnographies of Paradoxical Connections” (2012-2014) is a research programme funded by a Sapere Aude Grant from the Danish Council for Culture and Communication of which I am principal investigator.

It is hosted at my department in collaboration with Aarhus University (Morten Nielsen, co-PI) and the University of St. Andrews (Nigel Rapport). The program has seven participants from these three institutions, all anthropologists at different career stages working in different parts of the world.

The program aims to anthropologically investigate what is going on inside the black box between social causes and their effects, and to theorize in a new way the disjunctive relationship between human intentions and their unintended consequences.

Accordingly, the program is designed as a comparative ethnographic study of seven case studies with a view to identifying seemingly paradoxical social and cultural processes through which successful outcomes emerge as a result of an “optimal distortion” of what motivated them.

Our guiding hypothesis is that many certain social processes turn out to be successful because their consequences are decoupled from what motivated them in certain ways. While such “optimal distortions” may seem random, they are, we stipulate, amenable to empirical investigation via ethnographic fieldwork and cross-case anthropological comparison.

To find out more, please read about the project here.


Date: July 17, 2012