Optimal Distortion: Ethnographic Explorations of Paradoxical Connections

Projekter: ProjektForskning

  • Nielsen, Morten (Projektleder)
  • Pedersen, Morten Axel (Projektleder)
  • Rapport, Nigel (Deltager)
  • Vigh, Henrik (Deltager)
  • Vohnsen, Nina Holm (Deltager)
  • Pedersen, Sandra Lori (Deltager)
  • Pedersen, Lise Røskjær (Deltager)
  • Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen
  • Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews
Se relationer på Aarhus Universitet


One of the biggest challenges for social theory today is the disjunctive relationship between causes and their effects, including the unresolved question of the unintended consequences of human actions. While anthropologists and sociologists have come a long way in terms of understanding the nature of agency as a dynamic compromise between individual intentions and social and cultural constraints, little progress has happened when it comes to understanding what happens in slipstream of acts, that is, what the effects of agency are.
The aim of this DFF Sapere Aude research program is to investigate what is going on inside this black box between causes and their effects in human lives, and hence also to conceptualize and theorize in a new way the disjunctive relationship between intentions and their unintended consequences. In fact, and this is our guiding hypothesis, many actions turn out to be successful because their consequences are decoupled from what motivated them in particular ways and degrees. While such “optimal distortions” may seem random, they are, we claim, amenable to empirical investigation via ethnographic fieldwork and anthropological comparison. The program is accordingly designed as a cross-case study of seven different ethnographic fields, which each offer unique gateways into creative processes in which outcomes emerge as the paradoxical effect of an optimal distortion of what motivated them.
Effektiv start/slut dato01/01/201231/12/2014


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