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Through Different Eyes

A Diversity Project

Morten Nielsen

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Mimesis of the State

From Natural Disaster to Urban Citizenship on the Outskirts of Maputo, Mozambique

Morten Nielsen

This article explores the generative effects of the flooding that hit Mozambique in 2000. Flood victims from the country's capital, Maputo, were resettled in Mulwene on the outskirts of the city. Although initially envisaged as a 'model neighborhood' based on a set of 'fixed urban norms', it soon became apparent that the Mozambican state was incapable of realizing the project. These failures notwithstanding, residents occupying land informally in the neighborhood have parceled out plots and built houses by imitating those norms. Based on a Deleuzian reading of 'situational analysis', introduced by the Manchester School, the article argues that the flooding constituted a generative moment that gave rise to new and potentially accessible futures in which hitherto illegal squatters were reconfigured as legitimate citizens.

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Contrapuntal cosmopolitanism

Distantiation as social relatedness among house‐builders in Maputo, Mozambique

Morten Nielsen

This article explores forms of social relatedness among peri‐urban residents in Maputo, Mozambique, which have as their premise that social interaction occurs in a world that is both unknown and potentially dangerous. As I show, reciprocal encounters are therefore based on creating distance rather than approximation. Although people acknowledge the crucial importance of social others, it is important to maintain appropriate distances in order to avoid awakening unwanted desires. I consequently introduce the notion of contrapuntal cosmopolitanism to designate the production of viable (reciprocal) distances in unfamiliar milieux peopled by important but also capricious others.

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Morten Nielsen

This article explores how urban temporalities in Maputo, Mozambique's capital, erupt from collapsed futures, which endure within the present as traces of that which will no longer be. The argument is built on an ethnographic analysis of (‘trying to make a life’), a temporal trope, which pre‐figures the future as a failure on a linear scale. Still, although it is identified by its collapse, the future wedges itself within the present as a trace of that which will never be. While manifesting the efforts needed in order to reach a desired objective, it also exposes the powers at work that inhibit its eventual realisation.

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Trans-temporal Hinges

Reflections on an Ethnographic Study of Chinese Infrastructural Projects in Mozambique and Mongolia

Morten Axel Pedersen and Morten Nielsen

Based on two case studies of Chinese infrastructural interventions in Mozambique and in Mongolia, this article introduces the notion of 'trans-temporal hinge' as a heuristic methodological concept that brings together phenomena and events otherwise distributed across time. The authors explore envelopes used when paying Mozambican workers at a construction site in Maputo and roads dividing Chinese oil workers and local nomads in southern and eastern Mongolia as concrete manifestations of trans-temporal hinges. In exploring the temporal properties of these phenomena, we define the trans-temporal hinge as a gathering point in which different temporalities are momentarily assembled. As an analytical scale derived from a specific ethnographic context, we argue that the trans-temporal hinge provides a novel and, quite literally, timely conceptual invention compared with other recent methods of anthropological knowledge production, such as multi-sited fieldwork.

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Monumental Misunderstandings

The Material Entextualization of Mutual Incomprehension in Sino-Mozambican Relations

Morten Nielsen and Mikkel Bunkenborg

Abstract

A statue of stainless steel cast in China and placed at the entrance of the new National Stadium in Mozambique sparked controversy between Chinese donors and Mozambican recipients in the period leading up to the stadium's 2011 inauguration. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among the Mozambican and Chinese nationals involved in the project, we explore the multiple misunderstandings surrounding the statue and show how they came to define Sino-Mozambican relations. Entextualized through materiality, the misunderstandings assumed a monumental form in the statue, and the message of mutual incomprehension continued to reverberate across the social terrain of Sino-Mozambican relations long after the statue itself had been removed. Misunderstandings, we argue, should not be dismissed as ephemeral communicative glitches, but seen as productive events that structure social relations.

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Introduction

Time and the Field

Steffen Dalsgaard and Morten Nielsen

Prompted by the postmodern turn in anthropology, ethnographic fieldwork has been subjected to considerable analytical scrutiny. Yet despite numerous conceptual facelifts, definitions and demarcations of 'the field' have remained fundamentally anchored in tropes of spatiality with the association between field and fieldworker characterized as being maintained by distances in space. By exploring and unfolding the temporal properties of the field, anthropology can favorably complement and extend the (spatially anchored) notion of multi-sited fieldwork with one of multi-temporal ethnography. This approach implies not only a particular attention to the methodology of studying local (social and ontological) imaginaries of time; it furthermore unpacks the (multi-)temporality of the relationship between fieldworker and the field. This special issue may thus be taken as a fresh invitation to a temporally oriented ethnography.

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Xavier Landes, Martin Marchman, and Morten Nielsen

The social benefits expected from academia are generally identified as belonging to three broad categories: research, education and contribution to society in general. However, evaluating the present situation of academia according to these criteria reveals a somewhat disturbing phenomenon: an increased pressure to produce articles (in peer-reviewed journals) has created an unbalanced emphasis on the research criterion at the expense of the latter two. More fatally, this pressure has turned academia into a rat race, leading to a deep change in the fundamental structure of academic behaviour, and entailing a self-defeating and hence counter-productive pattern, where more publications is always better and where it becomes increasingly difficult for researchers to keep up with the new research in their field. The article identifies the pressure to publish as a problem of collective action. It ends up by raising questions about how to break this vicious circle and restore a better balance between all three of the social benefits of academia.