Finn Sivert Nielsen Anthropologist
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A public intellectual?

We talk about "public intellectuals" and think of people like Habermas and Foucault, or maybe Darwin or Marx for an earlier generation. Modern exemplars might be my good colleague Thomas Hylland-Eriksen, or the iconoclast Slavoj Žižek. I have often asked myself if I, in my days as a full-time academic, belonged to this category. I have been committed to certain social – you may call them political – issues, but I have not figured on TV or started an influential blog. Even newspaper articles have been few and far between. The high point was undoubtedly reached some time in the mid-1970, when Aftenposten accepted a rather substantial article of mine – on bicycle paths in Oslo.

And still, a public intellectual is what I've been. I have, first of all, seen it as my task to communicate certain academic and ethical core values to my students (a fairly large public). Not in the sense that I have tried to indoctrinate them with a specific agenda, but it is impossible to make good choices without good core values, and without good choices it is impossible to learn anything at all. I have also, at times to an unusual extent, formed good and productive academic partnerships with students. We have created study groups and intensive seminars and accredited courses together, in Copenhagen we created an international network. An international conference that suddenly loses 25 percent of its budget days before it is to be held? No problemo, the foreigners simply moved in with us – i.e. myself and the students – wherever there was a free bed, couch or mattress. We had the world's best conference!

My experience, from three Nordic departments of anthropology, has been that students have had the energy and drive and ability to think differently that have made it worth-while being an academic and possible for me as an academic to make a difference. At times I have written fiery essays in defence of this point of view. For example, once in Oslo, and once in Copenhagen. I particularly want to thank my now deceased friend and colleague Knut Odner (Oslo) for having taught me and so many others the importance good academic communities, and that good academic communities are based on generocity.

Russia and East / Central Europe

I have initiated and managed a number of network projects ever since early in the 1980's, most of them thematically linked to the Soviet Union, Russia and the countries of East / Central Europe. Early in the 1980's I was one of the founders of the interdisciplinary, Oslo-based network Forum for Sovjet- og Østeuropastudier and of the association's popular journal, Forum Øst (later Nordisk Øst-Forum). I also played a role in the startup of the Eastern Europe regional study program at the University of Oslo. Later, I coordinated a number of study groups for students and teachers working in this region, at the departments of anthropology in Oslo, Tromsø and Copenhagen, as well as a series of successful Nordic Conferences on the Anthropology of Postsocialism (the Second Nordic Conference was held in Copenhagen on the initiative of Steven Sampson, who has been a driving force behind several similar initiatives). In Copenhagen, I was the main initiator of NECEN, the Nordic and East / Central European Network for Qualitative Social Research, in which both academic institutions, individual researchers and graduate students were members. NECEN carried out several large projects (e.g. on Nordic-Baltic teaching cooperation) and did much to stimulate cooperation between researchers in the two regions. All of these initiatives were student-driven, in the sense that their success was completely dependent on the committed efforts of young and enthusiastic students. My cooperation with Mimi Larsson, our over-qualified and under-payed secretary for some years, ranks among the most rewarding professional collaborations of my life.

Web pages

After I concluded my career as a full-time academic and gradually made the transition to a freelancer's life, my homepages have become my primary channel for speaking to the world. One of my sites,, is a multilingual database of non-copyrighted anthropological texts. Typical formats are articles, dissertations, reports, conference pagers. Click here to read about how to submit a text to AnthroBase. Click here, to read more about AnthroBase. AnthroBase is a fairly popular site and makes a broad selection of good anthropological texts accessible for the general public. The web page also has a small dictionary of anthropological terms, theories and schools, and brief articles on a number of influential anthropologists.

In addition to AnthroBase, I maintain the present webiste,, which has not been very active the last few years, but has now been reformatted and reorganized in far more accessible way. Today, is a platform which on the one hand will market some of my freelance services, on the other will give a broad overview of the many very different projects I have worked on. The text-mass contained in the site (at present around 750 pages) will also be substantially increased. Click here to read more about this website.

Me in the media?

I have actually made attempts to write for the newspapers. But before I finished my piece, it was already too late to publish it. But of course the texts still exist. This is my favorite. Unfortunately.