Porträtt Gudrun Dahl
Telephone: +46 (0)768 60 75 89
E-mail: gudrun.dahl@socant.su.se


Moral arguments in environmental work
This project, which is still in the initiating stage, looks at how moral arguments, relating to different human concerns, animals, ”nature”, particular natural phenomena or the ecosystem as a whole, are mobilized in negotiations or conflicts over environmental work.

Such arguments are often emotionally loaded by their connection to identity-making or at the individual or collective level. These are arguments that proscribe or prescribe, praise or condemn lines of action, but also contribute to present what kind of people we are and who we do want to be seen as. Such questions are at issue whether “we” are individuals reflecting on ourselves, voluntary organizations seeking members or financial support, companies seeking permission to carry out operations necessary to their work or to brand themselves to customers, or authorities seeking legitimation.

Human-oriented moralities point to how particular human objects of care are socially constructed (e.g.“aboriginal people”, “local population”, “the humanity”). They often activate notions of agency, intentionality, causality and responsibility. Environmental arguments relate to implicit or explicit conceptions of the environment´s inherent, aesthetic or instrumental values, and to models of interconnectedness, imbalance and transformation. They may also refer to competing popular or scientific models of causality and change.

The project aims to connect a number of empirical subprojects and different situations where moral concerns are mobilized in struggles over influence. It will analyze the arguments and how they relate to different structures of power and interest, and look at how they become translated into joint programs or stand in conflict and competition with each other.

The approach to morality and normativity in this project will itself be that of the external and (methodologically) relativist observer. It will try both to identify the moral conflicts that environmental work implies, and to contribute to anthropological theories of the social nature of moral concerns, a growing field of studies within the discipline.

The project looks for partners of cooperation, who are welcome to contribute ½-1 page of sub-project description.

The social life and cultural biography of words: the international diffusion of development idioms

The project (jointly undertaken with Ph. D. Ronald Stade, IMER, Malmö University) is a study of the international diffusion, semantic differentiation, and social context of key concepts in the field of international aid and development work. Key concepts have strong cognitive and normative effects in the formulation and execution of aid and development policies. I look at a selection of significant keywords in the development discourse, some of which are chosen post hoc and some of which are selected on the basis of their actuality. By studying the diffusion of key concepts in time and space, I want to cast light on the networks of influence in the world of international assistance, and to contribute to the understanding of the role of conceptual and rhetorical trends in policymaking. As many of the words in question have turned out to relate to international discourses of business management and social policy (in the present historical context mainly of a neoliberal type) the genre-transcendent nature of such keywords is also actualized. Funding for this project has been generously provided by SIDA.

Selected publications



  • Reflexions in and on the Hall of Mirrors. In: Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Christina Garsten and Shalini Randeria (eds). Anthropology Now and Next. Essays in Honor of Ulf Hannerz. Oxford: Berghahn, pp 162-180.


  • Modernities on the Move (with Örjan Bartholdson, Paolo Favero, Shahram Khosravi). Stockholm: Stockholm studies in social anthropology, N.S., 6







  • "On Consuming and Being Consumed" in Richard Fardon, Wim van Binsbergen and Rijk van Dijk (eds) 1999 Modernity on a Shoestring: Dimensions of Globalization, Consumption and Development in Africa and Beyond, EIDOS (European Inter-University Development Opportunities Study Group) Leiden & London : EIDOS in association with the African Studies ISBN (Dutch) 90 5448 .037 8.



  • "Sources of Life and Identity". In PTW Baxter, J. Hultin and A. Triulzi (eds.) "Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquiries". Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.



  • "The Spiral of the Ram´s Horn: Boran Concepts of Development" (5404 Kb) (with Gemetchu Megerssa). In G. Dahl and A. Rabo (eds.) Kam-Ap or Take-Off: Local Notions of Development. Stockholm: Stockholm Studies in Social Anthropology  29. The article is reproduced as p. 51-62 in M. Rahnema and V. Bawtree (eds.) 1997, The PostDevelopment Reader. Zed Books, London and New Jersey.





  • "Det nyttiga barnet". In Karin Aronsson, Marianne Cederblad, Gudrun Dahl, Lars Olsson, Bengt Sandin (eds) Barn i tid och rum. Malmö: Liber.
  • "Idéer om barndom och barnets natur". In Karin Aronsson, Marianne Cederblad, Gudrun Dahl, Lars Olsson, Bengt Sandin (eds) Barn i tid och rum. Malmö: Liber.
  • "Kultur, kunskap och vetande" (with Karin Aronsson). In Karin Aronsson, Marianne Cederblad, Gudrun Dahl, Lars Olsson, Bengt Sandin (eds) Barn i tid och rum. Malmö: Liber.