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Ton Otto


Current position: Professor, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, Denmark.

During his Jens Christian Skou Fellowship, Professor Ton Otto worked on the project 'Navigating the present. An anthropological study of human agency and temporality'.

Project at AIAS

This project focuses on the relationship between human agency and culturally variable forms of temporality. Following George H. Mead (1932), the project takes the present as the true locus of reality, where agency is executed. The specific question is then: what kind of temporal orientations do humans use, when taking action in the present? The innovative character of this project is to see the present as also consisting of imaginations of futures and constructions of pasts that link to these futures. These ideational constructs, that define and motivate human agency, are forever changing as a result of how humans, often creatively, adjust to changing environments and possibilities. The project will use detailed analyses of a rich body of ethnographic and historical material from Baluan Island covering more than 100 years, to develop an analytical framework through a grounded theory approach. The general usefulness of the analytical concepts will be tested and honed through collaborative comparative studies. The relevance of the findings extends beyond anthropology and relates to disciplines such as history, religious studies, material culture studies, linguistics, psychology, philosophy, and design studies.

Short bio

Ton Otto is a  professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University and at James Cook University, Australia. Based on long-term ethnographic field research in Papua New Guinea, he has published widely on issues of social and cultural change. His interests comprise the epistemology and methodology of ethnographic research, including visual and museum anthropology, and its relationship to innovation and design. His recent productions include co-edited volumes on design anthropology, value, and visual anthropology as well as two exhibitions. 

Project title:

Navigating the present. An anthropological study of human agency and temporality

Area of research:

Cultural and social change 

Fellowship period:

01 Oct 2019 - 30 Sep 2020