What the life of a pair of flip-flops can teach us about migration, inequality and studying up
Photo: Cíntia Regina, flickr
During the recent (nearly) two years, I've been interviewing researchers that are part of the research project Overheating. The three crises of globalisation: An anthropological history of the early 21st century at the University of Oslo, starting with Thomas Hylland Eriksen: Anthropologists to study humanity’s biggest crises.
I also interviewed most of the researchers that were invited to hold seminars. One of the texts that for me was most fun to write was about the research by sociologist Caroline Knowles. For seven years, she has been following a pair of flip-flops around the world. This flip-flops taught her a lot about the biggest migration streams in history, inequality and the difficulties of "studying up".
The text starts like this:
The woman, who is sinking up to her knees in rubbish in the middle of the huge landfill in the outskirts of Addis Ababa, is not one of the hundreds of scavengers who are searching for things they can use or eat like old airline food and plastic bottles.
The woman is a sociologist.
She has travelled all the way from London to this giant, murky, grey-brown raised area of partially decomposed rubbish. For her, it is the end of a long journey that started several years ago in the world's second largest oil field in Kuwait.