Although there seems to be broad agreement within the discipline about the desirability of a public anthropology, there is less certainty, or agreement, not only about how to achieve it in a responsible way but also about its very raison- d’être. What should an anthropology which engages closely with non-academic publics seek to achieve? Starting with a historical overview, the article argues that the lack of a clear societal task or assignment liberates anthropology from problem solving for the state, enabling it to stimulate the collective imagination by making bold comparisons and unexpected conjectures. The empirical examples from Norway show how public anthropologists can successfully mix the ‘light’ and the ‘heavy’ in getting their argument across and raising anthropological issues while also engaging with a broad, non-academic public.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.