Strategy 2, The Entrepeneur – Between Tradition and Structure
Section of 3D-scan of one of the animal head posts from Oseberg. Photo: Museum og Cultural History, UiO / Bjarte Einar Aarseth.
Can the actions of one individual lead to changes in society? Or are such changes primarily driven by deep-rooted social and cultural structures? The answer is not clear-cut, but may be sought in the dynamic and intricate relationship between individual and society. This fundamental issue in social and humanistic research requires constant re-evaluation. It is relevant in connection with processes and themes of present-day society: What happens when people migrate into new societies? What happens when different religions and worldviews meet? How can new technologies or new meeting points bring about widespread economic and social change? Individuals are often key players in such changes, challenging established patterns and seeing new opportunities.
Exploring this theme means challenging stereotyped perceptions of people. Such stereotypes pale in the face of reality. For example, it turns out that homo economicus who always seeks profit has not been unearthed in studies of actual societies and cultures. Individuals who perform economic actions must perceive them as meaningful, and people find meaning in culture, not in ahistorical utility maximisation. For this reason, knowledge of cultural norms and values, mentalities and ideologies, as well as objects and technologies, is needed in economic analysis. Equally far removed from real life is homo societatis, who complies entirely with cultural norms and values. Many do not wholly comply, sometimes in secret, but in all societies there are also those who openly dare to do the unthinkable. Some challenge authority, others violate the norms of economic behaviour and some defame their family’s honour and put their lives at stake for the sake of love.
Actions that violate norms and establish new values are among the main causes of societal change. Studies of change must therefore be based on a broader view of mankind than one which is limited to existing norms, values and behaviour patterns. It must also accommodate people who chose to act in innovative and unconventional ways and thus moved the boundaries of socially and culturally acceptable behaviour - we call them entrepreneurs. Ignoring entrepreneurs in analyses of societal change is, in the words of the American economist William J. Baumol, as if “the Prince of Denmark [had] been expunged from the discussion of Hamlet”.
Researchers at the Museum of Cultural History regularly encounter the seeds and consequences of societal change, and need to consider the relationship between entrepreneur, tradition and structure. The long-term perspective of historical subjects and the encounter of social anthropology with globalisation processes place the issue of social change processes directly within the researchers’ field of vision. The Museum’s empirical data, produced through extensive fieldwork and maintained in unique archives and collections of artefacts, is expanded daily by the inclusion of new finds and scientific analysis, 3D scans, etc. of the artefacts. The Museum is strengthening its efforts to structure this amount of data and make it available to researchers and the public through innovative and user-friendly online solutions. Structured and accessible high quality data gives research at the Museum a distinctive profile particularly suited to challenging existing insights and theories and developing new ones.