Knut M. Rio


Professor Knut Mikjel Rio

MA, PhD, University of Bergen (2003)

Knut Rio is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen.

Knut Rio has between 1994 and 2014 regularly conducted anthropological fieldwork in Vanuatu, on the island of Ambrym and in the capital of Port Vila. In connection with making a documentary film and an exhibition about Norwegian interests in colonial resource extraction in the Pacific and Africa, has also done archive studies at the University of Hawai’i and fieldwork in Kaua’i Island of Hawai’i. In his capacity as curator of the ethnographic collections he has produced catalogues and exhibitions on the Oceania collection, as well as on related themes such as Pacific textiles and tapa, the collection of Admiral Bruny D’Entrecasteaux, and colonialism.

In the early part of Rio’s anthropological research, he was concerned with the production of food, technologies of increase, the material display of ritual effigies and ritual circumstances of producing yams and other crops in Vanuatu. From Ambrym he describes a technology of production that runs through the marriage system, the garden system and the system of ranking men; they all share a technology that is at once mythical, historical, aesthetical and magical.

Knut Rio’s work on social ontology, production, ceremonial exchange, and art in Vanuatu resulted in journal articles and in the monograph The Power of Perspective: Social Ontology and Agency on Ambrym Island, Vanuatu (2007).

More recently he turned his attention towards witchcraft and has been writing about witchcraft in relation to sacrifice, divination and modern law; especially interested in how witchcraft must be acknowledged as a cosmological force that directly addresses and attacks the known world – from its hiding place beyond the known world. The ambition was to remove our anthropological concept of witchcraft from previous understanding of it as a strategic mystification of social relations (control of deviating behaviour, scapegoating, miscomprehension of misfortune etc.) and actively seek a more realistic understanding of the rationale behind the upscaling of witch-killings in Melanesia. Witchcraft crucially represents a dangerous loss of consciousness and thereby loss of control, something that has only become more politically potent in the contemporary individualized world. One can read about these ideas in journal articles and the edited collection of OCEANIA; The Arts of Government: Crime, Christianity and Policing in Melanesia (co-edited with Andrew Lattas 2011)

More recently Rio has taken up an interest in the concept of egalitarianism, explored through his involvement in the ERC Advanced Grant project ‘Egalitarianism: Forms, Processes, Comparison’. For this project Knut Rio conducted fieldwork in a public park in Paris. He has published on the 1968 movement, on the terror towards Charlie Hebdo, and he has been part of developing a theory of wealth, in the edited collection Towards an Anthropology of Wealth (co-edited with Theodoros Rakopoulos, 2019). Much of the engagement in the egalitarianism project is reflected in a special issue titled Egalitarian life: Ethnographic perspectives on political experimentation (co-edited with Bruce Kapferer and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, 2023)

At the moment Knut Rio is developing a cross-cultural comparison of indigenous political movements and specifically the articulation of indigenous museums.

For a detailed list of publications, see here.




Contact Information

University Museum of Bergen
Cultural History Collections
Haakon Sheteligs Pl. 10

Tel. +47 55583112
Fax. +47 55589656