Jörgen Hellman


School of Global
+46 31-786 46 07
Visiting address
Konstepidemins väg 2
41314 Göteborg
Room number
Postal address
Box 700
40530 Göteborg

About Jörgen Hellman

  • Professor 2018
  • Associated Professor 2009
  • Ph.D Social Anthropology 1999

My research projects have mainly taken their geographical starting point in West Java and Indonesia, but the issues have spanned areas such as cultural heritage and ritual symbolism to issues of climate change, flooding, religion and politics.

However, more recently I have changed the field area to Gothenburg and the project that currently occupies most of my time is Practicing integration. The project is conducted together with Professor Lisa Åkesson and Doctoral Student Signe Askersjö. Diversity for many is already a natural part of everyday life. The project therefore assumes that migration and mobility are the “new normal” in Sweden and the aim is to explore how similarities and differences are practiced in this new everyday diversity. A starting point for the project is that integration does not necessarily pose a problem, instead, integration is understood as a constant process that the entire population is part of. By studying how identities are negotiated, the project investigates how different social and identity-creating categories are made important in meetings between people. The project studies how diversity is experienced and practiced through fieldwork at a number of workplaces in Gothenburg. See our website for more details .

Between 1995 and 2020, five separately funded research projects have been carried out. The first, funded by SIDA/SAREC, resulted in the thesis Longser Antar Pulau: Indonesian Cultural Politics and the Revitalisation of Traditional Theatre. A study of Indonesian cultural policy that addresses issues of national and ethnic identity and strategies for critical reflection among young people at a drama college in Bandung. A project entitled "Ritual Fasting on Java, Indonesia: Politics of Control and Empowerment" was then funded by HSFR. This work was based on the importance people in Java attach to fasting in order to achieve different forms of, often very worldly, results. Fasting is widely used to transform one's own body into a tool of power, energy and power, and a kind of power struggle for control of this "tool" is constantly going on between individuals and various collectives (social, political and religious). This was followed by a project entitled "Religious pilgrimages on West Java: balancing on the threshold between politics and the divine", funded by the Swedish Research Council. Pilgrimage is used both for personal and religious development, but above all as a form of tool to be able to influence one's own socio-economic position. The questions that the project was approaching are how power in various forms is transformed and mediated during and after these pilgrimages. As a final part of the series of research in the field of traditions, religion and politics in Indonesia, the project Islam and Local Traditions in a strained relationship was conducted where the role of ancestors in the creation of Indonesia's political future was explored. Ancestors have in various ways always been an important part of the political landscape in Indonesia and the project investigated how and in what way these are used by people to understand and interpret today's political situation. During previous fieldwork in the area, I attended several ritual séances where the media became obsessed with ancestral spirits and then talked to them about both personal and societal problems. These occasions were characterized by both respect and a great everydayness and I was struck by the familiarity that surrounded the meetings. This type of encounter with ancestors then provided a starting point for understanding how traditions were transformed into political movements. Interviews were conducted with both ancestors and mediums that convey their voices and those who participated in these séances. The interviews were used as material to understand how people interpret, approach and understand the political changes that Indonesia underwent and, above all, how they used the voices of their ancestors to help relate to different future scenarios.

A fifth project was aimed at climate, environment and risk management, Dealing with recurring crises: Civil society organization during floods in Jakarta, which was funded by the Swedish Research Council. The project was interdisciplinary and conducted in collaboration with Dr. Marie Thynell from Peace and Development Research. The study focused structural conditions for the city's vulnerable inhabitants as well as the quantitative and qualitative efforts made to survive and counteract the consequences of recurring floods. Indonesian civil society is very active in preventing and minimising the consequences of floods and an important part of the project was to examine how they organise themselves to deal with these challenges.

Common to all projects is an interest in power and dominance relationships where the state, individual and public space meet.

Teaching: teaches and supervises regularly in Social Anthropology and Global Studies at undergraduate, advanced and postgraduate level.