Bjørn Hallstein Holte

Social anthropologist


This is Bjørn Hallstein Holte’s page.
I am a social anthropologist. My main areas of interest are social integration, social exclusion, and socioeconomic inequalities. I have conducted research with youth in Nordic countries and African countries. My most recent research was on youth exclusion and religious organisations in Oslo, and I have also conducted fieldwork at an elite boarding school in Kenya. My research is published in different academic journals and in an edited volume on volunteering in Africa. I have also presented research at international conferences and seminars.


My most recent research was part of the Norwegian case study of Youth at the Margins (YOMA), a Nordic-South African research project on marginalised youth and faith-based organisations. The project expired at the end of 2016, but the main results are not yet published. My research took place in a super-diverse city district of Oslo and concerned the relations between youth exclusion conceptualised as young people not in education, employment, or training (NEET young people) and the religious organisations in the city district. The empirical research featured two tracks. The first track of the research was aimed at finding and meeting NEET young people for interviews; the second track consisted of interviews in Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist organisations in the city district. The research is presented and discussed in my doctoral thesis.


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This article asks whether and how religious organisations contribute to integration in a diverse city district of Oslo. Drawing on Niklas Luhmann’s theory of society and his work on religion, it argues that the question requires an analysis of how the religious organisations are integrated into different social systems, as well as of how people are included in them. With regards to the inclusion of people, the article suggests that not more than half of the city district’s population were members in local religious organisations and that the religious organisations may not have targeted excluded groups, as Luhmann suggested they might. Focusing on how the religious organisations were integrated into different social systems, the article finds that the religious organisations were engaged in local communities within the city district, with local public authorities and welfare service providers, and in religious networks that spanned the city, the country, and the world. The article concludes that the religious organisations in the city district were part of a global religious system and mostly communicated in non-religious ways locally. The religious organisations’ contribution to integration must be understood in relation to communication on a global scale and across the secular/religious divide.

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The NEET concept has become widely used internationally since its emergence in the UK almost two decades ago. This article reviews the adoption of the concept in two extreme contexts in terms of NEET rates, youth opportunities and youth welfare: the Nordic countries and South Africa. The article discusses the situations of NEET young people in the two contexts, and how the concept is used in the wealthy and relatively homogenous Nordic welfare states and in relatively poorer and racially divided South Africa. While the concept has been problematised in different ways in Nordic youth research, it has been more readily accepted by South African researchers. We argue that, in both contexts, the NEET concept can be taken as an invitation to look beyond individual life situations and biographies, and to focus on how structural forces such as the political economy shape young people’s lives. The NEET concept provides a way of discussing changing opportunity structures and how global social forces such as globalisation and neoliberalisation shape young people’s lives in different contexts. The NEET concept is useful in comparative youth research.

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Click the cover to show a short summary of the thesis, read more about the project on VID’s website, or download the thesis from VID:Open.
The thesis reviews and problematises how social scientists have conventionally understood social cohesion. Drawing on Niklas Luhmann’s theory of society, the thesis proposes ‘communicational permeability’ as an alternative definition and conceptualisation of social cohesion. This concept is then used to discuss my empirical research for the Norwegian YOMA case study, asking how the religious organisations’ activities and engagements for youth in a super-diverse city district of Oslo contribute to social cohesion as communicational permeability. The thesis discusses this in relation to Luhmann’s work on religion and the work of José Casanova and Peter Beyer, as well as recent research on religious organisations’ social role in the Nordic countries.

Download the thesis from VID:Open or read more about it on VID’s website. Some of the results in the thesis were reported in the daily newspaper Vårt Land (in Norwegian only).

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The concept of ‘not in education, employment, or training’ (NEET) has gained wide usage in youth research over the last two decades. This article reviews the concept’s background and discusses how it is linked to population statistics. Drawing on literature within the fields of anthropology, sociology, and educational research, as well as field research conducted in Norway, the article discusses how, by meeting young people categorized as NEET for interviews and participant observation, researchers can address other aspects of their lives than have been counted. Researchers who meet young people find that the concept means different things in everyday speech than in published research. The article concludes by suggesting how research based on meeting young people categorized as NEET can contribute to a body of knowledge that has mainly been produced by counting NEET young people.

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Click the cover to show an abstract or go to the publisher’s website or JSTOR for more information and access options.
This chapter is based on ethnographic research among students from an international boarding school in Kenya who volunteer at a Bible Club for children from poor families. I show how volunteering as encounters across vast socioeconomic differences feeds into the formation of the students as privileged subjects. I understand volunteering in relation to two other modes of engagement with the ‘people outside the gates’ of the school that are commonly portrayed in the anthropological literature on gated communities: their exclusion as peril and their inclusion as labour. Volunteering works to a very different effect from these. While volunteering, the students relate to the children as members of a public towards which they have responsibilities but of which they are not themselves part. Volunteering thereby affirms the students’ privilege and instils dispositions for loving and responsible exercise of it in them.

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Academic presentations

Picture from the seminar Young NEETs and the Youth Guarantee Program at Social Sciences Institute, University of Lisbon.

‘The meaning, identities and inclusion of NEET young people in Norway.’ International Seminar: Young NEETs and the Youth Guarantee Program, Social Sciences Institute, University of Lisbon, 18 June 2018.

‘Religious organizations and social integration.’ Department of Sociology, UNISA, Pretoria, 28 March 2017.

‘Understanding youth marginalisation through NEET: A South African – Nordic European exchange of perspectives’. ReDi Biannual Conference, Diak, Helsinki, 16 September 2016. (With I. Swart.)

‘Them and us. Reflections about how religious organizations perceive young people at the margins in a multi-cultural city district of Oslo’. ReDi Biannual Conference, Diak, Helsinki, 16 September 2016. (With K.K. Korslien.)

‘Religion as communication.’ Socrel Annual Conference, Lancaster University, 13 July 2016.


I am currently in paternity leave and not teaching. In 2018, I taught and supervised students at the bachelor programmes in social work and social studies and the master programmes in intercultural work and global studies at VID Specialized University in Oslo and Stavanger.

I have held guest lectures in master courses at MF Norwegian School of Theology and the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria (2017), been an external examiner for master theses at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo (2016 and 2017), and a seminar tutor at bachelor courses in social anthropology and development studies at the University of Oslo (2011 to 2013).


I am on paternity leave and not working during the first half of 2019, but I can be reached through my personal e-mail address,

You can also browse and follow my profiles at Google Scholar,, Kudos, and Publons.

Google Scholar Kudos Publons