Scientific Research Project Title

An Intellectual History of Global Inequality, 1960-2010

Research Institution

Aarhus University

Research field

History of Ideas

Contact info

Phone: (+0045) 87162278 


Research leader

Christian Olaf Christiansen

Associate Professor, PhD, born 1980

Project title

An Intellectual History of Global Inequality, 1960-2015

What is your project about?

What is the relationship between geographical anchoring (place), and how people have thought about international and global economic inequality? My project is a qualitative, humanistic research project that applies a transnational perspective on the intellectual history of inequality. I will investigate four countries (Argentina, Ghana, India, USA), four clusters of public intellectuals (mainly economists), combined with field studies. How has international economic inequality been conceptualized? What were the dominant past expectations for the future of international inequality? To which extent was economic inequality thought to be legitimate, just, useful? The overall thesis of this project is that the importance of place for inequality thinking tended to shrink during the period from 1960 to 2015.

Christian Olaf Christiansen - An Intellectual History.png

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

In the latest years, my research focus has generally shifted from an American to an international history of ideas. The common thread has been to investigate shifting historical views on how different institutions can create welfare (corporations, states, human rights). During my work on the intellectual history of international poverty politics, I became increasingly concerned with the relationship between peoples’ place and their view upon international inequality. My interest also springs from what I take to be a relatively common interest: why are our life opportunities so unequal in the (global) world we live in?

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project? 

We need to balance the methodological rigor of our research design with a sensibility towards the empirical material, acknowledging that it may also lead us in new directions. We need to investigate our overall research questions and hypothesis testing, all the while some of our results will probably be published as case-study articles, zooming in upon particular periods of time, countries, and intellectuals. With this project, I aim to turn the map of the world upside down: what does international inequality look like if you come from Ghana or India instead of the US? By doing this, the project will contribute to the fields of global conceptual and intellectual history. In collaboration with international colleagues, it also aims to create a unique transcultural and multi-linguistic knowledge about inequality concepts.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

My project will contribute with a new transnational knowledge about the intellectual history of inequality in different geographical and cultural contexts. Today, global inequality is one of the major challenges facing the world community. In 2015, the United Nations adopted a new set of world goals, including bringing down inequality (both within and between nations). By looking more deeply into the cultural and intellectual historical background, I believe that we as researches can deliver important inputs to these debates. For example, I expect that the project can help shed light on how relatively poor countries deal with rising national inequality. Overall, we need to challenge the tendency that place seems to matter less and less in a world that is still very uneven when comparing the North and the South.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

I will get the unique possibility of leading a research project that includes three junior scholars. Together, we can explore much more than I would be able to do on my own. The sheer volume of the project gives me much better possibilities for creating research results which will hopefully draw international attention, not only in the research field of the history of ideas, but also in inequality research more broadly. The grant also gives me the opportunity to expand my international network, to bring in international expertise, to do exciting field studies around the world, and to build an excellent platform for further research.

Background and personal life

I live in the southern part of Aarhus together with my girlfriend and our three wonderful children, aged 9, 6, and 2. While work and family life does consume most of my time (luckily so!), I also enjoy travelling and exploring big cities as well as nature, preferably walking or biking. I also appreciate good food and wine. I feel very privileged having my job as a researcher and a teacher, as there is a considerable overlap between my personal and my professional interests. There are always new books, themes and perspectives that awaits to explored. 

City of your current residence 
Aarhus, Aarhus Kommune (municipality)

High school
Skive Gymnasium