Bjørn Hallstein Holte

VID Specialized University
Portrait photo.
Photo: Espen Utaker/VID


This is Bjørn Hallstein Holte’s page.

I am a social anthropologist and associate professor at VID Specialized University in Oslo, Norway. I have conducted research on youth in the Nordic countries and African countries. My most recent empirical research was on youth exclusion and religious organisations in Oslo, and I have also conducted fieldwork at an elite boarding school in Kenya. My theoretical interests are in social integration, social exclusion, and socioeconomic inequalities. My research is published in academic journals and in an edited volume on volunteering in Africa. I have also presented my work at international conferences and seminars.


I currently split my time between several research and development projects, including desk studies on what Marxist theorists have called ‘surplus population’ and young people not in education, employment, or training (NEET young people) in the Nordic countries and Southern Africa. My most recent empirical 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. My research took place in what I call a super-diverse city district of Oslo and concerned the relations between NEET young people and the religious organisations in the city district. The empirical research featured two tracks. The first track of the research was focused on finding and meeting NEET young people to conduct interviews; the second track consisted of interviews in Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist organisations in the city district. Several of the publications listed below are based on this work, including my doctoral thesis.


My research is published and forthcoming in academic journals and edited volumes. Click the references below for abstracts and access details for each publication.

‘Religion and integration: Religious organisations’ communication in a diverse city district of Oslo, Norway.’ Journal of Contemporary Religion, forthcoming.

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.

Please check back later for publication and access details.

‘The NEET concept in comparative youth research: The Nordic countries and South Africa.’ Journal of Youth Studies 22(2): 256-272, 2019. (With I. Swart and H. Hiilamo.)

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.

Go to the journal’s website to access the published version or download the author manuscript from this website.

Religion and social cohesion: Youth exclusion and religious organisations in a super-diverse city district of Oslo, Norway. Doctoral thesis no. 11. VID Specialized University, 2018.

The thesis reviews and problematises how social scientists have 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 used to discuss empirical research from Oslo, asking how the religious organisations’ activities and engagements for youth in a super-diverse city district 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. Some of the results in the thesis were reported in Vårt Land (in Norwegian and for subscribers only).

‘Counting and Meeting NEET Young People: Methodology, perspective, and meaning in research on marginalized youth.’ YOUNG 26(1): 1-16, 2018.

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.

Go to the journal’s website to access the published version or download the author manuscript from this website.

‘A third mode of engagement with the excluded other: Student volunteers from an elite boarding school in Kenya.’ Chapter 8 in Volunteer Economies: The Politics and Ethics of Voluntary Labour in Africa, edited by R. Prince and H. Brown. Oxford: James Currey, 2016.

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.

Go to the publisher’s website or JSTOR for access options.


I have presented papers at international conferences and seminars. Click on each year for details.


‘How can ethnographic studies contribute to a “bottom-up” perspective in research?’ At CODE Seminar, VID Specialized University, Oslo, 29 November 2018.

‘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.

‘Research within the YOMA project: New research results from a PhD project - methodological insights.’ At CODE Seminar, VID Specialized University, Oslo, 20 March 2018.


‘Religious organizations’ role for marginalized youth in South Africa.’ At Workshop on African Initiated Churches and Sustainable Development. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 6 June 2017.

‘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 teach the social sciences, the philosophy of science, and academic writing to bachelor and master students at the Faculty of Social Studies at VID Specialized University in Oslo, where I am also an international coordinator.

Earlier 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.

Before 2018, I have held guest lectures in master courses at MF Norwegian School of Theology (2017) and the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria (2017), been an 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 do peer reviews for academic journals and publishers; I have reviewed papers for Young, Journal of Youth Studies, PLOS One, and Review of Development Economics, as well as other journals and edited volumes.

I have also reviewed the following books for academic journals. Click the references for links and details.

T. Vold. 2019. Å lese verden. Fra imperieblikk og postkolonialisme til verdenslitteratur og økokritikk. Reviewed in Norsk antropologisk tidsskrift 31(1): 147-150, 2020.

The full review is available open access, but in Norwegian only, at the journal’s website.


Please find my contact information at VID Specialized University’s website. You may send personal correspondence and requests to my private e-mail address,

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

ORCID Google Scholar Kudos Publons