New paper- Toward Humble geographies.

I am over the moon this is now available to read. In the paper I argue that engaging practices of humility can offer a number of potential plus points within academia and to people academics work with. For me, humility is a thinking tool and an ongoing journey of practice and learning. The paper stems from the ‘methodology chapter’ of my PhD, and it has developed – with the considerable help of friends, reviewers and editors (thank you again!) – into something I hope others will find interesting to engage with and maybe generate some discussion.

It’s a pretty short paper as these things go, so rather than summarising it here, I am going off-piste and writing back in parts of the story I edited out for publication. Utter hubris to think anyone might want to read more! And yet, it feels selfish to keep these extra bits at the back of the ‘cuts file’ gathering computer dust. I owe these ideas some air time, so here is part 1…

Janteloven

A research interview offered a rare insight into how I was being ‘received’ in the community, by some at least, as ‘a humble person’. The more I thought about it the more I thought there was something to explore here. One of those things is the context in which it was uttered (by a Norwegian living in Svalbard) and its possible links to the Law of Jante, or Janteloven.

Among the Nordic countries, being humble comes with cultural baggage: humility lies at the root of a social code, Janteloven, or Jantes Law. First appearing in Danish-Norwegian Aksel Sandemose’s (1933) novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, Janteloven is a set of principles that are interpreted differently, applied unevenly, and go in and out of favour but are nevertheless connected with Nordic identities (Trotter, 2015).

Janteloven is commonly translated into 10 principles and an 11th question:

You are not to…

  1. think you are anything special.
  2. think you are as good as we are.
  3. think you are smarter than we are.
  4. imagine yourself better than we are.
  5. think you know more than we do.
  6. think you are more important than we are.
  7. think you are good at anything.
  8. laugh at us.
  9. think anyone cares about you.
  10. think you can teach us anything.
  11. Perhaps you don’t think we know a few things about you?

Janteloven directs citizens away from individualism and hierarchy. It “embodies the idea that one should never … consider oneself more valuable than other people” and “encourages and imposes a sense of shared humility and dedication to equality among citizens” (Cappelen & Dahlberg, 2017, pp. 419–420). Being humble then, is conforming with Janteloven and could be construed as a positive virtue.  However, in Sandemose’s novel, rather than producing an ideal egalitarian society of humble citizens, Janteloven is framed as a stifling social straight-jacket that leads to homogeneity, and conformity, a consensus of mediocrity. This is perhaps why Norwegians and other Scandanavians are increasingly rejecting Janteloven.

Janteloven did really make me think about the different facets of humility and where it can lead. In the paper, this comes out in the discussion over the balance between authority and humility and how compatible ‘humble geographies’ could be with participatory action research. All thoughts welcome!


Saville, S. M. (2020) ‘Towards Humble Geographies’, Area, n/a(n/a). doi: 10.1111/area.12664.

Cappelen, C. and Dahlberg, S. (2017) ‘The Law of Jante and generalized trust’, Acta Sociologica, 61(4), pp. 419–440. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319191928_The_Law_of_Jante_and_generalized_trust

Trotter, S. (2015) ‘Breaking the Law of Jante’, ESharp, (23: Myth and Nation). https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephen_Trotter3/publication/327885136_Breaking_the_law_of_Jante/links/5bab6cc7299bf13e604cd8b2/Breaking-the-law-of-Jante.pdf.

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