Modern Papua New Guinea.
Kirksville, Missouri: Thomas Jefferson University Press. 1998.
Pp: vi + 424.
Price: $40 cloth, $25 paper.
Edited by Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi, Modern Papua New Guinea is a welcome series of essays on contemporary Papua New Guinea, highlighting many of the social problems but also the potential of the country. It tackles many issues that have largely escaped anthropological consideration such as refugees from Irian Jaya, sex work, plantation experiences, suburban comminuting, or education. There are 22 contributors, with 19 articles together with the editor's brief introduction and listing of major historical moments leading to the genesis of this nation-state today. The essays are presented in four sections, each with its own brief introduction. These are 'The state and national identity', 'Economic development', 'The new society' and 'The people's welfare'. The first two should be self-evident and build upon an already substantial literature. The 'new society', is largely taken up with issues of inequality and change, while the last section concerns a gamut of issues such as changing sexualities, the nature and rol e of education, law and order, together with mining and environmental issues.
While everyone interested in the complexities of this nation will find material of interest, the editor tells us (p. 3) the major reason behind the collection is for educational purposes, clearly in courses that do not endeavour to replicate the Last Unknown syndrome of comparative social structures unaffected by capitalism or the state, traditional gender roles or the like. Given the stated reason behind the collection, it is significant that most of the papers are succinct and clearly written, though some, such as Lawrence Hammer's chapter on sex work at 39 pages may well test the endurance of many undergraduates despite the topic. As each chapter has its own references, individual articles may be used in isolation for teaching purposes. While a substantial knowledge of the historical, social and cultural background to Papua New Guinea would always make these chapters more revealing, such a background, which very few students have, is not a necessity for the collection's educational value. Indeed, despite the particularity of what factors affect Melanesia, the issues considered very much apply to the Third (and often Fourth) World and thus could well be part of teaching programs focusing on development issues, postcoloniality, globalisation and so on.
The importance of this concern with current day Papua New Guinea could no better be illustrated than by my own teaching experience: even though Australia's closest neighbour, students have either next to no knowledge of Papua New Guinea, or superficial if not erroneous images gleaned from dubious current affairs programs on corruption, rascalism, or what is often depicted as the persistence of 'tribal' warfare despite the presence of the state and capitalism as causal forces This volume helps remedy this situation, and this alone makes it most worthwhile.
Some concern could be raised about the old but persisting problem of the general and the particular (though, as potentially a creative tension in anthropology this too could be put to pedagogic purposes). While I applaud the contributors' endeavours to break out of narrow focused, heavily localised treatments of largely traditional societies, it is nonetheless also important to convey to students an anthropological history that also may deal with continuity in change rather than the latter alone. While it could be suggested, for example, that plenty has been written on gift exchange, including the impact of things like cash, given the volume's multiple concerns with gender, inequality and conflict, issues such as the increasing importance and inflation of money in compensation demands and bridewealth should not be overlooked. While these are not simply rural phenomena of course, this points to a general lack of attention to the social life of rural based, small communities in which exchange may still feature . These too are dimensions of modern Papua New Guinea. Such things do not receive as much attention as they deserve in this collection. Similarly, while there are a couple of notable collections on Christianity in Melanesia, this too received but passing attention despite the vast majority of the population adhering to one denomination or another. These, however, are small criticisms and largely negated by points I have already mentioned such as a complexity to contemporary Papua New Guinea that would require many more volumes than this and the substantial shift away from conventional collections that often focus on small-scale or regional issues. Modern Papua New Guinea does not abrogate the importance of more conventionally focused anthropological projects but significantly adds to both the depth and scope of our knowledge of this country.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2000|
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