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The Politics of Order in Contemporary Papua New Guinea


Alex Golub

University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Introduction: The Politics of Order in Contemporary Papua New Guinea

pages 331-341

This collection of articles seeks to demonstrate that the concept of order – the intensive and extensive coordination of human action across space and time – is useful for answering some of the most pressing theoretical and practical questions in contemporary Papua New Guinea (PNG) today. Building on existing work in this field [Benda-Beckmann, K., and F. Pirie. 2007. “Introduction.” In Order and Disorder: Anthropological Perspectives, 1–15. New York: Berghahn Books] in this special issue we ask: How do people create enduring, stable, and routinised life in contemporary Melanesia today? We position our work as the next step in a growing movement to study contemporary institutions in PNG as order-making projects, rather than attempting to divide them into legitimate projects like ‘government’ and false or ineffective ones like ‘cargo cults’.


Tobias Schwoerer

Universität Luzern

‘Mipela Makim Gavman’: Unofficial Village Courts and Local Perceptions of Order in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea

pages 342-358

In remote villages of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, where official village courts and other state institutions are absent, local leaders routinely hold unofficial village courts to maintain law and order. They base their decisions on local perceptions of order and justice, all the while emulating elements of state justice and constantly referring to the state as the source of their legitimacy. As these unofficial judicial institutions historically emerged as a convergence of local patterns of leadership with colonial concepts of order, they neither form a completely new nor completely autochthonous method of conflict settlement, but are an example of para-statehood, in which local leaders take on state functions in the absence of the state.


Barbara Andersen

Massey University Auckland

Cultural Competency and Rural Disorder in PNG Health Promotion

pages 359-376

Health workers in Papua New Guinea strongly emphasise their duty to provide services to the country’s rural majority. Trained to see rural communities as lacking modern discipline and order, they worry that rural people will resist, perhaps with violence, if health workers fail to ‘show respect for culture’. Examining cultural improvisation among nursing students on a rural experience practicum in the Eastern Highlands, I show how students and teachers tried to craft culturally respectful health education. However, when difficulties emerged, local people were described as unable or unwilling to harim tok (understand, heed or follow instructions). The capacity to follow instructions, cultivated through education and Christian faith, was cast as incompatible with Highlands culture. Rural health promotion activities, when they fail to foment major transformation, can help reproduce the ideological construction of the people of the hauslain (village, hamlet) as emotionally volatile and ungovernable.


Ivo Syndicus

National University of Ireland Maynoth

Crowds, Affect, and the Mediation of Emergent Collectivities: A Student Strike in Papua New Guinea as an Order Making Project

pages 377-393

From the institutional perspective of a university, student strikes mark a time of heightened disorder. In this contribution, I turn this perspective around and analyse a student strike at the University of Goroka in the Papua New Guinea highlands as an order-making project instead. The observed student strike established an alternative regime among students, which was reinforced through a sense of having achieved a superior sophistication of order through the effective, and affective, alignment of minds and bodies into a single entity. Placing the achievement of collective unity in relation to what appears as Melanesian notions of order on one hand, and recent re-evaluations of the psychology of crowds within anthropology and sociology on the other hand, I explore conceptual connections in the work of ‘mediation’ between order making in Melanesia and contemporary (critiques of) affect theory.


Lamont Lindstrom

University of Tulsa

Afterword: In Search of Melanesian Order

pages 394-403

These essays explore three contemporary forms of order in Papua New Guinea: improvised village courts, a nursing school curriculum including village practicums, and student boycotts and strikes. My comments assess these new sorts of order as reflected against earlier ethnographic accounts of Papua New Guinean societies as well as those elsewhere in Melanesia. This often has taken the region’s social groups and lineages, religions and belief systems, and most recently the Melanesian state itself to be weak, messy, and inconstant. I ask how culturally ‘Melanesian’ are these contemporary examples of order and disorder, and find significant continuities in their underlying nostalgia for an imagined, more orderly past, in beliefs about causes of disorder, and in strategies and remedies to order and reorder everyday life.


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