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Panel 16: Alternative socialities in and beyond Oceania


Dominik Schieder, Daniela Kraemer

Session presentation

Epeli Hau’ofa writes that Pacific Islanders are ‘enlarging their world as they go’ (1994:155). Indeed, the people of contemporary Oceania are moving in unprecedented distances and frequencies throughout the Pacific and beyond. Central to this movement has been the reorganization of Pacific Islander sociality. For many rural-urban migrants, transnational migrants, people who have moved between islands and people with urban life-styles, the centrality of a place-based sociality is quickly changing. Paying particular attention to the ‘dynamic’ and ‘interactive’ (Long and Moore 2012) social categories Pacific Islanders employ when navigating self and belonging, this panel aims to explore the socialities Pacific Islanders create as they move and dwell beyond their place of origin. We invite ethnographically driven papers focused on “alternative socialities” within Oceania and beyond. Topics could include new models of relatedness, friendship, community, neighbourhoods, and fictive kinship, among others. The aim of this panel is to contribute not only to an increased understanding of contemporary Pacific Islander sociality but also to help build a more comprehensive theory of sociality.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Maori rural-urban dynamics in processes of togetherness

Jorun Br Ramstad (University of Tromso, the Arctic Univerrsity of Norway)

Maori modernities in Aotearoa New Zealand are closely linked to socio-cultural gaps and bridges between urban and rural members of the ‘tribal organization’. Based on a selection of frequently used cultural topics among Maori, such as “where a person comes from”, “gut feelings” and assessing whether practices emanate “from the head or the heart”, this paper explores modes of familiarization that contribute to Maori processes of ‘togetherness’ in everyday life. It is argued that dynamics of belonging in social life relate to pragmatics as well as ideological concerns, thus suggesting that the concept of sociality (-ies) is best regarded as a heuristic device in analysis of peoples’ social engagement with each other and the specific contexts and situations they encounter.

Alternative Ngyiampaa Socialities in Places Other Than Home

Daniela Heil (University of Newcastle)

Ngyiampaa Indigenous Australians enlarge their personal everyday lives, related practices, and what it means for them to be alive and matter to others, through engagements in local, communal socialities. This pivotal emphasis on ‘socialities’ is also extended to alternative socialities they participate in while being away from home. In reference to the latter, this paper draws attention to case studies of both female and male Ngyiampaa people who no longer live permanently in their home community of Murrin Bridge in central-Western New South Wales, Australia. Living and residing away from home, as some of them maintain ‘working away in the big smoke’ (e.g in cities such as Canberra, Sydney or Brisbane), these former communal residents visit their home community regularly and phone kin daily ‘to stay in the loop what’s going on’ and 'maintain relationships with relatives'. Critically exploring the alternative socialities of overseas holiday trips with colleagues and friendships being maintained close to the workplace, my paper demonstrates the ways in which these alternative socialities are skillfully and continuously mediated in all of these realms, ascertaining that one’s personal commitment to each of these ‘socialities’ is reinforcing a person's social responsibilities regularly: that is, the dynamics and necessity of maintaining their 'personhood'.

The Port Vila Squads – young people’s mode of urban social organization

Daniela Kraemer (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Between 1992 - 1994 people wanting to enter Port Vila’s newly established community Freswota, either because they lived there or were visiting someone who did, would find themselves head to head with a group of rough young men. The young men would demand alcohol, cigarettes, and money in exchange for open passage into the community. They called themselves Vietnam II – identifying themselves as the Viet Kong fighting a war against the Americans. 23 years later, under-employed urban young men still come together in groups they refer to as ‘squads’. The activities of these squads are now generally less violent, ranging from hanging out on the side of the road, to cooking meals together, to participating in local governance, to developing small enterprises, to providing support and guidance for members during community disciplinary hearings. In Port Vila, where many youth experience their kin networks as increasingly unreliable, it is the ‘squad’, not the family, that has come to dominate youth sociality. Using ethnographic examples from fieldwork with Port Vila youth, this paper builds on Simone’s (2005) observation that in new urban contexts, young people creatively develop their own modes of urban social organization. In this paper I suggest however, that even though the squad provides Port Vila youth with a wider set of relationships from which they can access community support, and much needed resources, this support is often experienced as unreliable and unstable.

Biosociality in Fiji: the case of support groups for people living with HIV

Fabienne Labbé (Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, EHESS)

Drawing on research on the lived experience of Indigenous Fijians living with HIV, this paper aims to explore support groups for HIV-positive people in Fiji as sites where a new form of “biosociality” is created and unfolds. Support groups for people living with HIV in Fiji are often depicted by those who belong to them as “safe havens from stigmatization” where they can feel uninhibited and where they can build relationships (frequently described as similar to family relationships) based on their shared health condition. No matter how alternative this kind of biosociality might appear, it does not preclude the importance of more traditional ways of establishing relationships, often based on gender and status. Biosociality, experienced, for instance, in support groups for HIV-positive people that often provide them with travel, work and financial opportunities, fosters ways to restore reputation, regain prestige and repair ties with family and lineage that have been severed or weakened because of HIV. Using data collected in Fiji over the last 10 years, this paper examines biosociality as a new form of sociality that articulates with more traditional forms of Fijian sociality.

Gogo: Freedom and direction from the ancient ritual of Tatau (Tattooing)

Dr Vaoiva Ponton (AUT Auckland University of Technology)

The tatau (male and female Samoan tattoo) has always signified not only one’s perseverance and ability to withstand the pain of undergoing the ritual, but also signified one’s identity, readiness and capacity to be of service to one’s extended family (Marquardt 1984; Ellis 2006, Wendt 1999). What will be explored is the way in which this ritual has been embodied as a demonstration of ‘decolonisation, reclamation and valuing’ of traditional practices thereby minimising absolute extinction (Tuhiwai-Smith, 1999). The use of tatau symbols as metaphors defining educational success, is also a resurgence of understanding this practice in a new realm (Ponton, 2015). Using an educational context, the symbolic meaning of the tatau patterns, formed metaphoric analogies of student experiences from Melbourne. Furthermore, it is explored in newly created workshops (Aganu’u 101) which were established to empower New Zealand and Australian born Samoans not only with the knowledge of ancient speeches and protocols, but making the tatau ritual (included in this program), more accessible to those who desired it. Responses from participants highlighted the importance of ongoing workshops to understand the essence of rituals (such as tatau). Ways in which the tatau ritual has evolved and changed over time, will be explored using the cultural lens of the Fonofale model (Pulotu-Endermann, 2001).

The Value(s) of ‘Community’ for Fijians in Greater London

Dominik Schieder (University of Siegen)

The notion of ‘community’ features prominently among Fiji Islanders in the United Kingdom and other diasporic nodes. For example, a few years ago, the ‘Fiji Community – London’ (FCL) gained visibility among a group of Fijians and Rotumans through word of mouth, a Facebook page and a written constitution. Its Fijian representatives had been keen to point out that even though they explicitly drew on the ‘Fijian way’, the FCL was inclusive and welcomed Fiji Islanders of various ethnic backgrounds. I suggest that, although only temporary, this social project gained momentum for several interrelated reasons: members could use the FCL to interact formally with officials from Fiji in a culturally appropriate fashion, members could use FCL as a platform to communicate to government representatives their economic hardships, and the FCL provided members with an element of social security that they perceived as a less time-consuming and economically burdensome alternative to the ‘Fijian Way’. Drawing on one particular case study, this paper explores diasporic Fiji Islanders strategies to appropriate ‘community’ as an alternative social model for political and economic projects.

Their Sea of Islands?: Performances of Oceanic interconnection among the Pacific Climate Warriors

Hannah Fair (University College London)

“We are fighting for our lives, fighting for our people and if we stand together as one nation from different countries anything is possible.”

In October 2014, thirty Pacific Islanders from twelve nations travelled to Newcastle, New South Wales, in order to take direct action against the Australian coal industry. Based upon interviews and ethnographic fieldwork conducted with these self-proclaimed Pacific Climate Warriors, I consider their demonstrations as sites for the generation of alternative socialities. In particular, through drawing upon Hau'ofa's Sea of Islands vision, I explore to what extent their actions can be understood as manifestations of Oceanic regionalism.

I begin by exploring expressions of national pride and patriotic duty, with the Warriors formally situated as representatives of their respective countries. I place these national attachments in the context of overarching expressions of alliance and unity, that draw upon the language and affects of familial connection. I argue that the Warriors move between these national identities and playful expressions of composite, fluid and Pan-Pacific identity that were generated through the exchange of music, clothing, dance and prayer. Following Hau'ofa, I acknowledge the place of art and culture in producing forms of Oceanic interconnection that transcend nation state boundaries.

Climate Change Migration from a Pacific Island Perspective – The Anthropology of Emerging Legal Orders

Silja Klepp (Kiel University)

This paper introduces a new research perspective on climate change migration and adaptation, which is based on legal anthropology. The aim is to develop an engaged, locally grounded and analytically fruitful perspective on the effects of climate change and to ask which alternative socialities and open-ended social processes can be fostered through climate change discourses.
The former government of Kiribati has adopted a proactive role to deal with adaptation and climate change migration. The paper analyses how the government brings together climate change discourses with its struggle for new rights and resources for the country. As climate change is endangering the very existence of Kiribati, we could learn from the new concepts of belonging, migration and solidarity that are developing in the Pacific region. My paper develops a new concept of how to frame the cultural and social impacts of climate change that connects to notions of sociality in different ways: in the plurality of actors involved, in a plurality of ontologies that can be integrated in our analyses and in the way these negotiation processes are open-ended and can create new social formations on different levels. The research perspective presented, the Anthropology of Emerging Legal Orders, overcomes shortcomings of notions of vulnerability and resilience as frames for adaptation to climate change and helps us to analyze recent developments on the island state of Kiribati in the central Pacific.