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Panel 22: Housing futures in Oceania


Barbara Anne Andersen

Session presentation

This panel will explore the complexities of residence, housing, and real estate in Oceania. Pacific indigenous attachments to place are strong, and struggles over land and its commodification—for mining, forestry, agriculture, and tourism—have been well documented. What happens to place-based identities when land becomes real estate, and when accommodation becomes a commodity? How do aspirations and desires shape decisions about housing and residence? How do individuals and families “make do” in the context of housing shortages, evictions, high rents and economic inequality? How are ideals of home ownership, domestic privacy, and the nuclear family embraced or resisted through residential practices?

In keeping with the theme of this conference, this panel seeks to explore housing as both an increasingly commodified part of Pacific environments and a key site for the production of relationships and identities. Possible topics include:

-ownership vs caretaking of property
-formal and informal rental markets
-homelessness and housing insecurity
-dorms, barracks, and employer-supplied housing
-changing residence patterns
-home building, decoration, and renovation
-settlements, slums, and social housing
-foreign and domestic real estate investment
-housing, health and well-being

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Introduction: Housing Futures

Barbara Anne Andersen (Massey University, Albany)

An introduction to the panel and its aims, including a historical review of research on housing in Oceania and potential new directions.

Change, survival and loss of vernacular building forms on Fiji and Samoa – an architectural approach

Ferenc Zamolyi (Vienna University of Tehnology)

Fiji and Samoa both have sophisticated and very distinct vernacular building traditions, which historically provided an essential stage for ritual, ceremony and social interaction within the society. The buildings themselves carried strong symbolic and spiritual connotations. Although the physical structure of such buildings was erected from local natural materials (like logs, lianas and palm-leaf) with simple and few tools, they could not be regarded as unsophisticated. Layout, design, load-bearing elements and decoration often resulted in a complex architectural system, which was well adapted to local climate and environment. Although building technology could be regarded a “low tech” the outcome most certainly had to be addressed as “clever-tech” as mostly materials were utilised in a sustainable way and the houses (if well built) also had fairly good resistance properties in case of natural disasters like cyclones or earthquakes.
What we consider as “traditional building technology” was replaced to a large extent by modern building technology, either transforming traditional vernacular building designs into “hybrids” or displacing them altogether in favour of imported architectural concepts.
This paper will try to investigate how changes in building technology affect the form, layout and appearance of vernacular architectural concepts and buildings, and which modern forms have replaced older designs.

"A proper company would have built good houses right from the start." The poetics and politics of housing on an oil palm plantation in Papua New Guinea

Tuomas Aku Wiljami Tammisto (University of Helsinki)

Plantations are often referred to as "dispossessed spaces", because of the hard working and living conditions. The Masrau plantation in Pomio District was no exception. Due to diminishing returns from cashcropping, many inhabitants of Pomio, including the Mengen, had taken up wage labor on the newly established oil palm plantation. In 2012, a few years after the establishment of the plantation, local workers lived in self-built shacks, supervisors in barrack-style houses, loggers in tents in the forest and Indonesian contractors in shipping crates with windows cut into them. The abysmal living conditions of the Indonesian contractors reflected their difficult position as migrant workers totally dependent on the company. The poorly housed workers from Pomio at least could vote with their feet, something which they often did. Mengen workers often criticized the poor state of housing to comment on life on the plantation Housing was also a motive to go to the plantation: many Mengen workers hoped to acquire roofing iron so that they could build semi-permanent houses in their home villages.

In this paper I look at how the different forms of housing reflect political relations on the plantation and how different forms of housing were for the Mengen indexes of these relations and the media through which these relations were acted out. The plantation was also an ambiguous place, where desired commodities, such as roofing iron, could be acquired, but on which one had to submit onesel

Domestic possessions, home making and development on Mere Lava, Vanuatu

Marie Durand (Musée du quai Branly)

Studies dedicated to home possessions have largely shown the importance of home possessions in the construction of people’s links to places and social senses of belonging. The house, far from being the place for the reproduction of social norms, is a crucial space where subjectivities are created and transformed in relation to broader social and institutional forces. Material objects, both made and purchased, mediate these negotiations in a way that make them crucial markers of lives’ trajectories and social values foregrounded at certain moments of these lives.
Through the comparative analysis of inventories of home possessions collected on the island of Mere Lava, in Vanuatu, in 2016, I will examine the practices and discourses linked to making home in this relatively isolated place situated in the northern province of the archipelago. This paper therefore aims at contributing from a specific case study to the understanding of people’s contemporary articulation of individual achievements, social and spatial senses of belongings and ideas linked to development in Island Pacific.

Home in the “Siggy State”: Housing and Security in PNG

Barbara Anne Andersen (Massey University, Albany)

The late Nancy Sullivan, playing on the concept of the nanny state, once described contemporary PNG as a “siggy [security guard] state.” In a neoliberal siggy state, private—often foreign, usually extractive—businesses monopolize state resources, leaving the majority to their own devices. In the siggy state, private security becomes a basic need, without which people and communities cannot thrive. This paper examines the nexus of security, housing, and class identity in contemporary PNG. With a booming urban population and an escalating housing crisis, Papua New Guineans who cannot buy or otherwise create home security are subject to multiple forms of exclusion and risk. Comparing the home security practices of urban homeowners and residents of school dormitories, I discuss how securitization increasingly saturates the lives of the working- and middle- classes, with implications for the population as a whole.

Building new social relations in low cost housing areas of Noumea, New Caledonia

Phillip Kajons (James Cook University)

Historically, the design and construction of a rural village house in Pacific Island countries has always had implications at a social and spiritual level for their inhabitants. Rapidly developing urban areas now challenge these values, as relationships with groups who plan cities, provide infrastructure, and enable housing become more important.
Issues such as colonialism and sovereignty, social mobility, tensions between rural and urban Kanak are the context for this presentation, but the focus is on ‘dwelling making’; is it a barometer for the complex and deeply conflicted socio-politics of New Caledonia?
Tim Ingold describes how in rural settings knowledge transferred from one generation to the next helps “in creating the environment in which people now live, and from which they draw their sense of being” (Ingold, 2000, p. 140); I wish to draw upon this concept to understand how the ‘making’ of low cost housing areas of contemporary Noumea may illustrate the manifestation of a movement away from such indigenous values.