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Gendering the city in the Pacific


Melissa Demian, Annelin Eriksen

Session presentation

Urban spaces across Oceania are characterised by their relative newness. With few towns and cities more than a century old, and all artefacts of colonialism, they are places of rapid change and experimentation with new social and cultural arrangements. Among these areas of experimentation is how gender is being reimagined through its articulation with the obligations that can become intensified in urban life: work, education, church, sport, and other institutions. Also the infrastructures and technologies particular to city life have their own consequences for how people connect and disconnct, with certain consequences for their relationships – and therefore the gendering of those relationships.

If Pacific peoples classically relate to each other by means of contingent rather than absolute categories, such as parent and child, husband and wife, brother and sister, and a whole panoply of cousins and affines, how are these categories becoming gendered in ways that are particular to the city? Crucially, is the ethnic, national, and religious mixing of different kinds of persons in Pacific cities causing gender categories to become backgrounded or flattened out, in favour of the more abstract ‘men and women’ of international gender discourses?

We welcome papers that explore the gendering of the urban Pacific through ethnographic material on the ways in which gender plays out in the everyday life of the city. What are people claiming is new or invented, and what are they claiming is traditional? How is the category of ‘traditional gender norms’ even faring in the urban environment, particularly between different generations? And finally, how well do ‘urban genders’ travel or flow between the city and the rural parts of Pacific countries?

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Introduction: Gendering the City

annelin eriksen (University of Bergen)

Ethnography from the Pacific, and especially Melanesia, has been instrumental for the development of theories on gender in anthropology. In this Introduction to the panel "Gendering the City in the Pacific", I reflect on past insights and suggest ways in which these gendered perspectives can bring our understanding of urban life in the Pacific further.

Development geographies: rethinking the local and the global in Port Moresby

Ceridwen Spark (RMIT University)

In their introduction to Rethinking Feminist Interventions into the Urban (2013), Peake and Rieker argue that ‘woman are an important node in the constellations of power … in the production of centres and margins, in imaginaries of the urban’. In this paper, I engage with the perspectives of Papua New Guinean women who work in the development sector in Port Moresby, demonstrating their profound insight into these constellations. Providing critical perspectives on the roles of ‘experts’ and on knowledge and power, their voices challenge several taken for granted urban geographies of Port Moresby, two of which I explore here. The first is that those coming from ‘elsewhere’ know more about development within PNG than their Papua New Guinean colleagues. The second is that the expatriates and ‘locals’ working on development in Moresby inhabit the same city. Exploring the worlds of home and work the women describe, I demonstrate that they are underpinned by neocolonial geographies in which those in the global north ‘rescue’ those in the ‘global south’. I further show how this produces workplaces in which ‘local’ women, including those educated in the same metropolises as their expatriate counterparts, continue to be seen as lacking the capacity to run development projects within their own country.

"We don't mix with those married women": inventing the new widowhood in urban PNG

Melissa Demian (University of St Andrews)

Drawing upon a recent project on domestic violence in Papua New Guinea’s two primary cities, Port Moresby and Lae, this paper explores the means and methods by which women use to navigate the urban as they seek redress for the violence itself, but more critically, attempt to project efficacious futures for themselves onto the cityscape.

In particular, I focus here on a "widows' group" in a settlement in Lae. For the women in this group, widowhood is defined as any woman who was married at one point, but whose husband is out of the picture, whether through death or abandonment. If gender in Melanesia is defined relationally, the widows of Lae may be said to be engaged in seeking a new sort of gender for themselves, wherein they have achieved the social adulthood granted by marriage, but are also experimenting with modes of autonomous action and single-sex sociality not conventionally associated with Papua New Guinean femininities, or indeed any form of personhood in PNG.

‘Village Boys and City Boys’: Chamorro Masculinities and Socio-Economic Class Divides in Guam’s Past and Present

James Perez Viernes (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa)

This paper examines the intersections of Chamorro masculinities with the development of considerable socio-economic class divisions in Guam during the first era of U.S. military administration of the island (1898-1941). In particular, this paper explores the ways in which the entrenchment of American capitalist economic policy, educational curriculum, and the legislated use of the English language engendered dominant attitudes and discourses specific to socio-economic class that became inscribed on the island landscape and on native men’s worldviews in divisive ways between the island’s colonial center in the capital city of Hagåtñta and in the peripheral rural villages. Embracing archival and ethnographic resources, this paper illustrates the ways in which Chamorro male identities and socio-economic status became entangled in the milieu of American military colonialism, engendering layered and nuanced responses by indigenous men that reflect myriad forms of agency to include continuity, resistance, acquiescence, and hybridization of gendered identities. This paper explores these historical experiences and their present day implications in modern Guam, where U.S. militarism proves an ongoing force in everyday island affairs.

Navigating precarity in the urban security industry in Papua New Guinea

Stephanie Lusby (La Trobe University)

What does it mean to be a ‘good man’ for Papua New Guinean men navigating precarious living and working conditions? How are these processes shaped by disjuncture between imagined urban opportunities and men’s lived experiences? In this paper, I consider how men in PNG navigate social and material uncertainty as they move between waged work in urban areas and their obligations and livelihoods in rural villages. I discuss how men’s aspirations toward goodness are re-articulated as men traverse rural and urban socialities and explore how these processes shape contingent and intersecting definitions of what it means to be a ‘good man’ in contemporary PNG. Drawing on discussions with men working as security guards in urban Kokopo, this paper argues that men frame definitions of good masculinity against Christian, state and kastam moral codes, and aspirations to contribute to community and national development. However, these framings become disconnected from behaviour when held up against perceived threats to personal power—threats that are underpinned by gender and class dynamics. By looking at the way these generalised ideas of good or aspirational masculinity were re-prioritised, nuanced and subverted in the context of men’s negotiations of different sources of precarity, opportunity and power in their movements between urban and rural lives, this paper calls for more complex and contextual readings of men’s own behavioural storying and their individual and collective goals.

Women in the RPNGC – Gender and Community Policing in Papua New Guinea Towns.

Martha Macintyre (The University of Melbourne)

In this paper I shall explore aspects of the lives of women police in the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. Most women in the police force are stationed in towns where they are relatively ‘privileged’ in having a profession and permanent employment. Based on interviews with women, I discuss their motivations for pursuing a career and experiences of working in a male-dominated environment. I examine the problems and gender inequalities they face as aspects of pervasive ideologies of gender relations; their changing roles in ‘community policing’ and the campaigns concentrating on violence against women and children.