Back to Conference session list

Session Detail (parallel)

Pacific Inequalities: the in(di)visible worlds


EMANUELA Borgnino, Gaia Cottino, Carolina Vesce

Session presentation

In Oceania, the forces upon which people depend for their perceived needs are both visible and invisible. The subject ensues from the relationship with in(di)visible worlds, which are cause and result of inequalities. These last can often be independent from material actions of the subjects and rise from social relations in all their variations: "not social relations taken as distinct ontological domain, but all phenomena as potentially comprising or implying social relations" (Viveiros del Castro). Land, body and food are examples of fields where these forces meet, preserving differences between categories of persons through all kinds of exchanges. "What, then counts as evidence of it? What is seen as origin of particular events, outcomes and set of behaviors?" (Strathern).
We welcome papers addressing ethnographic issues of diversity and variability in power relations dealing with the invisible and epistemological reflections, engaged in a methodological decolonialism (Kilani), addressing the categories to be used to make the invisible trans-culturally intelligible and the visible trans-socially explainable, specifically in contexts where inequalities are rooted into an in(di)visible world coexisting with western and hybrid forces.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Factors influencing learning engagement for Pacific students in Australian high schools.

Dr Vaoiva Ponton (Manawise Group)

This research examines Samoan student experiences in two Homework Study Groups (HSGs) in Melbourne using a researcher-practitioner approach. It highlights the need for teachers to acknowledge students’ preferred learning methods, especially those of minority backgrounds like the Samoan participants in this investigation. Through a detailed investigation of the experiences of students in two HSGs in Melbourne, this study finds families prioritise learning as well as the maintenance of cultural practices. However, it highlighted the need for balance in expectations set by parents and participants, in order to maximise learning outcomes. Moreover, schools had to improve pedagogical practices so they catered to student learning needs, as well as ensuring curricula with Pacific content was taught for students’ sense of belonging and engagement as learners. The study contributes to an understanding of the motivations of Melbourne-based Samoan students to learn, of what concerns them, and of impediments to their educational success. The creation of the distinct space of the HSGs allowed a merging of Samoan and Western ideas in ways that furthered students’ learning. What was evident from participant perspectives was the need for curricula and pedagogy to incorporate Pacific methodologies for learning, as learning, and in the assessment of learning outcomes.

A collaborative and a “Visible” agreement of research: an experiment of transcultural and decolonial change in the Academy.

Chiara Carbone (Università degli Studi Roma Tre)

Huia Jahnke (Massey University, Manawatu Campus, Palmerston North)

This paper presents a shared collaborative project of a “Visible” cultural transformation attempt between two university institutions: one in Italy and the other in Aotearoa. The aim of this organizational and educational agreement has been developed around the concepts of sharing methodologies, knowledge and of endorsing a collaborative approach to create a thick dialogue between two different “worldviews”.

The construction of a “visibile” cooperative agreement between two different academic institutions has been a challenging task: particularly when applying western based administrative procedures that revealed deep rooted complexities and which create in(di)visible inequalities and divisions between western european institutions and indigenous/Maori educational systems.

Bureaucratic protocols, as well as a kind of cultural legacy emerged as difficulties according to bureaucratic imperatives embedded within the culture of the European academy: some “dispositifs” (Foucault, 1971) appeared as a form of social and cultural control. Such complexities are what Darder (2016) and Giroux (2016) posit as the consequences of a neoliberal system.

The process of negotiation of the agreement between the universities will be discussed as a context for developing transcultural collaborations. Sharing epistemologies in order to create a cultural change is a tricky space that needs negotiations and a strategy of positioning to reach the aim of seeding a constructive dialogue.

Connection with land: when social and cultural relations breath life into an economic structure

Marta Gentilucci (Università di Milano Bicocca)

In 2008 SAS Vavouto, a local financial corporation, established a partnership with KNS, a mining corporation based in the North of New Caledonia. The goal of this partnership was to involve the largest number of people in the rising industrial development, in particular, the traditional tribal authorities. Formally speaking, it has been set as a «popular shareholding”. In practice, the balance among the shareholders is not determined by shares’ ownership. Relations among shareholders are mainly based on human interrelation (e.g parental or neighborhood relationships), traditional norms regulating land properties system, and inter-clan and intra-clan relationships. KNS tried to translate these in(di)visible forces into an economic and juridical Western language. They set a binary system: while private subjects gain the status of shareholder by buying actions, the distribution of shares to the traditional authorities, regrouped in particular hybrid juridical structures (GDPL), are linked to "intellectual propriety" they hold on the land where the mines are located. This contribution aims to describe the implementation of this shareholding system, to stress its internal unbalances and inequalities and to show how these economics structures depend on very specific (externally non-intelligible?) cultural and social codes.

When visible and invisible become divisible: the Tongan foodscape between power and inequality

Gaia Cottino (Università di Genova)

"There isn't a world ready to be seen, a world preceding vision or, in other words, a world which precedes the division between 'visible' and 'invisible'" argues Viveiros de Castro (2017:50), nevertheless when such division is set, it displays itself on multiple levels, affecting power relations and causing inequality. If visible and invisible worlds coexist in a continuum in Oceania, playing a crucial role in structuring hierarchies, rank and the societies as a whole, the western division of the Oceania-scapes in 'visible' and 'invisible' results in a lack of acknowledgement of local ontologies, with at least two consequences: epistemological and material inequality.
The hereby contribution will address food as a lens to look into these inequalities caused by the west-driven aid economy in Tonga, where, on the one side, people cannot frame their land and land resources in their own terms, and on the other, they are unable to participate to the local organization of their land and food policies development to face the increasing rates of NCDs, trapped between western mainstream explanations and invisible financial-economic forces.
Some food for thoughts will be also presented on the role anthropologists can play in going beyond the debunking of the forms of power, and rather looking into the twine of inequality and agentive creativity. Namely, in looking into those interstices where people resemanticize and find creative ways to balance asymmetries and redefine subalternity.

The invisible occupation of Hawai’i: an eco-anthropological approach from the ‘Āina (land) prospective

EMANUELA Borgnino (University of Torino)

Categories such visible and invisible are the result of an historical and cultural path that led to a division between what can be seen and what cannot. A dualism that translates a reality in immanent and transcendent, that builds a limit and crosses it to connect worlds that for other ontologies are in(di)visible. As Latour argues it is the material worlds that we have rendered mute in order to avoid answering the questions “who or what is speaking? Who or what is acting?” (2017: 67). In Oceania, the material world is conceived and represented through other categories that underline the indivisibility of land, body and food.
The ethnographic case presented here deals with the theme of historical and political indivisibility between human and land, seen as an interrelated living system, where the connection with the ‘Āina (land) is genealogical. Kanaka are the land. There are relationships between living entities in the Hawaiian cosmology that create kūleana responsibilities; these responsibilities while linking human to places in a sense of belonging manifested by the action of the land create inequalities.

Making visible equalities: land, food, and body in the Belep islands (New Caledonia)

Lara Giordana (University of Turin)

Among the Kanaks (New Caledonia) the body is an inseparable part of the universe, which covers and interweaves its existence with plants and fruits, especially yam. There is no roughness between the flesh of man and the flesh of the world and there are no boundaries between the living and the dead. “For the Kanaks, the vegetal link is not a metaphor but an identity of substance” (Le Breton). This identity of substance connects the person to the land through the “clan” so that people belong to the land.
Body, land, and food (yam) are indivisible. At the same time, they (re)produce divisions. The precedence of some clans reflects a specific bond to the land and to different sorts of power, and the distinction between masters of the land and chiefs is a major one.
In the Belep islands (north of New Caledonia), the gathering of the population in the village of Waala, more than 150 years ago, started a long process of transformation that has been changing the way of connecting to land (and body and food). In Waala, the distinction between masters of the land and other clans tends to dis-appear. My paper will analyze some issues of this process of equalization in relation to the land and the invisible word. It will also consider other forms of (in)equality faced by the community in various domains (education, health, development, mobility) and the context of “rebalancing” policies in favor of the Kanaks that characterizes the ongoing process of decolonization in New Caledonia.

In(di)visible forces. Tatau, gender and politics of history in Samoa and the Society Islands

Carolina Vesce (Università degli studi di Siena )

Matteo Aria (Sapienza Università di Roma)

Our contribution aims at highlighting the intertwinement between Samoan and Tahitian worlds, where we respectively carried out our fieldwork. In particular, we will focus on the relation between sex and gender and between gender, tattoos and the politics of history in these two contemporary worlds.
When LMS arrived in the Society Islands invisibility was imposed on the art of tattooing and visible and meaningful signs got lost. On the contrary, in Samoa the missionaries adopted a “repressive tolerance” policy therefore the male and female tatau visibly persisted on male and female bodies, although stigmatized.
Two centuries later, two Tahitian went to Samoa to rediscover and reacquire the technique, then heading toward the Marquesas to research the patterns trough which they could eventually reestablish a relation with the spirits.

Intrigued by the nexus gender/tatau which shapes and foregrounds different practices and choices in Tahiti and Samoa, we will address the divisible and invisible relation between sex and gender. The balance between the two on one hand is not required in the everyday life of non-heteronormative Polynesian genders, and on the other it is compulsory if traditional tattoos are in question. To which extent is then tattoing a force that counts to establish inequalities or to restore equality in these two contexts? How gender, techniques, and the politics of history intertwine in the contemporary in(di)visible worlds

Discussion Session

EMANUELA Borgnino (University of Torino)

Discussion session for the panel