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Peddling inequalities: Pacific use of novel technologies to generate novel inequalities


Anthony Pickles, Inna Yaneva-Toraman

Session presentation

We seek to explore the adaptive use of technologies and techniques that are exogenous to the specific Pacific peoples under study, particularly when these technologies/techniques are used to subvert, upend, or otherwise manipulate dominant patterns of distribution. These technologies and techniques may or may not be indigenous to other Pacific communities. The scope is deliberately broad, but the focus is narrowly upon the intended effects of these technologies/techniques on current distribution patterns, and the consequences thereof. We will consider the generative potential of these novel inequalities. How are existing distribution patterns and their upheaval conceptualised? Are motivations themselves novel or do they fit into indigenous patterns? Are the carriers of novelty considered rooted in the community or outsiders? Is the technology/technique widely dispersed or concentrated in the hands of a minority? How is access to novelty policed or enshrined in the technology/technique? Are changes to distribution intended to be temporary or permanent? What were/are the unintended consequences? Is there resistance? What form does resistance take?

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

The "inequal" consequences of applications of accounting technologies to I-Nikunau

Keith Dixon (Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha)

Applications of accounting practices associated with various forms of colonialism, including administrative and informal imperialism, have had consequences, good and bad, for the circumstances of Pacific peoples. However, even in situations where these peoples have been directly involved in these practices (e.g., in native governments, trading cooperatives and sovereign governments), others have often obtained the lion’s shares of economic value, political power, social status and cultural refinement. This thesis is illustrated with reference to Nikunau Island and where the I-Nikunau (i.e., indigenes of Nikunau) Diaspora reside, that is Tarawa Atoll, other islands and metropolises around the Pacific, Great Britain, etc. It draws on an analysis of the changing circumstances of this People since 1800 and a critical study of the accounting usages affecting them, in situ and from a distance, for example, in London, Rome, Melbourne, Washington, Wellington and Manila. The circumstances in question may be classified as geographical, demographical, macro- and micro-economic, environmental, biological, nutritional and corporeal, political, spiritual, educational, social, organisational, distributional, cultural, and societal. The usages relate to industrial hunting of marine life, trading for copra, mining for fertiliser, religion making, civilising and developing people through colonial governance, developing and emerging their economy with aid from neo-imperial organisations, and mi

Hiring to Give: Wealth Distribution and Circulation in a Papua New Guinean Society

Inna Yaneva-Toraman (University of Edinburgh)

With the emergence of capitalist economies in the Pacific much has been criticised about the ways in which money has transformed relationships: sons buying fish from their mothers, sisters employing their siblings to peddle garden produce, fathers selling their knowledge of house building, and so on. Such monetary relations are often discussed in the context of new emerging inequalities (for example, class or status) or enforcing already existing ones (such as between men and women). This paper explores how instead of creating inequalities, among the Kairak Baining of Papua New Guinea the practice of “hiring” was adopted to deal with inequality. By taking the imagined division of their ward into sections, which had been drawn in the 1970s by the United Church for work and money raising purpouses, and small family-owned cash crop plantation practices, the Kairak have developed a labour scheme (usually to clear new garden land) that aims to equally distribute and circulate money among all households. The paper explores how such employment is conceptualised and differentiated from other forms of work, how for the Kairak having too much money is shameful, and the ways in which people choose to participate, exclude others, or subvert the overall scheme, thus effectively creating new inequalities.

Mobile Signal in Saruwaged Range, Papua New Guinea

Martin Soukup (Charles University)

The subject of the paper is to present how mobile technology has affected life of the Nungon community and how the cell phone emphasizes social inequality amongst the community members. The community lives in a remote area of the country with limited access to Lae city, so the signal is weak. The cell tower was erected in the Saruwaged Range at the beginning of 2015. Mobile technology is slowly spreading in the community since then. Internet connection naturally arrived together with the mobile signal. The local people started to create profiles on social media like Facebook and to use a message communication tool like Messenger. The author will explore not only the way social media is used but also the particular way the cell phone is used for listening to music and for taking pictures. Based on detailed knowledge of genealogy, the author will also demonstrate how the new technology intertwines with the leadership in the community, canteen ownership and the coffee trade. The aim of the paper is to show how the mobile phone works as a sign of social inequality within the community.

Subversive Screens and Digital Pockets: Digital Techniques and the Renegotiation of Inequality

Geoffrey Hobbis (University of Groningen)

I examine a series of digital techniques used by people living in Island Melanesia, with a primary focus on the Lau Lagoon, Malaita, Solomon Islands, and the Bariai Coast, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea. I focus specifically on those techniques that are used to push the limits of social conventions. The widespread adoption and adaption of mobile digital technologies, straight and simple mobile phones as well more sophisticated smartphones, have upended asymmetric power relations in the transmission and possession of information. Gender roles are being agitated, women control their personal media on their own tiny movie screens while many men, to women’s frustration, hide sexually suggestive content in the sort of secret digital pockets that are their MicroSD cards. The introduction of exogenous information and communication technologies – print, radio and film – have tended towards shoring up power in the hands of the few elites with the capital and skills necessary to own, read, listen, view and comprehend the transmitted media. Mobile digital technologies and their techniques are subverting these non digital sociotechnical hierarchies in locally unprecedented ways. While paper, radio and film encouraged further individualization digital sociomateriality is affecting a potential dividualization of contemporary social relations.

Playing cards as financial fulcrums in colonial Papua New Guinea

Anthony Pickles (University of East Anglia)

Much has been made of the redistributive effects of gambling in societies on the colonial/capitalist frontier, but little attention has been paid to inequalities of access to gambling materials. Accounts of cards in what became Papua New Guinea begin with their use as an ornament. Individual cards found their way along inland trade routes and became disconnected from their intended use. One expeditionary patrol found spade designs copied onto war shields among ‘uncontacted’ peoples. Later, returning labour migrants brought decks back with them, becoming ‘father of the cards’ and charging players up to half the winnings from a game played with them. While gambling certainly drew wealth (store-bought goods as well as money) away from labour migrants and put it in the hands of subsistence farmers, I contend that a ‘father of the cards’ melded indigenous financial practices (the loan of boars in exchange for piglets, the distribution of pigs in anticipation of future claims, etc.) with plantation practices of loaning the means of wealth accumulation for a monetary price. I analyse the conceptual operationalisation of these practices and how these were facilitated, hampered, or complicated by cards as a gambling technology.