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Department of Social Anthropology


Ascriptions of Dependency in the Pacific


Discussions about the nature of ‘dependence’ and ‘independence’ shape much political debate across the world, and the Oceanic  RSmith PastedGraphic 1region is no exception. Papua New Guinea, and the ‘small island states’ of the South Pacific have been caricatured in both development theories and their critiques as weak, unstable and dependent on richer neighbours such as New Zealand, Australia and USA for foreign exchange income in the form of aid and remittances, and saddled with bureaucracy and corruption. Recent work in anthropology (e.g. Ferguson 2013, Peacock 2016) and beyond (Cockburn 2018) has highlighted the shortcomings of the pathologisation of dependency, and the hidden assumptions underlying depictions of dependency, particularly at the world’s ‘periphery’ as well as the poor, women, disabled, etc. at levels of the nation-state and community (R. Smith, 2019). Contemporary political discussions have historic parallels in the anthropological literature of the region in which ideas of ‘dependence’ have long been central to ethnographic understandings of leadership and social organisation (see Martin 2013, Hoëm 2015). On the other hand, ideals of self-reliance and self-determination hold a strong place in the aspirations of people across the postcolonial Pacific at different scales. This publication project will consolidate a working group focussed on issues of dependency and inequality in Pacific, centred on a collaboration between Cambridge and Oslo departments of Social Anthropology.

Awarding grant body: CHRG (Cambridge Humanities Research Grant)Tier 3 International Exchange/Collaboration grants