Earth Institute Contact: Paige West
Coffee, gold, and images of souls are three commodities that are produced in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and that bring money into the country. Coffee and gold do so in an obvious way, as commodities in world market exchange; however souls also operate as commodities because missionaries use the image of "pagan" souls in need of saving to raise money to support their work. These three things are also important for bringing what many rural people in PNG see as valued development to their lives. Coffee and gold bring money and Christian missionaries bring Western modernity. For these reasons, many people have begun to grow coffee, have converted to Christianity, and have encouraged gold exploration on their lands. Coffee, gold, and souls are not only means to economic prosperity; they also figure prominently in the way that Papua New Guineans understand themselves as an increasingly modern people. Coffee production, gold mining, and Christianity also affect the natural environment in PNG. Coffee production and gold mining in obvious ways, through changes tied to shifts in agricultural production and through damage done to natural systems by mines. Conversions to Christianity have less readily apparent effects, but they are profound. Historic religious practices and ideologies in much of PNG were tied to the natural world in terms of actions and beliefs and this often had sustainable resource use as a by product of belief. Now, Christian ideas about the relations between nature and culture, employing the Western "nature / culture" dichotomy, have altered these traditional ways of using resources and understanding social relations with the environment. Christianity brings the lens of modernity to nature.In the proposed project I will study three sets of people: the Gimi, village residents in the Eastern Highlands Province (EHP) of PNG; merchants in Goroka, the provincial capital of the EHP; and Australians living in Queensland, Australia (AU). I will study the relationships between these people in the production, distribution, and consumption of coffee, gold, and images of souls as commodities extracted from rural PNG, processed and distributed in Goroka, and consumed in Queensland. I will examine the social, political-economic, historic, and ecological connections between the people in this "commodity ecumene" (Appadurai 1986:27; Foster 2002:152). Through this "transcultural network of relationships linking producers, distributors, and consumers" (Appadurai 1986:27) I will track the environmental changes associated with the production and processing of these commodities and embed my analysis of this ecumene in political ecology (Biersack 1999). In tracing the commodity ecumene I will also analyze how people along the ecumene make meaning and imagine difference. Through these three activities Papua New Guineans living on the margins of government services can access regional economies, connect with people in other places, and forge social identities as modern productive citizens. People who participate in these activities often juxtapose their image of themselves as modern, developed, and educated with an imagined Papua New Guinea of the past steeped in tradition or kastom (Keesing 1989), myth, and underdevelopment. These three activities filter and produce the ways that people imagine their relationships with the past, the present, and the future. Coffee, gold, and souls carry a particular symbolic meaning for rural Papua New Guineans. For them, they are material goods and ideological forms that carry the message, "we are modern". On their journey from production to consumption, these commodities travel through urban centers like Goroka. There they are processed, packaged, and distributed by exporters whose livelihoods depend upon the commodities carrying a different symbolic meaning. For PNG coffee, gold, and souls to have value in the global marketplace they must carry that imagined "traditional native" with them. They must carry the mark of the "exotic" and the "other," an image that fits into already existing ideas about PNG. Paradoxically, the marketing of these items and images turns on the image that the Gimi are trying to escape through participation in their production. Those working in distribution related businesses, Australian expatriates and urban Papua New Guineans, infuse these commodities with this set of meanings while at the same time carefully distinguishing their lifestyles and images of themselves from them.The major point of export for coffee, gold, and souls from PNG is AU, a place that has a special connection to PNG as its previous colonial power and its largest source of development aid. PNG has a particular place in the Australian's thinking. In addition, many Australians have personal connections to PNG, either through their own travel and labor biographies or through those of their family members who may have been colonial officials, gold miners, or missionaries. Because AU has this distinctive collective representation of PNG, people are likely to respond to symbolizations of PNG in ways that differ from responses in places where PNG is not the focus of that sort of collective memory. When PNG coffee, gold, and souls are consumed in AU they carry a different symbolic message and the original message that the commodities held in rural PNG, "we are modern just like you" is not the message received in AU.
2) In tracing the commodity ecumene for coffee, gold, and souls the proposed project connects an examination of production, distribution, and consumption with an analysis of how people along this commodity chain make meaning and imagine difference. This is important because the existing literature on commodities, while it pays attention to commodities as meaning bearers (Haug 1986), does not compare the meanings sent by producers and the meanings understood by consumers. In addition, although several of the seminal works in the early anthropology of consumption (Mintz, 1985; Schneider 1978, Wolf 1969) focus on both the producers and the consumers, many of the recent examinations of consumption fail to look at the real political and economic effects of production. My project links production, distribution and consumption and treats them all as key sites along the ecumene. In addition, while some past studies of production took environment or nature into account, many more contemporary analyses of consumption do not. The proposed project will embed the analysis of the commodity ecumene in the political ecology of the region.
Coffee production, gold mining, and participation in Christian mission activities have been seen by various sectors of the population in PNG as ways to access development, and theorized by anthropologists as attempts to access modernity (Biersack 1995, Gewertz and Errington 1996, Knauft 1993, 1999; Lipuma 2001; Robbins 1995; Sexton 1986). Since the 1980's anthropology, economics, and cultural studies have theorized consumption (Appadurai 1986, 1990, 1996; Baudrillard 1981; Douglas and Isherwood 1981; Fine 1995; Friedman 1994; Foster 1991, 2002; Kopytoff 1986, Miller 1992, 1997; Rutz and Orlove 1989, Schnieder 1978, 1988) the social lives of producers and consumers (Burke 1996; Gewertz and Errington 1996, Ivy 1995; Miller 1997; Weiss 1996; Wilk 1994) and the social effects of development (Escobar 1992; Ferguson 1994; Hodgson 2002). Geographers have theorized the ways in which social life and production work to produce space or make place (Harvey 1990; Smith 1984). There has also been important work on the commodities I am proposing to study: coffee (Roseberry 1996; Roseberry et. al. 1995, Schivelbusch 1992); mining (Biersack 1999; Filer 1990, 1994; Hyndman 1987; Imbun 2000, Kirsch, 1989, 2002); and Christianity in PNG (Barker 1999; Bashkow 2000; Biersack 1996; Lowmann 2001; Robbins 1995, 1998a, 1998b; Strathern and Stewart 1998). In addition, numerous disciplines have become interested in the imagination as both a social practice (Appadurai 1996) and as a way of making meaning (Anderson 1983; Blanchot 1982; Engell 1981; Kearney 1988; Lacan 1978; Said 1979).Appadurai (1986) describes the concept of a commodity ecumene (1986:27) and Foster (2002) extends this discussion arguing that modern anthropology must examine these ecumenes in order to understand globalization. Drawing on Wilk (1994) and Hannerz (1992) Foster argues that globalization promotes difference, but not the complex difference of daily social life across the world, rather the organized difference that is produced by local interactions with modernity, development and capital (Foster 2002:14). Errington and Gewertz (2001) have referred to this as the "generification of culture." Part of this "generification" or production of ordered and easily consumable difference, is the making of meaning with regard to what it means to be modern (according to the Gimi), how easily consumable difference can be used to sell commodities from PNG (according to distributors in Goroka) and ideas about what Papua New Guineans are like (according to Australians).Foster (2002) drawing on Anderson (1983) lays out the connection between commodity consumption, the imagination, and identification on the part of citizens as part of the national state of PNG.
The proposed project will complement this work by asking the question, how do people who produce, distribute, and consume coffee, gold, and souls imagine themselves as links in a chain of commodity production, as citizens accessing avenues for development, and as consumers in the new political economy of virtualism (Carrier and Miller 1998)? An economy in which social life is viewed through a lens of economic abstraction and social practices that do not fit the abstract models are shaped to conform to this "virtual vision" (Carrier and Miller 1998).Political ecology has shown us that environmental change generally engages transnational movements of ideas, capital, and people with culturally specific local areas. It has also demonstrated that places of commodity production serve as sites where social, environmental, and material relations can be examined within larger political-economic and historical contexts. Political ecology helps us consider the interface between local and global communities and processes (see Biersack 1999; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Brosius 1999; Escobar 1999). By bringing together political ecology with the social analysis of commodity ecumene this project serves to merge two important theoretical threads in contemporary anthropology. Finally, Haraway (1997), Katz (1998), Castree (1995), Smith (1984) and Harvey (1996) have shown that nature is now increasingly produced as a commodity and in the image of commodities. By merging the examination of commodities as meaning bearers and social connectors across this ecumene with this the examination of nature as commodity, I will contribute to the social analysis of the production of nature.
Cross Cutting Themes:
Department of Anthropology, Barnard College, Columbia University, 3009 Broadway, NY NY 10027
E3B, AAUW, ACLS, Barnard College