Accepted Paper:

Affirmative Indigenous biopolitics in West Papua  
Eben Kirksey (Deakin University)

Paper short abstract:

The people of Mee Pago, an Indigenous homeland in West Papua, are reckoning with the failed promises of Modern Progress. While navigating radical historical contingencies, Indigenous intellectuals are redefining the horizons of ethical and political action.

Paper long abstract:

Amidst ongoing disruptions to Mee lifeworlds, Indigenous agents of transculturation are making strategic engagements with bureaucratic institutions and biomedical systems in unfinished attempts to ameliorate situations of inequity. Classical work on biopolitics, the term introduced by Michel Foucault in 1975 to understand how some human populations are "allowed to die" (laissez mourir), is certainly relevant to contemporary dynamics in Mee Pago. Futures for whole generations of Indigenous children are being destroyed. Diseases like measles and cholera have generated periodic mass mortality events. These outbreaks are taking place against the backdrop of chronic illnesses—like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV—that are constantly killing the Mee people, young and old alike. Departing from classical biopolitical thought, which might account for these deaths in terms of the outcome of "a technology of power centered on life" (Foucault 1984: 266), this paper uses ethnographic methods to characterize the articulation work of indigenous intellectuals within the field of biopolitics. I found that some Mee leaders have assumed strategic positions within systems of governmentality, while others are engaged in tactical maneuvers that produced "temporary reversals in the flow of power" (Garcia and Lovink 1997; de Certeau 1998). Indigenous intellectuals are engaged in tactical biopolitics, they are working to expose, derail, and rearticulate dominant practices for managing life (da Costa and Phillip 2008: 9).

Panel P27
Surviving entanglements in West Papua [Combined format]