Tolai cultural perspectives and global economic relations as differentiated unity
Keir Martin (University of Oslo)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores how Tolai perspectives on their position with the world economy reveal neither an absolute radical separation from nor an absolute identification with its supposed values, but instead a differentiated unity in which moments of identity and contradiction come in and out of being.
Paper long abstract:
Tolai people in Papua New Guinea's East New Britain Province often propose seemingly contradictory opinions about their culture and its relation to Western culture. On the one hand their culture is sometimes presented as radically different from that of Westerners and guided by an underlying ethic of reciprocity as opposed to the alleged self-interested value system that underpins Western culture. On the other hand they often argue that their culture has been 'Westernised' either totally or to a significant degree. Rather than one perspective or the other being dominant or closer to an underlying truth, it is the interplay between these two perspectives and the reasons why different perspectives are asserted in different contexts that is key to understanding the changing nature of contemporary Tolai sociality. An ongoing contest over the limits of reciprocal obligation is expressed in terms of concerns over the resilience of Tolai culture and the transformative power of Westernisation. And Tolai themselves constantly discuss the ways in which their position within a global political economic system helps to shape the ways in which that ongoing contest plays out in East New Britain. Exploring debates over customary ritual and land tenure practices, this paper explores the ways in which Tolai perspectives on their position with the world economy reveal neither an absolute radical separation from nor an absolute identification with its supposed values, but instead a form of differentiated unity in which moments of identity and contradiction come in and out of being depending upon particular contexts.
Difference in an interconnected world