Accepted paper:

Inventing the rules: moral agency amongst the first Papua New Guinean generation

Authors:

Karen Sykes (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the experiences of the first generation of Papua New Guineans born after independence in 1975, who attended secondary school during the period of structural adjustment programs of the 1990s, and grew up with expectations to fill jobs and carry adult responsibilities after graduation.

Paper long abstract:

If political maturity comes with the awareness that it is possible to 'break the rules' in order to realize the value of a specific form of association (as Zizek says is the case during these last days of Western capitalism); then for many years adulthood was the normal moral condition for Melanesians of all ages. When national Independence brought the possibility of following the rules, and thereby entering a condition of political immaturity, then adulthood became a problem. This paper explores the experiences of that first generation of Papua New Guineans born after independence in 1975, who attended secondary school during the period of structural adjustment programs of the 1990s, and grew up with expectations to fill jobs and carry adult responsibilities only after graduation. Their accounts of how their prospects have been thwarted not only index two decades of economic turbulence in PNG but also demonstrate how adulthood became a complex stage of life in which jobs are not forthcoming, and life with village kin is filled with everyday dilemmas of mixed obligations. Following Gell (1998) (rather than Zizek), I analyze the instances of moral agency of the members of the current generation of Papua New Guineans, as they meet adult obligations, and thereby 'invent the rules', rather than 'follow' or 'break' them. I conclude, even where education promises Enlightenment and access to international life styles, neither state nor markets ultimately constrain Melanesian knowledge practices to description by any one domain or power.

panel P42
Difference in an interconnected world