Accepted Paper:

Modern institutions in a cross-cultural perspective: the case of a feasibility study in Vanuatu (South Pacific)  


Gaïa Fisher (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes)

Paper short abstract:

This paper deals with my experience of a feasibility study for the implementation of a wharf in Vanuatu (South Pacific), how the local notion of "place" is imbricated with post-colonial institutions and how it enters into conflict with the technical priorities of the wharf builders.

Paper long abstract:

Building on a six months experience as a consultant for an engineering group, with the aim to identify a suitable site for the implementation of a new wharf on the small island of Tanna (South Vanuatu), I analyse my expertise in the scope of an "audit" - not on accountability but on the feasibility - of the three different sites studied and of such a study in itself. The expertise, being framed in terms of 'social needs' and 'feasibility', taking also into account other social matters like 'preservation of cultural sites' and seeking the 'approval of the communities' raised, not surprisingly, a number of misunderstandings on the side of the silent partners and the beneficiaries of the project.

Having previously done three years of "open-ended" ethnography in the country, this experience made me particularly aware of the political and ethical stress under which the anthropological method finds itself in an "applied" context. My long experience with the local culture almost turned into something of an obstacle when confronted to the necessity to take into account the requirements of aid agencies and governmental directives.

Forthcoming, another trip to Vanuatu will be the occasion to present the results of the study to governmental and non-governmental institutions as well as to local leaders. The outcome of this presentation will be analyzed as to how the results of the report have been received by the institutions and the local people.

Panel W081
Modern institutions in a 'cross-cultural' perspective - ethnographies of adaptation and code-switching