Frustrated Modernity: Structures of Feeling and Kerewo Historical Consciousness
Dario Di Rosa
(The Australian National University)
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on ethnographic material, the paper sketches the social processes shaping historical consciousness, stressing the entanglement of collective projects and representations of the past, with those structures of feeling I term "frustrated modernity".
Paper long abstract:
Drawing on ethnographic material, this paper shows the complex social, economic, and cultural processes that shape historical consciousness, here understood as the critical reflection on the present guided by what Koselleck called "space of experience" (past) and "horizon of expectations" (future). For contemporary Kerewo people of Papua New Guinea, "modernity" was first encountered in the colonial past but its promised future of wealth never fully came into being, as they are daily reminded by the lack of material signs of "development". Such sense of ongoing socio-economic marginality, despite the two decades long presence one of the biggest economic investments in Melanesia (the PNG LNG Project), constitutes the structure of feeling I term "frustrated modernity". Kerewo people trace the source of their frustrated modernity to a particular set of historical events in their colonial history: the murder of the missionary James Chalmers in 1901, and the two punitive expeditions that followed it. The death of Chalmers did cast a curse unto Kerewo land, thus preventing "development" to materialise. Yet, this episode also did put Kerewo at the centre of the process of conversion to Christianity in the area. Ultimately, it is by the means of a Christian ritual of atonement, known as the Peace and Reconciliation ceremony, that Kerewo people attempted to uplift the curse. In the Peace and Reconciliation ceremony critical reflections on present socio-economic conditions, and past and future social imaginaries coalesced, suggesting an analysis that treats historical consciousness as shaped by structures of feelings and future trajectories.
Materializing the past and imagining the future