Accepted paper:

Whiteness, modernity and the exotic in PNG cargo cults


Andrew Lattas (University of Bergen)

Paper short abstract:

The exotic is fundamental to the human imagination and its explorations of the possibilities of being human. The need for margins, transgressions and journeys is part of a need to explore, recombine and transform the categories that form social orders. Cargo cults do this through exploring the possibilities of whiteness.

Paper long abstract:

Alterity, anti-structure, liminality and communitas, rituals of inversion and rebellion, comedy, clowning and carnivals have for a long time been part of the lexicon of anthropological analyses of the social and its links to creative practices. Taking off from Gluckman, Turner and Mary Douglas, Kapferer has recently given new theoretical significance to this work and its explorations of social and cultural practices for decomposing and recomposing order. Reinterpreting this work using Deleuze's philosophy of virtual forms, Kapferer questions current methodological precautions that warn and ward off the exotic. For Kapferer, the exotic is central to the human imagination and to the production of social order. All social orders posit margins and transgressions; they have a creative constitutive dialogue with what they posit as lying outside of them, recreating this outside in the process of recreating themselves. In Melanesia, whiteness and modernity have become objects of the imagination and vehicles for organising social practices that have an utopian libratory potential whilst also being part of the development of new forms of domination and social control. Here the exotic is both fundamental to human freedom but also part of the articulation of new structures and technologies of power. At an ethnographic level, this paper will use cargo cults in PNG to take issue with recent critiques of the anthropological focus on cargo cults as part of a Gothic voyeuristic concern with the exotic that takes away from a focus on Christianity and the centrality of its localisation in PNG.

panel G22
Exoticisation, self-exoticisation: agency, identity and transformation