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Accepted paper:

Emotional Economies in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea


Olivia Barnett-Naghshineh (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

Sara Ahmed and Black feminist scholars such as Joan Anim-Addo contribute an awareness to love, care and affection as part of feminist politics. Inspired by this, I offer ethnographic examples from Papua New Guinea where emotions are critical to the political economy of ceremonial exchange.

Paper long abstract:

Unlike the stereotyped western actor contained within neo-classical economic theory where decisions are characterised as rational, un-emotional, self-maximising and individualistic - the moral economy of exchange in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea is defined locally through the emotions of others and a neglect of these is understood to have material repercussions. The rightful place of emotions within this moral economy justifies and explains both the circulation of valuable items, a sense of obligation to host large scale prestations and a legitimised use of physical exertion when wrong-doing is thought to have occurred. Women's performances of song, dance and crying are particularly important at times of loss and joy. Locally, emotions are the explanation for exchange and transaction in many cases - but emotions or affective performances are also critical to carrying out such exchanges and paying attention to this demonstrates gendered dimensions of value production in the affective and performative dimensions of exchange. The economy is performative and the embodied acts of emotions and the consequential affect that results from these ritual (and non-ritual) processes reaffirm what is valued and valuable. Through ethnographic inquiry economies within and surrounding a food marketplace in Goroka, the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, I contend that through listening to and learning from my interlocutors, the place of emotions as part of rational decision making within economies can be reclaimed; where logic, cause and effect and economic relations are explained through emotions - not in opposition to them.

panel AA09
The Politics of Emotion across Anthropology and Geography