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Locating Mining and Agency in Recent Ethnography of Highlands Papua New Guinea

This thesis explores the way in which ethnographic enquiry can contribute to a broader understanding of the socio-economic effects of mining development in Papua New Guinea (PNG) through a critical literature review of three key recent ethnographies of Highlands societies. This research is positioned within the field of literature known as the anthropology of mining, which focuses on how mining is embedded in social, political, economic and environmental context. The study shows how ethnography essentially reveals a mine as more than a physical location that extracts raw materials from the ground. Rather, it highlights how a mine is diversely constructed and is embedded within a set of complex social relations and cultural concerns that are not restricted to a particular ‘site’. The importance of this research is that it explores how change is understood by local PNG communities and their experience with the presence of mining development. It examines how not all change is externally imposed from mining, but can be attributed by changes in internal mechanisms of social organization such as gender relations, exchange practices, alliance and warfare. The dispersed effects of mining are not only made apparent through the multiple forms a mine can encompass in various locations and contexts, but also the agency locals embody, and the evaluative processes they apply to their new circumstances. By exploring the dispersed reality of a mine, ethnographic accounts can track the ways that people in a range of different settings are actively responding to and engaging with situations of change. Ethnography is thus useful as it recognizes that locals are not passive recipients of externally imposed forces, but are active and important agents in creatively shaping the process of change. The study demonstrates how local people use the presence and influence of mining as a platform from which to reformulate their social identities within a variety of cultural, spatial, and political structures. It explores how the formation of new subject positions extends to encompass issues surrounding morality, inequality and feasibility.
Type of thesis
Howser, S. (2016). Locating Mining and Agency in Recent Ethnography of Highlands Papua New Guinea (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10803
University of Waikato
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