Academic journal article Oceania

Fenced In: Intimacy and Mobility in Highlands Papua New Guinea

Academic journal article Oceania

Fenced In: Intimacy and Mobility in Highlands Papua New Guinea

Article excerpt

This paper examines the dialectical relationship between business as an expansive profit oriented project on the one hand, and its anchoring in clan defined space on the other. I will argue that the shared capacity of the entrepreneurial subjects of business for a domestically grounded intimacy mediates the intersubjective (Jackson 1996, 1998) dynamics of this contradictory relationship. Business leaders manage the political aspects of this tension through the control they exercise over mobility within the Jimi Valley and between the Jimi and the economic core areas of the Wahgi Valley and Mt. Hagen. In part they are able to do this because of the aspirations and desires associated with this mobility (See Maclean 1994). I focus in this article, however, on the unfolding dynamic of a particular truck trip in 1991, from the Jimi to the Wahgi, to demonstrate the mutual implication of such control over mobility and a masculine capacity for intimacy. Wardlow has noted in her influential study of imminent possessive individualism among Huli women that pasinja meri are considered unimportant in that they are 'merely passengers not the driver' (Wardlow 2006: 141). This paper takes up the other side of this equation, examining the self-conscious and often defensive masculinity of Jimi 'drivers' as a transformation of an established ethic of mutuality, rather than its elision.

I have taken the view in this paper that an argument focussing on a specific event needs to be explicitly historically and methodologically framed. Historically I have situated the distinctively anxious quality of this trip within a description of the evacuation of a coherent state presence from the Jimi Valley over the 1980s and an appreciation of the failure of the would-be civil-society legacy of Australian colonialism. I argue that the peculiar mix of the expansionary and defensive dynamics of business have to be understood in relation to this void.

Methodologically I treat the question that provoked this paper as arising from two aspects of the experience of long-term fieldwork. On the one hand the question was put to me because of my integration into the 'insider' dynamics of the truck trip, built in turn on my own socialisation into Maring intimacy (see also Maclean 2012). On the other hand, the question had its impact because of the radical disruption of my relationship to the Jimi Valley as 'civic' space. In analysing the intersubjective dynamics of the event I draw on Schutz's critical appreciation of the imperative towards the synchronisation of streams of consciousness in face-to-face relationships, and of its limits (Schutz 1972: 164-172). In appreciating the sedimenting effects of long-term fieldwork I draw on Schutz's discussion of 'meaning context' (Schutz 1972: 75). I take this as an opportunity to reflect, not just on long-term fieldwork, but on error in fieldwork.

THE QUESTION

In October 1991 I returned to Kwima in the Jimi Valley after an absence of four years to find the landscape of modernity rearranged,l On the one hand, what had been a small but promising enterprise, had grown into a diverse business through which its majority owner, Clement, dominated public life in Kwima, and played a key role in the regional economy of the valley (see Maclean 1994). On the other, the range of services available in the District Office at Tabibuga had become increasingly unpredictable, or disappeared entirely. Having to do some banking, I cadged a lift from Clement who was sending a truck to sell coffee and buy stock in the Wahgi Valley, the 'metropole' to the Jimi periphery. We had left late anyway, had to refill an overheated radiator at a creek, and then it started raining on the bags of parchment coffee as we drove into Tabibuga. The rain threatened to ruin the coffee and it also looked like it might be getting dark driving over the Sepik-Wahgi Divide that separates the Jimi and Wahgi Valleys. As this is an area chronically subject to banditry, we decided to stay the night above the Tabibuga station at Lopme, a fenced trade-store compound that Clement had a major share in. …

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