Academic journal article Oceania

Foucault among Ipili Speakers

Academic journal article Oceania

Foucault among Ipili Speakers

Article excerpt

Ever since I returned from my first trip to Papua New Guinea to do research among Paielas living in what would become Enga Province, I have avoided walking over anything in my path. I attribute this behavior to the conditioning I received as someone interested in Paiela gender and notions of pollution. At the time of my initial research, if a Paiela woman stepped over something of value, she destroyed the value. Stepping over something of value places something 'bad' (ko) over something 'good' (epene). The verb for stepping over, kalo pi, means in fact 'to defile'. In my case, the 'bad' was the female lower body, but married men were also not supposed to step over something 'good' because of their contact with the female lower body. It was suggested to me, for example, that when the Missionary Aviation Fellowship plane flew overhead, the pilot, a married male and thus someone who had lain with a woman, defiled everything below (cf Jacka 2007:57). I have written about these notions, tied as they were to a gender politics that identified the female as not only inferior to, but more physically disgusting (because of menstruation and childbirth) than, the male. I find it hard to forget these ideas when I am, say, in the classroom and confronted with student book bags and legs, which I self-consciously maneuver around, never over.

As I have read more and more of Foucault's writings, I have wondered whether concepts such as 'discipline', 'biopower', and 'docile bodies' do not apply to whatever it is that accounts for the 'dressage' (a favorite Foucauldian metaphor) of my classroom maneuvers, awkward as they are. Jadran Mimica and Jerry Jacka, my PhD student of a decade and more ago, have together created a welcome opportunity for me to consider the relevance of Foucault to Ipili materials. In preparing this response, I have read Jacka's 'Our Skins Are Weak' for the first time. Much of his account resonates with what I know from my work among Paielas. Jacka's research was conducted among the Eastern Ipili in the Porgera valley; my original research was done among the Western Ipili in the Paiela valley. Tipinini, Jacka's area, is a borderland area occupied by ethnic Engans and Ipilis as well as by those who cannot declare undivided allegiance to either group but who are, in Ipili parlance, 'in between' (tombene nga), with blood links on both sides. Tipinini conversations can be confusing. One person might be able to speak and understand Ipili but only understand Engan, while the other person might be able to speak and understand Engan but only understand Ipili. In the event, the conversation will be conducted in two languages, not one, and with both speakers understanding every single word. I am suggesting here that what might be true of the Eastern Ipili is not necessarily true of the Western Ipili, and vice versa, and that extrapolating from what I know of the Western Ipili to the Eastern Ipili is a high-risk enterprise.

In 'Our Skins Are Weak', Jacka argues that the bodies of Tipininians were 'disciplined' in the past; that, with missionization and the abandonment of the ritual technologies through which this disciplining occurred, disciplining has lapsed, causing the loss of the benefits of discipline, which were physical growth and increased strength. Bodily weakness ('Our Skins Are Weak') is thus the cost of modernizing. Foucault's Discipline and Punish and related texts describe 'modern' regimes of power as a break with the regimes of the past, so the trajectory should move in the opposite direction, from a lack of disciplinarity to disciplinarity, an irony Jacka acknowledges (Jacka 2007:40).

What does Foucault mean by disciplinary power? Disciplinary power pertains to '"the meticulous control of the operations of the body" Jacka writes (ibid.), quoting Foucault's Discipline and Punish. Such operations render the body 'docile', much as my body might be said to display a measure of docility when it walks around instead of over whatever is vulnerable to my powers of pollution. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.