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The Contemporary Pacific 16.1 (2004) 182-186

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Materializing the Nation: Commodities, Consumption, and Media in Papua New Guinea, by Robert J Foster. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-253-21549-8; x + 202 pages, figures, photographs, notes, bibliography, index. Paper, US$22.95.

Materializing the Nation is a theory-challenging perspective on "everyday nation making" in Papua New Guinea. Foster focuses on how Papua New Guineans, from state officials to office workers, use commodities and mass media to define, promote, and often contradict particular visions of "the nation" and its "national citizens." He argues against observations that "PNG" is little more than a rhetorical figure of speech and that its diverse peoples are more consumers than "citizens." He reminds us that despite troubling political and law-and-order crises, procedural democracy continues to exist more than twenty-five years after independence, and that a national consciousness is clearly present, with "the nation" used as a frame of reference for staging collective and personal identities. All seven chapters in this book began as conference or seminar papers. The first five were published elsewhere. Bringing them together, Foster makes his work accessible and proves that banal, everyday nation making can constitute a base for more dramatic forms of nationalism and citizenship.

Part I of the book looks at two state-sponsored projects of nation making and how these efforts at moral education were received. Chapter 1 describes the first National Law Week in 1984. As part of a campaign to [End Page 182] educate people on their individual rights and obligations to"the nation," National Law Week organizers took aim at an existing collective activity—betel-nut chewing. Reminding citizens that it was a criminal offense to lean out of a car to spit betel-nut juice on the road, the committee further defined the indiscriminate spitting of betel-nut chewers as "uncaring, anti-social behavior." Popular dissent focused on whose definition of social morality was being foisted on Papua New Guinea—indigenous or European?

Shortly before independence, in April 1975, PapuaNew Guinea issued its new currency. The new money was filled with images of traditional wealth items and named after kina and toea shells. In chapter 2 we learn that the state's use of monetary symbolism to make connections between Papua New Guineans was a first step in its efforts to convince them that the new currency was more convenient than locally based forms of wealth, and that men with money in the bank were morally superior to men who do not save. The preferred bank, of course, is the Papua New Guinea Banking Corporation,representing the nation and its wealth. The morally superior individual is one with a bank book-and-identity-card, an individual belonging to a community ofindividuals makingup the"nation." Again, Papua New Guineans have exerted control over the process, treating denominations differently and determining, for example, that twenty-kina notes be directed to socially reproductive ends.

The chapters in part II support Foster's faith in the instrumental effects of advertising and mass-consumption practices in nation making in Papua New Guinea. Chapter 3 looks at how advertising forms reflect and constitute both relationships between subjects and objects and relationships between subjects and other persons and communities. While there is as yet no "Sears catalog"standardizing tastes and connecting the most remote farmers to an expansive network of consumers (as happened, according to historian Daniel Boorstin, in late-nineteenth-century America), Papua New Guinea's advertising industry reaches large segments of the country with the same ads and same radio and TV personalities. One frame of reference for nationalizing commodities is a metaphorical equation between citizen-consumers and advertised products or services. Examples include ad campaigns for "Our National Airline" (Air Niugini) and "Our Country, Our Bank"(PNG Banking Corporation). In the Air Niugini ad, male and female employees—all apparently Papua New Guinean—are shown touching some piece of airline equipment, signifying—along with text—that they along with all other Papua New Guineans are the owners of...