- Managing Modernity in the Western Pacific edited by Mary Patterson and Martha Macintyre
The premise of Managing Modernity in the Western Pacific is that the many-faceted character of modernity in the western Pacific becomes visible in its active management at both micro and macro levels. As the contributors to this volume lay out, modernity’s management occurs in practices of and engagements with economic development, millennial capitalism, and globalization. In so doing, collectively they draw nuanced ethnographic attention to the manners in which acts and institutions of management sometimes reflect and reify and sometimes contest contemporary commonsense and logics. Aiming to identify which areas of everyday life constitute domains for managing modernity, contributors seek to distinguish “sheer contemporaneity” from aspects of modernity that can be recognized as such. Explicitly in conversation with African studies and specifically with Jean and John Comaroffs’ work on millennial capitalism, this volume engages with “classic” topics in the anthropology of Melanesia including personhood and exchange while also exploring topics from the emerging anthropology of finance including investment, financial institutions, and tax regimes.
Patterson and Macintyre, followed by Richard Sutcliffe, begin by theorizing enchantment as central to the workings of millennial capitalism. The two editors suggest that just as Africa has figured heavily in research on development and emerging forms of capitalism, the western Pacific is a particularly illustrative place to examine enchantment as both reflective of global forms of millennial capitalism and constitutive of capitalist practice in the region, including not only Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Vanuatu (which are often included in “Melanesia”) but also the Cook Islands.
In the introduction, Patterson and Macintyre go to great lengths to consider “development and its dilemmas” (9). They seek to debunk stereotypical images of nations in the western Pacific as “sucking away vast aid monies into ‘unresponsive economies’” (4) or of Pacific peoples as naive or “financially illiterate” (174). Instead, they examine the discourse around blame for failed development [End Page 249] and the logics that animate development and economic practice in the western Pacific. The introduction situates a history of development, outlining Marshall Sahlins’s “develop-man” and suggesting that development is a failed project. Provocatively they offer this example: “Small businesses funded by aid dollars are meant to funnel their profits into education and improvements in living standards, not into pay televisions beaming American evangelists and their prosperity gospel to the residents of over-crowded tin sheds in urban squatter settlements in every Melanesian town” (11). Most notable is the degree to which the authors reveal deep awareness of powerlessness in the region at both the individual and national level—in potent contrast to the multiple forms of management at play in numerous everyday contexts.
Throughout the volume, authors explore conceptions and experiences of personhood and challenge the dichotomy between “dividual” and individual, notably in chapters by Debra McDougall, Nicholas Bainton, Martha Macintyre, and Matt Tomlinson. Challenges to the orthodoxy that has emerged in the wake of Marilyn Strathern’s pioneering conceptualization of personhood remind the reader of the significance of Papua New Guinea in anthropological theorizing. The authors work carefully to avoid reproducing this dichotomy by demonstrating that all Melanesians do not fit one model of personhood, nor have they abandoned “traditional relationality for a supposedly modern individualism” (122).
By moving beyond dichotomizing models of personhood, the authors approach new forms of self-fashioning central to attaining wealth and opportunity through deeply engaging ethnography. This directs the anthropological conversation away from universalizing statements about the nature of personhood to a focus on how social and cultural changes, set in motion because of the adoption of neoliberal policies and engagement with millennial capitalism, are articulated in relation to personhood, property, and exchange. This, the editors note, “belie[s] heterogeneity at the source of modernity itself” (3). To this end, Macintyre examines how social relationships change when the material objects that constitute those relationships change, McDougall explores the ways that institutions...