Abstract

Abstract:

Raymond Firth argued in "Social Organization and Social Change" that, although structure provides a framework for action, circumstances may lead to "fresh choices" and "fresh decisions" with results that "ripple" throughout a structural framework and, sometimes, beyond it; when this departure from a structure becomes permanent, the result is social change (1954). During our long-term fieldwork among the Chambri people of Papua New Guinea's East Sepik Province, we noted such ripple effects, especially as Chambri realized that they could make fresh choices and decisions in order to create new ripples. Notably, some of these new ripples affected the totemic regulation of the Chambri world. Simply put, the ontology and logic of Chambri totemism—what had been the environment of environmental regulation—became open to capitalist-inflected choices and decisions. Here we consider this emergent capitalism of Chambri cosmology as a historical process of social change, one arising from a conjuncture with the "cosmologies of capitalism," to reference Sahlins's significant discussion (1988). Along the way, we appraise the fate of ontological purity at a time when the assumptions and practices of Chambri totemism, those constituting the relationship of humans to nonhumans, have become substantially reformulated. What does it signal for Chambri that the wrong sorts of people may be making for-profit choices and decisions about the actions of the elements while, at the same time, these elements—wind, water, and fish—have become increasingly obstreperous, apparently acting on their own volitions?

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 124-145
Launched on MUSE
2020-04-01
Open Access
No
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