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The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 261-263

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Book Review

Law and Order in a Weak State: Crime and Politics in Papua New Guinea

Law and Order in a Weak State: Crime and Politics in Papua New Guinea, by Sinclair Dinnen. Pacific Islands Monograph Series 17. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8248-2280-3; xvi + 248 pages, maps, tables, photos, notes, bibliography, index. US$40.

Currently a research fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies of the Australian National University, Sinclair Dinnen is a former head of the Crime Studies Division of the National Research Institute of Papua New Guinea and lecturer in law at the University of Papua New Guinea. In those capacities he spent much of the 1990 s at close quarters to Papua New Guinea's much publicized "law and order" problem, engaged with the chronic remedial efforts of the state and with the opportunity to directly observe the problem at the grassroots level through his own fieldwork.

He has drawn on these experiences in this book, which is an ambitious attempt to move beyond the spectrum of analytic approaches, ranging from orthodox criminology to political economy models, which have previously dominated academic literature on Papua New Guinea's "law and order" problem. After a general introduction, a handy historical overview traces colonial and postcolonial attitudes to "law and order" as well as sketching relevant aspects of Melanesian social organization and the politics of exchange usually characterized by the term "gift economy." A central theme of the author's argument is set up in this chapter: not only has the imposition of state on a previously stateless society been a failure in terms of the ideals of modernization (the replacement of "traditional" undifferentiated social institutions with differentiable institutions typifying western capitalist societies) but the "state" cannot be analytically isolated from the "society" on which it attempts to impose order.

Following this chapter a short discussion explains and argues for the three analytic perspectives adopted, mostly on the ground that concentration on one perspective risks losing insights gained by the use of others. Dinnen proposes a synthetic approach in which the economic contexts of group and individual behavior are examined from the broadly "materialist" perspective; the "social foundations of human behavior" (40)--particularly in the context of transition from pre-state, pre-capitalist social forms--are examined from the "culturalist" perspective; and the role of the institutions of state and civil society in relation to crime and disorder are examined from the "institutional" perspective. In regard to the "culturalist" [End Page 261] perspective, what the author discusses under this heading is arguably not "cultural" according to the various interpretations contemporary anthropologists accord to that vexed concept, but "social."

Three subsequent chapters each contain a case study followed by a discussion applying each of the three previously named perspectives in turn and short conclusions. The first case deals with urban crime, or raskolism (derived from the Pidgin raskol, for street criminal). After a brief account of the rise of raskolism the focus of the chapter is a narrative of a ritual surrender by youths representing themselves as raskols who wish to reform. Raskol surrenders have become a frequent strategy since the 1980 s as a way of leaving crime, and the author personally monitored the fortunes of a youth who organized a surrender by himself and his peers, and an attempted foray into small business, with the aid of sympathetic officials and youth workers who brokered the surrender. This is the most fascinating of the three case studies, probably because of the author's direct fieldwork experience and consequent ability to bring the people involved to life in the text.

The second case study is the politics of mining security, a vexed issue for Papua New Guinea since the forced closure of the economically paramount Panguna copper mine on Bougainville in 1989. The chapter discusses the strategies adopted in the 1990 s for providing security for mining...


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