Most if not all of my research has dealt with the people and communities of Papua New Guinea, first among people of Auhelawa and more recently at a national scale. A complete list of my research publications by type and date can be found here. What follows is an overview of my major research projects.
An ethnography of Auhelawa
Auhelawa is a society on the south coast of Duau (Normanby Island), in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. Since 2004, I have conducted approximately 20 months of field work in Auhelawa, the longest period being 2006. In my PhD dissertation and in most of the work since then, I have argued that Auhelawa produce a story of their own historical transformation—what they call the end of tradition—by applying their Christian religious practices as models of social change.
Developing stories: News journalism and ethnographic citizenship in PNG
Building on my argument that Auhelawa historical consciousness emerges from the production of practical knowledge, this project examines the role of mass journalism in the production of public knowledge of difference, particularly as culture, in Papua New Guinea in the contemporary period. In both colonial and postcolonial periods, people of Papua New Guinea are recognized as political actors insofar as they present themselves as members of a discrete indigenous society. Rather than assert an epistemic monopoly on people’s diversity, the state compels people to be their own ethnographers in order to be recognized as citizens. Mass journalism, as social institution, government initiative, or both, takes on the role of public ethnographer, and in the process proliferates many new kinds of political agency.
How people became Papuans
A bridge between my work on Auhelawa and my work on mass journalism has been investigations into the colonial experience of Auhelawa and their neighbors, with particular attention to how cultural boundaries are formed in the contact zone among Pacific Islanders and Europeans in the Coral Sea between Australia and New Guinea. (Arguably Indigenous Australians, Chinese, and others are part of this contact zone, although this has not been a part of my research in this area.)