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Melanesian Odysseys

Melanesian Odysseys: Negotiating the Self, Narrative, and Modernity

Lisette Josephides
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Melanesian Odysseys
    Book Description:

    In a series of epic self-narratives ranging from traditional cultural embodiments to picaresque adventures, Christian epiphanies and a host of interactive strategies and techniques for living, Kewa Highlanders (PNG) attempt to shape and control their selves and their relentlessly changing world. This lively account transcends ethnographic particularity and offers a wide-reaching perspective on the nature of being human. Inverting the analytic logic of her previous work, which sought to uncover what social structures concealed, Josephides focuses instead on the cultural understandings that people make explicit in their actions and speech. Using approaches from philosophy and anthropology, she examines elicitation (how people create their selves and their worlds in the act of making explicit) and mimesis (how anthropologists produce ethnographies), to arrive at an unexpected conclusion: that knowledge of self and other alike derives from self-externalization rather than self-introspection.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-055-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Dramatis Personae
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxiv)
  6. Overtures, Ethnographic and Theoretical

    • Chapter 1 The Aesthetics of Fieldwork among the Kewa
      (pp. 3-19)

      In my imagination I often return to my thin-walled house in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, surrounded by houses of similar light bamboo construction. Dusk is falling and the breeze carries the gossip of the village, almost in circular motion, in and out of houses, through flimsy walls and onto open porches.

      Gossip, talk of all humans ‘sibbed in god’ (godsibb), thus beyond blood and semen links, is the breath of daily life. Its incessant low murmurings like monologues break off here and there, dying away only to rise up again, sharply to admonish a child or as accompaniment...

    • Chapter 2 Self Strategies: Ascription, Interlocution, Elicitation
      (pp. 20-50)

      In the previous chapter I attempted, using all the arts at my disposal, to convey to the reader how my field-site had impressed itself on my consciousness, and how I perceived daily life to be lived there. I presented the vignettes with little commentary, almost like pictures at an exhibition, but I also intended that they should serve to introduce the ethnography’s theoretical aim: to provide, by means of narratives, ‘portraits’ and elicitations, a concrete demonstration of people’s strategies as they negotiate their social world and their own place within it. Reversing the usual sequence, the second chapter will provide...

  7. Part I: Narratives

    • Chapter 3 Narrating the Self I: Moral Constructions of the Self as Paradigmatic Accounts
      (pp. 53-80)

      The previous chapter provided a conceptual framework for understanding human interactions as operations that construct the self and the other in a reciprocal activity through forcefully eliciting practices. The same operations simultaneously negotiate understandings of cultural practices and social knowledge. Subsequent chapters will show how much of this activity is telescoped in the accounts that people give about themselves, their lives and their achievements. The importance of narrative, then, is from the outset analytically bound up with the human interactions that are central to this study. The present chapter does something different: it uses older people’s narratives to provide for...

    • Chapter 4 Narrating the Self II: Metanarratives of Culture, Self, and Change
      (pp. 81-111)

      The narratives in this chapter establish continuity with those in the previous one, by picking up the Kewa story from exactly the same place–in the midst of courtship, marriage and war. But immediately thereafter other features differentiate these narratives sharply from the earlier ones, both as biographical accounts and as philosophical views of the nature of the relationship of the self to its world. Four main features, expanded in the conclusion to this chapter, appear to follow sequentially and may themselves be stated as a narrative. The middle-aged people who tell their stories in this chapter straddle two worlds,...

    • Chapter 5 Narrating the Self III: The Heroic, the Epic and the Picaresque in a Changed World
      (pp. 112-148)

      The narratives in chapters 4 and 5 draw their vitality and very life from the landscape painted in the chapter preceding each of them. Then, sometimes tentatively but always inevitably, they proceed to paint over it, creating a palimpsest of culture, traditions, practices, ethics, persons. By now the landscape painted by the earliest narratives is completely written over, and the experiences of the narrators are based on a transformed reality. The younger adults in this chapter are all involved in the new spheres of life; instead of wars, spirit houses, courting and magic, they talk of roadbuilding work, plantation labour,...

  8. Part II: Portraits (Several Weddings, Some Divorces and Three Funerals)

    • Chapter 6 Portraits and Minimal Narratives: Elicitations of Social Reality
      (pp. 151-161)

      It is one thing to tell a story and quite another to engage in theoretical debate. To imbue narrative with theory is always a small miracle, even when the theory was extracted from the narrative in a barely conscious process of distillation, until it emerged fully-formed, both explicans and explicandum.¹ But once theory has taken on that separate existence – clean, concise and economical, unencumbered by the messiness of multistranded life which nevertheless is congealed in it – it passes as pure understanding and wrong-foots narrative, as being excessive to its needs. In the following chapters as in previous ones I shall...

    • Chapter 7 Love and All That: Negotiating Marriage and Marital Life
      (pp. 162-187)

      The materials that make up this chapter include rehearsed talk, individual persons’ accounts of things that happened, and events I observed myself. I switch from one type of source to the other, and from one person’s narrative to another’s. My informants also switch codes in their narratives, from the collective ideal to the individuating, from apparently descriptive, uncontested rehearsed talk to the domain of fantasy. The section on polygyny and conflict zooms in on actual conflicts as they occur and the responses of those affected by them. In the concluding sections I proceed as in chapter 5, first summing up...

    • Chapter 8 The Politics of Death
      (pp. 188-215)

      Early on in my fieldwork, when I first witnessed death ceremonies, I noted the tendency for smouldering troubles to be rekindled and become urgent on these occasions. In this chapter I describe events surrounding the deaths of three people: a middle-aged man (Rake) who had been a Councillor and politically influential; an old man (Wapa) who had been a great warrior; and his wife (Payanu), who followed him thirteen years later. The three reports thus span the whole of my fieldwork period, and encapsulate three key questions of crucial interest to the Kewa. Rake’s death gave rise to questionings of...

    • Chapter 9 Mimesis, Ethnography and Knowledge
      (pp. 216-226)

      In an earlier ethnography (Josephides 1985) I traced a Kewa ‘master narrative’ as it attempted to account for the production of inequalities in so-called egalitarian societies. It presented a generalized picture of culture and dealt with the problems of a complex social reality by means of a theoretical stratagem that posited a contradiction between ideology and practice.¹ The present work complements that ethnography with a picture of everyday social interactions, including many-layered accounts, whose effect is to break up any putative master narrative about ‘Kewa culture’. People’s constant endeavours to shape their lives in complex negotiations within specific situations, drawing...

  9. References
    (pp. 227-232)
  10. Index
    (pp. 233-248)