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Weak states and other nationalisms: emerging Melanesian paradigms?

CollectionsANU Dept. of Pacific Affairs (DPA) formerly State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program
Title: Weak states and other nationalisms: emerging Melanesian paradigms?
Author(s): Douglas, Bronwen
Keywords: Melanesia
christian custom
Date published: 2000
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program, The Australian National University
Series/Report no.: Discussion Paper (The Australian National University, State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program): 2000/3
As an anthropological historian rather than a political scientist, my understanding of the constructs “nation”, “state”, their hybrid, “nation state”, and their ideology, “nationalism” is always historicised and draws on recent anthropological theory, as well as specific ethnohistorical research in the new states and remaining colonies of Melanesia. In terms of my work as a fellow in the Australian National University’s State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Project, this means that I do not regard “state” and “society” as opposed real entities, but as highly general concepts that describe collective human actions. I take “governance” to refer not just to “government”, but to the myriad ways in which people organize themselves, attempt to control each other, and represent what they do in the process. This paper starts with theory, in the shape of a comparative critique of certain programmatic propositions about the concepts “state”, “nation”, “nation state” and “nationalism”. I then shift to recent work, mainly by anthropologists, on the ambiguities of nation making in the highly diverse settings of postcolonial Melanesia, where “custom”/“tradition” and indigenised Christianity are brought together politically to build national consciousness and cohesion, but also elude national encompassment to fuel longstanding local particularisms and a variety of alternative or “negative” nationalisms. Christianity is doubly resistant to nationalist appropriation, since it has long been seen by Melanesians to offer membership in pan-Pacific and global moral communities transcending the often dubious legitimacy of colonial and national states. In the guise of “the Melanesian Way”, custom arguably has similar region-wide identificatory potential, but in official discourses “the Melanesian Way” is usually also Christian. The paper alludes to, but does not specifically address, the current crises of the nation state in Fiji and Solomon Islands, and concludes with specific reflections on gendered experiences of citizenship in Vanuatu.
ISSN: 1328-7854


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