Power and the Politics of Anthropology



Pacifique Sud, luttes autochtones, féminisme, décolonial, anthropologie historique


South Pacific, indigenous struggles, feminism, decolonial, historical anthropology



I. Definition

What is political anthropology for you? How do you understand both anthropology and politics (or the political): what is politics (or the political) and what does anthropology mean to you?

When I first started studying anthropology at the University of Sydney from the late 1960s, political anthropology was a subfield dominated by a formalistic, classificatory approach to political systems which divided polities into stateless and state systems and grappled with perduring questions such as what precipitated the emergence of the state. Framed by a structural-functionalist vision that compartmentalized institutions, it rarely pondered fundamental questions about the nature of power per se, or what we might mean by “politics”. That rather staid, comfortable vision of “politics” was being challenged both beyond and within the academy as the energy of powerful social movements – anti-war and civil rights movements in the United States, decolonization struggles across the globe, feminist and gay liberation movements, and the student movements of 1968 – swirled around us and engaged many of us baby anthropologists. My own engagement in the movement against the anti-Vietnam war, the second wave feminist movement in Sydney and in support of Indigenous decolonial struggles in both Australia and Vanuatu raised critical questions about knowing power and the power of knowing. I was especially influenced by the feminist credo – the “personal is political” – and its embodied practice in consciousness-raising groups, which palpably connected the microcosmic character of intimate life with collective, sedimented power relations manifest as “structures”. These engagements, as much as the scholarly influences of male theorists who dominated intellectual life in that time and place, like Marx, Foucault, and Lacan, prompted critical questions about what power is and how it is manifest – not just in the gross structures of sovereign states and imperia but in the capillary powers coursing through embodied persons, creating subjects who obey, accommodate, resist, evade. I was persuaded by the fundamental Foucauldian insight that power is not a thing, as in liberal visions of social contracts and property, but a circulating flow that is not merely repressive. Power operates through discourses claiming truths, truths that can produce disciplined, conforming subjects, or who might challenge those empowered truths. I was especially concerned with how hegemonic power and self-surveillance might be unsettled or undone.

The power of anthropology as a discipline then and now continues to be grounded in that immersive practice of ethnography we call “fieldwork”. The radical critiques of the very notion of the “field” and the practice of ethnography were yet to come (Clifford and Marcus, 1986; Gupta and Ferguson, 1997). But feminist anthropology in the 1970s had earlier raised cognate questions about the “androcentricity” of anthropology and of fieldwork in particular. We stressed how ethnographers, male and female, had tended to privilege male interlocutors and the legitimacy of masculine perspectives on “culture”, for example in structuralist theories about the “exchange of women”, or the conjugation of dubious Eurocentric binaries in formulations such as male:female or culture:nature (see Rosaldo and Lamphere, 1974).

I was attuned to both feminist and decolonial concerns in my first doctoral fieldwork in Vanuatu, but less sensitive to how the values dominating anthropology in “Melanesia” at the time (what Trouillot, 2003, would later term “the savage slot”) had led me to choose to live with people who were some of the most “traditional” or “remote” in an archipelago we now call Vanuatu. In 1970, this place was called the New Hebrides/Nouvelles-Hébrides, subject to the joint colonial influence of Britain and France, the Condominium, or the “Pandemonium” government as some preferred. Permission for my fieldwork had been granted through the office of the British Resident Commissioner – but that was no guarantee of my local acceptance, especially by the feisty anti-colonial, anti-Christian folk of the “kastom” villages of the southeast of Pentecost. When I was accepted and welcomed, successively in Pohurur and Bunlap, the relation between state-based colonial power (which had legitimized the dispossession of vast tracts of land and rendered Indigenous peoples’ subjects, not citizens) and the gender politics of anti-colonial struggles became palpable (Jolly, 1994; Rawlings, 2015).

Kastom, a pervasive and powerful concept in Bislama (the pidgin lingua franca of Vanuatu) is a labile language of legitimacy and is much debated. It embraces not just the precolonial practices of ancestors but the persisting “ways of the place”. Christians saw/see themselves as conjoining kastom and Christianity in the balance of everyday life – like a canoe and its outrigger. Those with whom I lived, who were then strongly anti-Christian, rather saw their own way of life as the true embodiment of kastom. In daily practice, the differentiation of gender was paramount. Boys and girls were socialized differently; after circumcision boys wore a pandanus penis sheath (plaited by women, dyed by men), girls wore a pandanus skirt which only women fashioned. Work was gendered – in the gardens, herding pigs, fishing, and hunting. Women and girls were primarily but not exclusively responsible for hauling wood and water, and for nurturing babies and children. Men and women cooked on different fires in shared family dwellings; adult men retired often to an exclusive men’s house to drink kava (women were denied this drug which was thought to make them infertile). A woman moved a short distance to her husband’s place on marriage but, unlike a man, did not make long journeys to other islands in the archipelago or overseas, to work on plantations or in towns or to engage in strategic political exchanges.

As a young white woman from Australia, it was challenging to conform to such quotidian protocols, but abiding by most was a condition of being accepted and adopted, becoming less of an aisalsaliri (a “floating foreigner”) and more of an isin na ut lo (“a woman of this place”). In early writing I depicted this ideologically charged performance of kastom not so much as a perpetuation of ancestral practices but as a contemporary political choice. Much past practice had been transformed by men working first as indentured and then waged labourers on plantations, by the local incursions of the cash economy, by “pacification” and colonial controls, even of a divided and aporetic state, and by the ocean of Christians surrounding them. I depicted their staunch adherence to kastom as a self-conscious practice of anti-colonial resistance (Jolly, 1982, 1994). This resistance likely amplified male dominance, corralling women’s agency within localized structures in a way distinct from women in Christian villages. In the struggle for independence throughout the 1970s, male chiefs in the kastom enclave were courted by various parties but remained highly suspicious of how kastom had been appropriated by Christian leaders like Father Water Lini, an Anglican priest from North Pentecost, in the wider struggle for independence. Leading the Vanua’aku Pati to power, Lini became the inaugural Prime Minister of the independent state of Vanuatu, declared on July 30, 1980.

My sense of the intimate entanglement between gender and colonial power subsequently developed at a different scale. Conversations with Grace Mera Molisa, a powerful leader in nationalist and women’s struggles were crucial in this. From the matrilineal, Anglican regions of the island of Ambae, educated overseas in a New Zealand school, and then at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Grace was the epitome of a new generation of women leaders who rose to national prominence if not to national “political” leadership. An early core member of the Vanua’aku Pati, she was appointed Second Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs. She was a member of the National Constitution Committee and signatory to the Constitution in 1979, along with her husband Sela Molisa, also a politician. She was personal advisor and spokeswoman for PM Walter Lini between 1987 and 1991 but left that role after political differences. She tried unsuccessfully to enter parliament and established a pressure group to help other women enter politics. She left the Vanua’aku Pati after they failed to endorse a single woman in the 1998 general election. In collections of forthright poetry and searing speeches, she revealed the yawning gap between the independence of the nation and the lack of freedom experienced by ni-Vanuatu women (Mera Molisa, 1987a, 1987b; Jolly, 1991a). She saw introduced institutions like the state as intensifying male domination and argued that kastom had been resurrected like “a Frankenstein’s corpse” to intimidate women and the powerless. She drew on CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and the language of human rights, translating and “vernacularizing” the discourse to promote gender equality (see Merry, 2006). Grace’s life’s work, until her untimely death in January 2002, evinced how “power” could be exercised beyond the parameters of an excluding state apparatus, even one that was allegedly “postcolonial”.

II. Heritage

Does your research in political anthropology voluntarily relate to, or at the contrary, break with one or (m)any disciplinary traditions (as places for teaching, working and carrying out fieldwork)?

The course of my own research – starting from a highly localized study to broader scales which encompassed the country of Vanuatu, and progressively to other countries in the Pacific region is also characteristic of trajectories in the discipline as a whole. My early work focused not just on gender relations, but how we might interpret the power manifest and accumulated in hierarchies of rank – whereby men (and to a lesser extent women) assumed more and more elevated titles, through protracted rituals in which pigs were exchanged and sacrificed and pandanus textiles exchanged. How did the divine power accumulated in such rites afford the title holder the power to control resources and exercise power over other persons? (Jolly, 1994) Early preoccupations involved comparisons with other rank systems in North Vanuatu and a consideration of how the politics of these grade systems interacted with colonially introduced, but locally legitimated, “chiefs” (all men) (Jolly, 1991b).

Although ethnographic studies grounded in particular cultures and language groups continue in contemporary anthropology of the western Pacific – and especially in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu (witness the stellar ethnography of John Taylor in North Pentecost, 2008, and Katherine Lepani in the Trobriands, 2012), there has also been a significant scaling up to national, regional, and even global scales. So, in Papua New Guinea for instance, the early research of Robert Foster focused on New Ireland (1995), then moved to the national scale in a study of “nation-making” in PNG (2002), and then to the consideration of globalization through the lens of the Coca-Cola company (2004). In Vanuatu, Greg Rawlings linked a concentrated study of the peri-urban village of Pango, as it was being fundamentally transformed by the commodity economy, and the leasing of land, with the politics of the tax haven at local and global scales (Rawlings, 1997). Eric Wittersheim early disrupted the mode of highly localized anthropological research in his studies of political elites, focused on the capital, Port Vila (2006), and also made compelling ethnographic films exploring human relations in fieldwork. Miranda Forsyth, a lawyer who deployed ethnographic methods, looked at the relation between indigenous forms of law and justice, and introduced legal systems across the archipelago (2009). Then, she examined debates about intellectual and cultural property at a regional and global scale, and pursued questions of gender violence and restorative justice in Papua New Guinea and more broadly. Later, another legal anthropologist, Siobhan McDonnell combined a grounded study of the role of “masters of modernity” in land dispossession in North Efate with a forensic analysis of the “shadow state” and corrupt politicians in processes of land-leasing, real estate development, and tourism (2017, 2022). She collaborated with the Honourable Ralph Regenvanu, when he was Minister of Lands, in drafting and effecting land reform legislation that successfully stalled land dispossession, even as those laws remain vulnerable to politically turbulent coalitions in successive parliaments.

Anthropological studies of power have broadened in scale in both place and time. A crucial factor in this was the emergence of a historical anthropology which brought an ethnographic sensibility to the study of the past and especially the study of colonialism. My own research was reoriented in this direction from the 1980s – partly precipitated by the moratorium on foreign research in Vanuatu for ten years after Independence (which I strongly supported, even though it halted my ethnographic work on Pentecost). Grace Mera Molisa was one of the prime movers in this ban on foreign fieldwork, inspired by the desire to promote more Indigenous research, akin to that of the filwokas associated with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre. My redirection was motivated by that long ban, by changes in my domestic life (especially becoming a mother), and by exciting developments in anthropological approaches to colonialism. This was manifest in the work of anthropologists like Bernard Cohn and Nicholas Dirks in India, Jean and John Comaroff, and Johannes Fabian in Africa, Ann Laura Stoler in Southeast Asia, and Sally Engle Merry, Don Brenneis, Roger Keesing, Marshall Sahlins, Alban Bensa, Serge Tcherkézoff, and Nicholas Thomas in the Pacific.

Sahlins and Thomas offered innovative (if rather divergent) interpretations of the “encounters” between Pacific peoples and the agents of European colonialism from early exploratory voyages onwards. I became engaged in cognate projects – suggesting how contrastive figures of women in the eastern and western Pacific were fundamental in emergent European ideas of race (Jolly, 2012), and arguing that a stress on mutual exchange in early colonial encounters occluded violence, bleaching the blood from the beach. New anthropological perspectives were thus brought to the study of Pacific history, asking questions not just about how Europeans saw Pacific peoples and, on the basis of preconception and embodied experience, created hierarchies of race, but about how Pacific peoples saw and experienced these white strangers. Did Indigenous Hawaiians see Captain Cook as a manifestation of their god Lono, as Sahlins proposed? Many studies such as this aspired to offer a new view of the entanglement of Pacific and European peoples, a “double vision” from both sides of the beach. Yet there was still an immense challenge when scholars had such a surfeit of sources – texts, maps, images from Europeans but were less able to immerse themselves in Indigenous languages and appreciate the histories of Pacific peoples – told in story, song and dance, genealogies of origin, movement and dwelling, materialized in the ground and artifacts and, after Christian conversion, documented in texts in Indigenous languages. Chris Ballard (2014) consummately laments the failure of Pacific historians, even historical anthropologists, to appreciate the richness and the power of these alternative sources, suffused with a different sense of historicity, of what counts as telling truths about the past.

Sally Engle Merry’s work was especially compelling in revealing the crucial significance of the introduction of Anglo-American law in the colonization of Hawai’i by the United States (2000). It linked questions about land dispossession, the development of sugar plantations, and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by a cartel of American interests with the transformation of intimate relations promoted by Christian models of sexuality, gender, and domestic life (see also Jolly and Macintyre 1989). Her work was expanded by Kanaka Maoli historians such as Lilikalā Kame’eleihiwa (1992), Jonathan Osorio (2002), and Noenoe Silva (2004), who used not just the archives of white settlers, but texts written in the Hawaiian language and Indigenous genealogies and stories. Ty Kāwika Tengan (2008) and J. Kēhaulani Kauanui (2008) showed how transformations in the intimate relations of gender and sexuality were entangled with macrocosmic imperial processes: Christian conversion, land dispossession, legislation about Hawaiian “blood”, militarization, and mass tourism.

III. Contexts and fields

How does the specific (political and disciplinary) context of your fieldwork shape your own approach of the political anthropology you are conducting?

Although I grew up as an anthropologist, and later trespassed into the discipline of history, I have always had a strong transdisciplinary sensibility. This has been cultivated over decades because of the conjoint influences of gender studies and Pacific studies.

The movement of feminist knowledge out of discussion groups and marginalized feminist journals into universities started from the 1970s. We were wary as to what this institutionalization would mean – in terms of the dilution of the radical, collective character of the knowledge and the recreation of knowledge as a commodity, authored by teachers and sold to students paying ever higher fees. Our fears were soon realized. As a graduate student at the University of Sydney, I was employed casually to teach the first course in feminist anthropology in 1971. At least that was what I wanted to call it. But the Professor of Anthropology at the time refused that title and insisted on “The Anthropology of Women”, and although I had already written the lectures and organized an exciting film program for the whole term, he summarily declared that a male staff member, Les Hiatt, should teach the final three weeks. Fortunately, the course proved very popular and my lectures were packed with many people sitting in. But I refused to teach it again under those conditions and accepted a position at Macquarie University where the Department of Anthropology and Comparative Sociology was headed by a Professor more open to radical changes – Chandra Jayawardena.

From the early days of second-wave feminism, we were aware of how the very nature of academic scholarship and the creation of disciplines was saturated by masculinist values. We were aware that the problem was not just about numbers – of getting more women into academic positions and positions of seniority – but of knowledge, of radically changing the frames which disciplines created – the focus and methods of study, what knowledge was valued, and what was seen as excellent. It was clear that certain disciplines were more porous and more open to feminist transformations. In Australia, at least, the disciplines of anthropology, history, and sociology effected radical changes in the last decades of the twentieth century, generating feminist innovations and impacts. Still, as contemporary studies by my ANU colleagues Fiona Jenkins, Helen Keane, and Marian Sawer (2020) reveal, disciplines like philosophy, economics, and political science are still supremely masculinist. They remain male dominated both in terms of numbers and in the character of the knowledge they create and disseminate. In Australia, feminist economics (which has robustly challenged the exclusion of care from the “economy” and promoted gender responsive budgets) is still described by the dominant profession and its associations as “heterodox”. At least that is consistent with seeing malestream orthodox economics as a form of theology!

The institutionalization of feminism in higher education confronted the conundrum of both working within and between disciplines. And, as our politics matured, it was recognized that both were needed – to promote feminist revisioning within the disciplines, but also to build transdisciplinary programs – first of women’s studies and later gender studies. Today at the ANU, where I work, we fortunately have both a robust undergraduate program in Gender, Sexuality and Culture and a suite of more than sixty undergraduate courses which bring a feminist perspective to the disciplines. Transdisciplinary collaboration and outreach is promoted through the work of our cross-campus Gender Institute which funds grants and organizes public lectures, seminars, masterclasses, and reading and writing groups (which have in the context of Covid-19 continued online). But the valuation of such transdisciplinary collaboration, especially in research, has been challenged by “audit culture” and pervasive quantitative measures of research outputs and citations. These measures, as everywhere, often privilege the genres of publication of the natural sciences and moreover have involved a “redisciplining” in both senses. Fields of research codes (FORs) used by the Excellence in Research Assessment process (ERA) in Australia and by the Australian Research Council in the process of assessing grants are grounded in “disciplined” knowledge, despite a rhetorical celebration of inter- or trans-disciplinary research.

My own desire to pursue insights in a transdisciplinary way has been easier given the fact that my research is focused on the Pacific. The growth of Pacific Studies as a field, especially at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and in some contexts in Aotearoa New Zealand, has celebrated a transdisciplinary approach. This is less true of the ANU where I work, where the strong, disciplinary genealogies of anthropology, archaeology, history, linguistics, and political science in the Pacific continue in staff research and graduate programs. Still, there is a challenge, more apparent in some undergraduate offerings in Pacific Studies, to nurture a more transdisciplinary perspective. It is inspired by the reframing of the Pacific offered by Epeli Hau’ofa (2008). In visionary essays like “Our Sea of islands”, he displaced a view of the region as small, insular, and aid-dependent with a vision of Oceania, connected by the vast ocean, embracing the islands and the Pacific diaspora, and characterized by movement across space and time, from double-hulled canoes to jumbo jets. This vision is often coupled with a pedagogy which, apropos models for Pacific Studies proposed by Terence Wesley-Smith, favours an empowerment rationale. This entails a thoroughgoing decolonial interrogation of the whiteness of knowledge about the Pacific, a deeper consideration of what constitutes Indigenous Pacific knowledge, and a staunch desire to embrace and promote scholars of Pacific ancestry.

IV. Role

What do you think is the role of the political anthropologist both in the public and intellectual debate?

Which are the “solicitations of the present” (authoritarian regimes, repressions, revolts or revolutions, riots, social mobilizations and protests, etc.) that make political anthropology important for our contemporary societies? How does the present affect or disrupt research, methodologies, engagements, interpretations and theories?

How do you position yourself in relation to commitment and political transformations? Do you find it necessary or inevitable a dialogue with social movements? If so, why and what for?

As I see the arc of my career, first as an anthropologist and historian of the Pacific and now increasingly as a transdisciplinary scholar of gender and Pacific Studies, I have tried to sustain a position that connects intellectual and public debate. Clearly a focus on gender, inspired by the politics of second-wave feminism, connected major public challenges in the move to transform societies and promote gender equality with the challenges of creating new knowledge and pursuing scholarly feminist research. The insights of feminist anthropology were crucial in public debates as to whether all societies were male dominated, and whether this was a natural or a cultural universal. Anthropologists and historians were important public intellectuals in showing the diversity of gender relations across time and space and pondering the reasons for this. In the context of second-wave feminism in Sydney, I was opposed to the essentialism of radical feminism and the capitalist presumptions of most liberal feminists. I identified as a socialist feminist in this period and favoured materialist explanations of male domination. I was convinced that the inequalities of gender powerfully intersected with those of race and class, that there were profound differences and inequalities between women, and that these were as important as those between women and men. This approach, evinced in the early publications of British feminists, such as Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis (1989), was named “intersectionality” by Kimberle Crenshaw, a black feminist lawyer in the United States (1991). The crucial insight was to think not in additive terms about the holy trinity of oppressions – of gender, race, and class – but how such dimensions of individual and collective identity (broadened to include religion, sexuality, ability, etc.) were interactive and mutually constitutive.

My sense of inequalities between women was, from the 1980s onwards, fostered by conversations with Grace Mera Molisa about the differences between what she perceived as the individualism of “Women’s Lib” in Australia and the collective orientation of women’s movements in the Pacific. Grace, like many Pacific women leaders of the period, eschewed the “F” word of feminism as a colonial imposition. More Pacific women are now willing to embrace an identity as feminists, and I agree with Sara Ahmed (2017) that the travelling story of feminism as an imperial gift to women of colour needs to be challenged. But the political problems of the relations between white and non-white feminisms have been long-standing and continue. From the 1980s, black feminists and women of colour in the US, UK, and South Asia and Indigenous women in Australia delivered angry and resounding critiques of how colonialism and slavery had created huge inequalities between women and how the issues which were prominent in the agenda of middle-class white feminists were not necessarily appropriate to them. So, for instance, a focus on abortion as a woman’s right to choose was at odds with the history of forced sterilization, contraception, and child removal for non-white women. Ideas of reproductive rights needed to be far more nuanced and sensitive to address and redress these differential experiences and differential harms.

Yet we still find a certain genre of white feminism that too often aspires to talk on behalf of Pacific women, and even to “save” them from the domination of Pacific men. This “salvationist” posture has a deep colonial history. As I showed in some of my earlier writings about Vanuatu (Jolly, 1991c), it was sedimented early in the perceptions and programs of white Christian missionary women, who saw their life’s work not only as saving heathens for Christ but as saving women from what they saw as the oppression of hard manual labour, forced marriages, and gender violence. As Lila-Abu Lughod (2013) has shown, such old colonial postures can be rechoreographed in contemporary geopolitics – as in the discourse of Laura Bush and others that saving Muslim women was integral to the war on terror. Such claims of saving Muslim women (and even forcibly de-veiling them) have been part of the Islamophobia generated in Australia by threats of domestic terrorism and the securitization of borders, even against refugees fleeing such terror and tyranny overseas.

In the Pacific context, the salvationist tones of white feminists can still be heard, especially in relation to gender violence in countries like Papua New Guinea. Without denying the very real problems of gender violence in PNG, and indeed across the region – this is a problem where Pacific women need to take the lead. At the outset, it is important to acknowledge that gender violence is ubiquitous globally – for instance in Australia one in six women are subjected to physical or sexual violence by a cohabiting partner, and one woman is murdered by a current or former partner every week. In PNG, the rates and the legitimacy of gender violence may be even higher, but it is important not to blame this on a monolithic view of “culture”. This is not just because in a country like PNG there is huge cultural diversity and large differences in gender relations, but also because some of the potent drivers of gender violence in PNG derive from external sources – such as development grounded in extractive industries and the introduction of HIV, which became a generalized epidemic (see Jolly, Stewart and Brewer 2013). Aid and development programs to redress gender violence funded by foreign countries, NGOs, or multilateral agencies too often fail and are often labelled as “foreign” intrusion by men. More recent research, which has employed PNG researchers such as Fiona Hukula and Michelle Nayahumui Rooney working with Miranda Forsyth, have rather shown the crucial importance of Indigenous perspectives and local control in programs to redress gender violence.

Such problems of countering the salvationist impulses of foreigners and decolonizing power and knowledge in the Pacific are also central to the research we are currently pursuing on climate change and gender in Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Marshall Islands. Climate change is seen by the leaders of all Pacific countries as the biggest threat to their existence, a stance recently affirmed by the communiqué of the Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting in Tuvalu in August 2019. (The 2020 meeting due to be held in Port Vila on July 30, to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of Vanuatu’s independence, had to be postponed and was held virtually due to border closures because of Covid-19). There is little doubt that the Pacific region is contributing the least to and suffering the most from climate change induced by ever rising greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Sea level rise, the most visible icon of climate change, is affecting not just low-lying atolls in Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands, but the coasts of large volcanic islands with erosion and the salinization of fresh water sources and gardens. Anthropogenic climate change is also occasioning more extreme and frequent natural disasters such as supercyclones and, less obvious to outsiders, shifts in the seasonality of ground and tree crops, and of the movements of fish, which threaten subsistence food sources and food security (Jolly, 2019).

All of these problems have been studied by environmental scientists for decades. In our project we have confronted questions about the relationship between introduced environmental science and Indigenous knowledge and practice. Whereas earlier programs tended to focus on mitigation and adaptation to what was conceived as an external threat, recent programs have rather focused on building local “resilience” in communities to respond to the risks of disasters and climate change more broadly. But important as such reconfigurations are, they risk deflecting attention from the causes of climate change in the fossil-fuelled economies of countries and corporations, where the responsibility lies. Australia often appears in the region as a generous donor in times of natural disasters such as cyclones. But increasingly these disasters are not “natural” but caused by those humans who are heavily polluting our planet. Australia is among the worst countries, second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of greenhouse emissions per capita.

What inspired me to start researching climate change in the Pacific was in part my despair and anger at the “climate wars” that have dragged on in Australian politics. Parties within the federal Coalition (Liberals and Nationals) refuse to take climate change seriously (and indeed some are even denialists). They continue to serve the interests of the coal and gas lobbies, even though it is clear that the cheapest energy is now renewable energy – from sun, wind, and water. At the last COP 25 meeting in Madrid, our Energy Minister, Angus Taylor used the cheap accounting trick of carryover carbon credits in refusing to commit to raising Australia’s targets to control our emissions. And, in late 2020, our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is suggesting that Australia’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and associated recession will be “gas-fired”. This was expected since the person appointed to head the National Commission on Covid Recovery was a CEO from the oil and gas industry. Given this blind intransigence in the face of a global climate crisis I feel compelled me to protest as an Australian citizen (see Jolly, 2019, 2021). And as a scholar of the Pacific, I suggest that if Australia is concerned to win back trust and support from Pacific countries, as we face the rival influence of China, a rising power with an escalating totalitarian stance at home and abroad, the most important thing we might do is change Australia’s policies on climate change and urgently reduce our greenhouse emissions.

In conclusion, I want to say that I do think it is important for anthropologists, like all scholars, to be public intellectuals. Clearly, we have had some inspiring exemplars, two of whom have recently passed away. David Graeber not only wrote searing indictments of capitalism but was an anarchist involved in the Occupy Movement. Sally Engle Merry was a scholar of colonialism and gender who was heavily engaged with UN debates about gender violence and human rights and who forcefully challenged the “seduction of quantification” whereby qualitative data is eschewed as anecdotal and not “evidence”. I mourn them both. My own scholarly and public contributions have been less grand, but I trust have contributed something to the cause of gender and decolonial struggles in what is an increasingly unequal and challenging world.


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Electronic reference

Margaret Jolly, « Power and the Politics of Anthropology », Condition humaine / Conditions politiques [Online], 2 | 2021, Online since 20 juin 2021, connection on 25 septembre 2021. URL : http://revues.mshparisnord.fr/chcp/index.php?id=439


Margaret Jolly

Margaret Jolly, born in Sydney (Australia) in 1949, is an historical anthropologist recognized as a world expert on colonialism and gender issues in Oceania. She is emerita professor in the College of Asia and the Pacific and was director of the Gender Institute at the Australian National University in Canberra until 2020. She is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and a recipient of the Order of Australia. Among her numerous books are Divine Domesticities. Christian Paradoxes in Asia and the Pacific (edited with Hyaeweol Choi), ANU Press, 2014; Sites of Desire/Economies of Pleasure. Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific (edited with Lenore Manderson), University of Chicago Press, 1997 and Women of the Place: Kastom, Colonialism and Gender in Vanuatu, Harwood Academic Publishers, 1993.

Margaret Jolly, née à Sydney (Australie) en 1949, est une chercheuse en anthropologie historique connue pour ses travaux sur le colonialisme et les questions de genre dans le Pacifique. Elle est professeur au College of Asia and the Pacific et dirige le Gender Institute à l’Australian National University (Canberra). Elle est membre de l’Académie des sciences sociales australienne et a été honorée de l’Ordre d’Australie. Parmi ses nombreux ouvrages, on peut citer : Divine Domesticities. Christian Paradoxes in Asia and the Pacific (dir., avec Hyaeweol Choi), ANU Press, 2014; Sites of Desire/Economies of Pleasure. Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific (dir., avec Lenore Manderson), University of Chicago Press, 1997 et Women of the Place: Kastom, Colonialism and Gender in Vanuatu, Harwood Academic Publishers, 1993.