BOOK REVIEW: Nation Making; Emergent Identities in Postcolonial Melanesia
Volumes of essays do not always have the rationale that sustains this excellent collection. In bringing together views from a single region, contributors enhance one another's perspectives in the timely reminder that, despite categorization ("nations" in the making, a "postcolonial" Melanesia), individual trajectories take their own paths. Nation-making is taken as an imaginative exercise which Melanesian states have in common with others across the world. Their perceived postcolonial status conceals the role that capitalism plays in the formation of citizen-consumers. They also explore individualizing processes, such as the creation of distinctive identities through commodities that (in Foster's words) produce both national community and sub-communities of consumption.
The essays, which began with a workshop of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania, draw on material from Fiji (Rutz, Kaplan), Papua New Guinea (Foster, Hirsch, Jacobsen), the Solomon Islands (Jourdan), and Vanuatu (Facey) with two general discussions (LiPuma, Kelly) in addition to the editor's substantial introduction. These last three contributions are more than one ordinarily gets in a volume of this kind. Kelly's conclusion, for instance, raises critical questions about the role of ethnography and how the authors have constructed nation-making as their subject matter. Contributors agree that in this region, states came before nations; what emerges as a matter for internal debate is the significance of capitalism and whether or not the state is first and foremost a set of institutions defending property rights and regulating markets. Individual cases require one to pay attention to the variety of social positions from which people have a perspective on "national culture."
One strand of interest that runs through the collection is identified at the outset, the role of state functionaries trying to "nationalize" (make a nation out of) already existing structures and the kind of person these presuppose (put in place by colonial rule). Together the contributions address the nation-making sides of political ideology, ritual politics, education, and popular urban culture, as well as the appropriation of national culture by local populations in pursuit of their own ends. Lastly, this leads to a skeptical note as to what new social forms are concealed by narratives of nation.
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