Urban Oceania

Exploring Urban Social Change in Oceania

Reading Group Summary: November 9th, 2020

Article Discussed: Storey, D., & Murray, W. E. (2001). Dilemmas of development in Oceania: the political economy of the Tongan agro‐export sector. Geographical Journal, 167(4), 291-304.

Greg Watt

There has been an unquestioned neoliberal push for Pacific peoples to transition from traditional lifestyles towards modernity. Economic considerations appear to dominate development, with little regard of the social or cultural effects accompanying such structural changes. The article concerning opportunities afforded by the establishment of horticulture for export, by Storey and Murray (2001), is a salient censure of one-dimensional strategies. Pacific societies are imbued with strong hierarchical structures, and well-intentioned development can be manipulated by those positioned within upper levels to maintain or enhance their wealth.  While the article is some decades old, it succinctly identifies core issues of development that are as pertinent today as then.

Along with maintaining traditional Pacifica customs, Tonga also possesses a political system that is unique in the Pacific; still holding a robust monarchical structure. At the date of the article, Tongan nobility kept a strong presence within parliament, while holding traditional hereditary stewardship rights over large estates. The roles are oppositional and have allowed the elite to carry out strategies that enhanced their position and wealth at the expense of squash growers. As a result of feudal practices, the potentiality of economic growth has not been realised. While it can be shown that export value has increased,  consequent monetary returns have been inequitably shared by Tongan communities, with lower social strata being increasingly marginalised. The transition away from traditional subsistence crops has made communities more exposed to economic shock and less socially resilient. In this case, the outcome of development has been that national export earnings have been “more than offset by a rise in import levels, mounting dependency on foreign inputs and increased economic vulnerability” (Storey & Murray, 2001). Tongan experience highlights the need to prioritise social and cultural aspects of developmental projects in the Pacific and that economic considerations must augment rather than subjugate.


  • gregwatttraveller

    Greg Watt is an advocate for authenticity in tourism and travel. Greg has previously lived in Papua New Guinea, has had an involvement with tourism in Vanuatu for the past thirteen years and presently has a close association with a community-based tourism project on Tanna Island (seven years). Greg is a doctoral candidate at Auckland University of Technology, and his Master’s thesis was titled “A Pro-Poor Tourism Case Study: Efate Island, Vanuatu” which looks at ways that poor Ni-Vanuatu can benefit through tourism. For a more detailed look at Greg’s involvement within development and tourism have a look at his blog articles which can be found at https://watt.nz.

  • Lucas Watt

    I am a Post-Doctoral researcher on the ERC-funded TransOcean Project at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Norway. My portion of the project sets out to analyze maritime mobilities, exchange, and conservation, in the increasingly securitised region of Oceania. I graduated with a PhD from the School of Media and Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. My ethnographic fieldwork in Suva Fiji analyses how rural-urban migrants living in “informal settlements” articulate tradition in urban spaces.

2 responses to “Reading Group Summary: November 9th, 2020”

  1. […] concerning neo-liberal forms of economic development in the Pacific (see Greg’s summary of Storey and Murray, 2001; as well as the article written by Tayloraye and myself which discusses the mechanisms the World […]

  2. […] of large scale mono-production that make national economies more vulnerable to economic shocks (here), bench-marking industries to purely economic standards while ignoring well-being indicators […]

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