Urban Oceania

Exploring Urban Social Change in Oceania

Reading Group Summary: January 18th, 2021

Article Discussed: Kabutaulaka, T. (2020). COVID‐19 and Re‐Storying Economic Development in Oceania. Oceania, 90, 47-52.

Lucas Watt

Kabutaulaka (2020) argues that the integration of Pacific Islands states into the global economy has made them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Most notably, Kabutaulaka highlights that island states are seeing large scale unemployment as the flow of international tourists to the islands has come to a screeching halt. Meanwhile Kabutaulaka also highlights that the certain places such as distant rural islands in these island states are relatively untouched by globalization. He argues that these rural places have been relatively immune from the effects of COVID-19 and rather that they have been “safe-havens”. These rural safe havens have been relied upon for support and prosperity for urban inhabitants that have become unemployed. It is from this observation that Kabutaulaka questions the global integration and economic development model. In this article Kabutaulaka searches for alternative models that compliments the geographical and cultural strengths that Island states have proven to have in the midst of the COVID-19 context.

Kabutaulaka does not pretend that searching for an effective alternative model is an easy endevour, however he does theorize about directions economic development could go based on adaptations Islanders have made during COVID-19. He details how the Facebook page “Barter for Better Fiji” allowed Fijians to trade goods and services online for “whatever they could afford” as a way of easing the difficulties many are facing during COVID-19. Such adaptations promote a more relational form of development that focuses on people’s well-being as opposed to shallow economic metrics.  

This led to an in-depth discussion about alternative development metrics that could more effectively measure and guide a more well-being form of development. This included a discussion about measuring mutual non-monetary assistance between people and nature in what has been defined as Gross National Generosity (GNG). The group agreed that alternative metrics like GNG can guide development beyond the more purely economically focused metric of Gross National Product (GNP). However, the group also argued that the need to quantify and rank development in such metrics like GNG reflect the same rationales/rubrics used by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) that Kabutaulaka advocates to break away from. The group agreed however that this article was a great starting point to think about how to redirect economic development that is more appropriate in Oceania.


  • 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.

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