Reading Group Summary: July 11th, 2022

Havice, E. (2018). Unsettled sovereignty and the sea: Mobilities and more-than-territorial configurations of state power. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(5), 1280-1297.

Reading Group Summary: July 4th, 2022

Dégremont, M. (2022). LSMPA Sovereignties in New Caledonia and French Polynesia: Territorialities, Alliances and Powers in Oceania. Oceania, 92(1), 51-73.

Journal Article Review of Amin, Watson and Girard (2020). “Mapping Security in the Pacific: A focus on context, gender, and organizational culture”

In this article we review the edited book “Mapping Security in the Pacific: A Focus on Context, Gender, and Organizational Culture” by Sara Amin, Danielle Watson, and Christian Girard. In this article members of the Urban Oceania Reading Group review three chapters of this edited book offering their additional thoughts. Generally, the articles of the edited book not only consider the diverse and emerging threats to Pacific security, but it effectively considers the globally interconnected nature and theoretical underpinning of these security threats.

Belt and Road Initiative

Journal Article Review of Szadziewski, H. (2020). Converging Anticipatory Geographies in Oceania: The Belt and Road Initiative and Look North in Fiji.

Szadziewski (2020) argues that the geo-economic ambitions expressed in Fiji’s “Look North” policy and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has imbued emotion into Fiji’s national landscape. Their geo-economic ambitions have met in Fiji in a way that has imbued national space with a “hope” of economic prosperity. This review analyses the effect of hope that these narratives have created on the national trajectory of Fiji.

Business Customary Land

Journal Article Review of Scheyvens, et al. (2019), “Business Serves Society: Successful Locally-Driven Development on Customary Land in the South Pacific”.

Over the last week the Urban Oceania Reading Group came together to discuss an article by Scheyven et al. (2019) “Business Serves Society: Successful Locally-Driven Development on Customary Land in the South Pacific”. We were motivated to discuss and write about this article because our conversations on other academic articles often return to how customary land ownership interacts with local development. Scheyvens et al. (2019) articulates narratives of indigenous entrepreneurs who are able to successfully work within the context of customary land tenure to produce business that are a) economically profitable and b) beneficial for the surrounding local community. Scheyvens et al. (2019) with its focus on local voice is uniquely positioned within the customary land tenure / development debate to consider how customary tenure can be worked with specifically for the betterment of local communities in Oceania. In this article we continue to review how Scheyvens et al. (2019) address this topic adding in our own personal academic knowledge and perspectives.

Chinese Migrants

Journal Article Review of Sheng, F., & Smith, G. (2021). The Shifting Fate of China’s Pacific Diaspora.

In this article we review Sheng and Smith’s (2021) chapter, The Shifting Fate of China’s Pacific Diaspora in the edited book The China Alternative: Changing Regional Order in the Pacific Islands. Roxane de Waegh engages with Sheng and Smith’s (2021) material on the founding of a Chinese diaspora in the Pacific in the colonial period through to the independence period. She, like the authors, argues that through competition and gaps in authority in colonial administration of Pacific colonies, Chinese settlers were able to carve out successful trading livelihoods in the region. Lucas Watt assess the degree of migrational continuity of the Chinese diaspora in the Pacific. He argues while there is certainly an under-appreciated migrational continuity of Chinese migration in the Pacific, it is nonetheless a loose continuity. In this review he explores the geopolitical implications of the the perceived and real migrational continuity of Chinese in the Pacific.

Journal Article Review of Klepp and Herbeck (2016) The politics of Environmental Migration and Climate Justice in the Pacific Region.

In the context of global climate change, remote coastal communities are generally regarded as the most vulnerable (Uitto & Shaw, 2016). This observation arises from the combined effects of their low income, high levels of resource dependency and their exposure to sea-level rise, rainfall variability, increase in storm frequencies and intensity (Cinner et al., 2018). In this article, Klepp and Herbeck (2016) first analyse how environmental migration is discussed in the Pacific region by providing a short overview of the academic debate on the environment-migration nexus. In the second section, the article uncovers the increasing complex decision-making processes and development of policies and laws to address environmental migrants in the Pacific region. By concentrating on emerging developments in policies and rights for environmental migrants in the global south, the authors avoid the often criticized victimizing perspective on Pacific islands and climate change adaptation (Farbokto, 2010), focusing instead on the agency of the people in the Pacific who are fighting for their futures. This article review agrees with the authors’ approach, also known as the ‘autonomy of migration approach’, and will focus on the role of human agency and social capital to further demonstrate how adaptation strategies are inseparably connected to ideas about climate justice, unequal North-South relationships, and attempts to cope with colonial heritage.

Journal Article Review of Maclellan, N. (2021) Stable, Democratic and Western: China and French Colonialism in the Pacific

Maclellan’s (2021) chapter, Stable Democratic and Western: China and French Colonialism in the Pacific, is part of Smith & Wesley-Smith (2021) edited book The China Alternative: Changing Regional Order in the Pacific Islands. The edited book as a whole brings together a collection of scholars who analyze China’s growing involvement in the Pacific. The edited book is a welcome addition as it approaches the topic in a measured way that contrasts to prior literature that is often hyperbolic and hysterical about Chinese influence. Maclellan’s (2021) chapter is particularly refined in the sense that it analyses Chinese interest in the region in a context of the continued French colonial legacy in the Pacific. This colonial legacy invariably affects how Chinese interest and ambition in the region is pursued in the region. It also affects how Chinese interest is responded to by France, other western states, and Pacific states. Overall, Maclellan (2021) paints a obstructionist and self-interested Francophone picture which Chinese and Pacific Island non-state actors navigate to progress local interests. It puts the notion of a “stable, democratic and western” Pacific into a more critical perspective.

Overseas Aid

Journal Article Review of Bertram, G. (2018) Why Does the Cook Islands Still Need Overseas Aid?

You get exactly whats on the tin for Bertram’s (2018) article, Why does the Cook Islands Still Need Overseas Aid? He asks, in a context where the private sector revolving around tourism is booming(at least prior to COVID-19), why would the Cook Islands require large amounts of Overseas Development Aid (ODA)? In 2018, the Cook Islands received close to 80 million dollars worth of grant aid. Bertram (2018) attributes the need for overseas aid on austerity measures that were enforced onto the Cook Islands in the structural readjustment period of the 1990s. Specifically, the Cook Islands were forced into a policy by the New Zealand government and the Asian Development Bank in 1998 whereby tax revenue should not exceed 25% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This has left the Cook Islands with a very small revenue pool to draw upon to service its expenses which consistently stand at 40% of GDP. Overseas aid is currently relied upon to service this gap in national revenue and expenses which limits what the Cook Island’s can do fiscally, as well as limits their general national autonomy. In this review we explore some thoughts which Bertram’s (2018) article has inspired.

Water Development

Journal Article Review of Rooney, M. N. (2021). “We Want Development”: Land and Water (Dis) connections in Port Moresby, Urban Papua New Guinea.

Living in an informal settlement is common in Oceania. High rates of rural-urban migration and poor housing policy forces many to live on customary land on the peripheries of the Oceanic city. There is a great variance in how life is experienced within informal settlements in Oceania, however, informal settlement residents across the region have experienced some form of infrastructural exclusion in some form. What we mean by infrastructural exclusion in informal settlements is that one or more of the formal infrastructural services like water, electricity, garbage disposal, access to education and healthcare, are not provided to residents by their national governments. Anthropologists have begun to argue that denial to infrastructural services is akin to a denial of urban citizenship (Ranganathan, 2014; Rodgers & O’Neill, 2012; Von Schnitzler, 2008). Here we review the latest addition to this literature by Rooney (2021) and her article We Want Development”: Land and Water (Dis) connections in Port Moresby, Urban Papua New Guinea.

Nation Building

Journal Article Review of Bossen, C (2000). Festival Mania, Tourism and Nation Building in Fiji: The Case of the Hibiscus Festival.

Tourism is now widely acknowledged to be a global phenomenon. The world population has grown rapidly, and improved standards of living have allowed more and more people to participate in tourism. There is a strong hunger for new destinations that require people to travel further, due to loss of authenticity, a desire to be original, or a longing for escape. Tourists have become much more demanding, expecting higher accommodation standards and engaging in increasingly energy intensive activities. Societies around the world have transformed into consumer-based entities, and international tourism often means that cultural differences are part of the attraction, and that cultural items are the center of the tourist gaze (Urry, 1990). Furthermore, the global tourism industry suffers from planned obsolescence – a condition in which a consumer good rapidly becomes obsolete and thus constantly requires replacement, or frequent changes. But what happens when this consumer good is a host country’s cultural identity, and the tourist product is consumed at the place it is produced?

Urban Growth

Journal Article Review of Widmer, A. (2013) Diversity as Valued and Troubled: Social Identities and Demographic Categories in Understandings of Rapid Urban Growth in Vanuatu.

Shock demographic statistics about population growth and rural-urban migration in the Pacific are continuously being presented in academic debate. Widmer’s (2013) article, Diversity as valued and troubled: social identities and demographic categories in understandings of rapid urban growth in Vanuatu, gives us an opportunity to analyses how demographic information is engaged with by urban populations and governance institutions in Vanuatu. It analyses how a defined demographic crisis is experienced locally, as well as how it is leveraged in political process. Greg Watt discusses the question how Ni-Vanuatu navigate kastom and modernity in this context of demographic flux and categorization. Lucas Watt discusses how demographic information is used as a political tool to paradoxically unite citizens under a national identity, as well as divide along rural-urban lines in favor of more global cosmopolitan identities. Overall, Widmer’s (2013) article provides a unique perspective that directly focuses on responses to the process of demographic defining and categorization that dominates the region.

Blue Economy

Journal Article Review of Voyer, et al (2018). “Shades of Blue: What do Competing Interpretations of the Blue Economy Mean for Oceans Governance?”

Just like the green economy, the blue economy has a triple bottom line of environmental sustainability, social equity, and economic growth. This broad concept of blue economy is starting to be used by a diverse array of social, political, and environmental actors, across different regions of the world; however what is also clear is that depending on who is using or applying the term there is also a diverse array of emphasis on which one of these objectives are the most important in relation to the others. It is this context of conceptual variability that different actors emphasize within the term we analyze Voyer et al (2018), “Shades of Blue: what do competing interpretations of the blue economy mean for oceans governance?”.

Dess-Seabed Mining

Journal Article Review of Tilot, et al. (2021), “Traditional Dimensions of Seabed Resource Management in the Context of Deep-Sea Mining in the Pacific”.

Tilot, et al. (2021), “Traditional dimensions of seabed resource management in the context of Deep-Sea Mining in the Pacific”, provides a level of depth to some of the current issues and concepts concerning deep-sea mining in the Pacific. It analyses how traditional knowledge and values are incorporated, ignored, or misrepresented in emerging deep-sea legal frameworks which mining companies must navigate. This review analyses how Tilot, et al. (2021) characterize and bridge the relationship between traditional knowledge/values and legal frameworks applied to the ocean.

Journal Article Review of Hobbis, S. K., & Hobbis, G. (2021). Leadership in Absentia: Negotiating Distance in Centralized Solomon Islands.

Hobbis and Hobbis (2021) investigate the social divergence of the governing elite of the Solomon Islands with the local villages which they purport to represent. It is a descriptive article that explores the perspectives and opinions of the rural people that the elite stand for, as well as a number of elites themselves. Covering much of the history of Solomon Island governance, and the problems associated with centralisation, the article reveals that the issue is more complex than a disconnection between leaders and their constituencies.

Kastom Ekonomi

Journal Article Review of Rousseau, B., & Taylor, J. P. (2012). Kastom Ekonomi and the Subject of Self-Reliance.

This week we discussed Rousseau and Taylor’s (2012) article “Kastom Ekonomi and the Subject of Self-Reliance”. This is a particularly pertinent topic to discuss during the COVID-19 pandemic. Oceanic communities disconnected to the rest of the world due to border shut downs have been turning to the traditional economy to get by. For many (although certainly not all), this turn to the kastom ekonomi has been positively experienced as relational systems of sharing and reliance have been reinvigorated. As a result, Pacific leaders and scholars have been commenting that the COVID-19 context has given a rare opportunity rethink how Pacific economies operate. Specifically they have asked whether kastom ekonomi provides an avenue to shed dependency on developed nations and the fickle global economy. Rousseau and Taylor (2012) provided a basis for thinking about this possibility, its obstacles, and practicalities.


Journal Article Review of Ryan (2001), “Tourism in the South Pacific – A Case of Marginalities”

In the public imaginary, Oceania is a remote region of tropical paradise, perfect for a family holiday away from the troubles of everyday life. As much as Oceania’s geographic, political and economic remoteness defines its islands as alluring holiday destinations, Chris Ryan (2001) argues that it is this very remoteness that also defines the tourism sector in Oceania as a “case of marginalities”. He argues in his article; Tourism in the South Pacific – A Case of Marginalities, that Oceania’s multifaceted remoteness marginalises its peoples, communities, and nations involved in the tourism sector. In this journal article review, Lucas Watt, Roxane de Waegh, and Greg Watt critique Ryan (2001) in reference to the current context in Oceania.

Reading Group Summary: April 12th, 2021

Trundle, A. (2021). Climate resilience through socio-cultural mobility: Re-framing the Pacific’s urban informal settlements as critical adaptation pathways. DEVELOPMENT BULLETIN, 82.

Reading Group Summary: March 15th, 2021

Article discussed: Farbotko, C., & McMichael, C. (2019). Voluntary immobility and existential security in a changing climate in the Pacific. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 60(2), 148-162.

Reading Group Summary: March 8th, 2021

Article Discussed: Bedford, R. (2016). Pacific migration futures: ancient solutions to contemporary and prospective challenges?. The Journal of Pacific Studies, 36(1), 111-124.

Reading Group Summary: March 1st, 2021

Article Discussed: Leslie, H., & Wild, K. (2018). Post-hegemonic regionalism in Oceania: examining the development potential of the new framework for Pacific regionalism. The Pacific Review, 31(1), 20-37.

Reading Group Summary: February 22nd, 2021

Article Discussed: Dobrin, L. M. (2020). A ‘Nation of Villages’ and a Village ‘Nation State’: The Arapesh Model for Bernard Narokobi’s Melanesian Way. The Journal of Pacific History, 55(2), 165-186.

The Mind-Trick of Participatory Development in Oceania

In this article, we investigate how participatory development programs are implemented in our own under-covered region of Oceania. We investigate how participatory programs do the opposite of what they promote, to subordinate local populations to pre-set foreign agendas. This idea is firstly explored in a discussion on the historical emergence of participatory development as a form of governance. We secondly analyze how such participatory development projects have been implemented in the Fijian Sugar Industry and in Community Based Fishery Management across Oceania. Lastly, we discuss the potential of Oceanic governments to break free of the mind trick of participatory development, and to reclaim the Oceanic development agenda.

Reading Group Summary: February 1st, 2021

Article Discussed: Foster, R. J. (2020). The Politics of Media Infrastructure: Mobile Phones and Emergent Forms of Public Communication in Papua New Guinea. Oceania, 90(1), 18-39.

Reading Group Summary: January 25th, 2021

Article Discussed: Foale, S. (2021). The Unequal Place of Anthropology in Cross‑Disciplinary Research on Environmental Management in the Pacific and What to Do About It. In Debra McDougall, Nicholas Bainton, Kalissa Alexeyeff and John Cox (Ed.), Unequal Lives: Gender, Race, and Class in the Western Pacific. Canberra ANU Press.

Reading Group Summary: January 5th, 2021

Article Discussed: Daniela Kraemer, « Family relationships in town are brokbrok: Food sharing and “contribution” in Port Vila, Vanuatu », Journal de la Société des Océanistes [Online], 144-145

Reading Group Summary: December 7th, 2020

Article Discussed: Besnier, N. (2004). Consumption and cosmopolitanism: Practicing modernity at the second-hand marketplace in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Anthropological Quarterly, 7-45.

Reading Group Summary: November 30th, 2020

Article Discussed: Cummings, M. Looking Good: The Cultural Politics of the Island Dress for Young Women in Vanuatu. The Contemporary Pacific, [s. l.], v. 25, n. 1, p. 33–65, 2013.

Reading Group Summary: November 23rd, 2020

Article Discussed: Miyazaki, H. (2005). From sugar cane to ‘swords’: Hope and the extensibility of the gift in Fiji. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 11(2), 277-295.

Reading Group Summary: September 28th, 2020

Article Discussed: Presterudstuen, G. H., & Schieder, D. (2016). Bati as bodily labour: Rethinking masculinity and violence in Fiji. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 17(3-4), 213-230.

Reading Group Summary: September 21st, 2020

Article Discussed: Becker, A. E. (2004). Television, disordered eating, and young women in Fiji: Negotiating body image and identity during rapid social change. Culture, medicine and psychiatry, 28(4), 533-559.

Reading Group Summary: September 7th, 2020

Article Discussed: Suliman, S., Farbotko, C., Ransan-Cooper, H., Elizabeth McNamara, K., Thornton, F., McMichael, C., & Kitara, T. (2019). Indigenous (im)mobilities in the Anthropocene. Mobilities, 14(3), 298-318.

Guardians of the Ocean

Secure Seas and Fisheries: Guardians of the Ocean in the Modern Geopolitical Complex

Epeli Hau’ofa’s highly influential essay, Our Sea of Islands, asserts that the peoples of Oceania, are not passive figures on the regional and world stage as they are so commonly depicted. Rather, he considers Oceanic peoples to be guardians that play a vital and powerful role in the environmental protection of the region’s Ocean resources. This article contextualizes the changing geopolitical complex occurring in Oceania with the entrance of Asian power and influence. It analyses the increased importance of Oceania for Asian countries, and specifically how the increased presence of aid and Asian fishing vessels in the region is challenging the predominately western geopolitical complex in the region. This article ends with notes on how Oceanic people perceive the Ocean, and their role in it as guardians, in this changing geopolitical complex. Most importantly I ask, how is Hau’ofa’s guardian narrative achieved in this over-saturation of foreign influence?

Vanuatu: The Historical-Social Context of Migration to Port Vila and the Moderating Effect of Kastom on Problems of Urbanisation.

Pacific culture is widely recognised for its rich vibrancy, interwoven social norms, and unique customs. Melanesian culture is viewed and revered by outsiders as a model of collectivised community; the last vestige of the authentic other from a past time. However, increasing globalisation, better access to transport and an insistence by developmental institutions to follow neo-liberal pathways have caused substantial societal disconnections. Urbanisation in the Pacific is not new; it has been occurring over many decades and will continue at an increasing rate in the years ahead. This article examines urbanisation in Vanuatu caused by the migration from Vanuatu’s outer islands to Port Vila. To date, the resilience of Ni-Vanuatu kastom has insulated many migrants from the hardship and issues caused by insufficient facilities, infrastructure and services. The article aims to provide a contextual overview up to the present time, noting cultural characteristics that are particular to the social situation of Ni-Vanuatu, but also recognising that there may be similar parallels across Melanesia.

Homes of The Island Exile: Experiences of Place

In a previous article I introduced the notion that exile is not an unfamiliar experience in Oceania, and that a new form of tacit island exile is emerging in Oceania. This form of exile is tacit in the sense that some inhabitants of rural islands are encouraged, but not explicitly forced, to migrate to informal settlements in urban areas because of a lack of available rural land and opportunities. In this form of exile, they are not shunned by their kin living on their home islands, but they are also not welcome back. In this article I will further focus on how tacit island exiles’ experience of home is different from other exiles’ experiences of home, and the implications of this difference. I argue that the indeterminable relationship tacit island exiles have with home, along with the insecure position they hold within the urban informal settlements they have migrated to, affects how they perceive home and place in unique unprecedented ways. In particular, tacit island exile re-frames Fijian concepts of person-hood which has traditionally been highly attached to land.

Homes of the Island Exile: A Historical Perspective

Exile is a word that signifies the forced physical expulsion from a place without the permission to return. For many, the idea of exile conjures an image of being removed from society and being abandoned on an uncharted island as commonly depicted in novels and movies. Exile has come to mean something different in the Oceanic context. The prospect of exile is not an unthinkable prospect for many island inhabitants and not something restricted to select groups of others or a concept rooted in fantasy. Historically, various social, cultural, political and environmental developments have caused islanders to be exiled from their home islands. This article explores the various forms of exile Oceanic people have experienced historically. It also explores a new form of tacit island exile emerging in Oceania. This form of exile is tacit in the sense that some inhabitants of rural islands are encouraged, but not explicitly forced, to migrate to informal settlements in urban areas. Such exile is prompted by island kin because of a lack of available rural land and opportunities. I argue the tacit nature of this form of exile affects how these exiles produce home in the urban context.

Urban Social Change

Urban Social Change in Oceania: What is it? Why is it happening? Why is it important?

This website’s primary aim is to track urban social change in Oceania. Urban social change is deserving of academic attention because the ways cities change has implications for the everyday lives of most of the region’s population. It underscores how traditional ways of life are pursued; livelihood activities carried out, conventions of social interaction established, and the way people and goods move across space. Climate change, the presence of political independence movements, international mining projects, and infrastructural development are just a few of the vast array of processes and developments that are changing how urban life is experienced in Oceania. This website, with an urban social change perspective, fundamentally focuses on how these broader developments affect how everyday urban lives are fostered and pursued in the region. In this article, I describe how the study of cities has over time progressively acknowledged how global developments interact with local urban lives. I then provide an overview of the unique context of urban social change 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.