thomas (1989) the force of ethnology

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The Force of Ethnology: Origins and Significance of the Melanesia/Polynesia Division [and Comments and Replies] Author(s): Nicholas Thomas, Allen Abramson, Ivan Brady, R. C. Green, Marshall Sahlins, Rebecca A. Stephenson, Friedrich Valjavec, Ralph Gardner White Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Feb., 1989), pp. 27-41 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Stable URL: Accessed: 17/11/2010 00:48Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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Volume 30, Number I, FebruaryI989 ANTHROPOLOGY CURRENT reserved All OOII-3204/89/300I-0003$2.25 Research. rights for Foundation Anthropological I989 byThe Wenner-Gren

so"Ethnology"seems to be dead. Neitherprofessional cial scientistsnor dedicatedamateursworkhardat noting the diagnostic featuresof "cultures" or clarifying theirboundaries.There are no longerarticlesthat map in out at once differences material culture and frizzy to hair,thatwould separatepeople according theiruse of the loom or the bow or mark some offbecause of what they did not use or possess. Culture is no longer the residue of priormovement. Once grand "histories" of ancestral migrationshave takes place withinlocalities been set aside, ethnography and seasonal cycles and can be made to speak to general problems.The overtconcernsofethnoganthropological and withinsites offieldwork, are raphy usually confined the anthropologicalproject is to bringparticularfacts into a relationshipwith a "theoretical"issue, such as the nature of ritual or inequality. However, the lanby guages of analysis and sets ofissues are oftendefined the from regionalspecialists,and thismust derivepartly cultural Melanesianand Polynesian The distinction between but years, in a lim- factthat the societies in whateverarea theystudyhave criticized recent in has types beenextensively uponthestereotypes something common,even ifmerelyan imposedcoloitedempirical waywhichhas concentrated in societies withbigmenand Polynesian ofMelanesianegalitarian that influencesthe way groupsand appronial history, in I963 articentralized chiefdoms presented Sahlins'sinfluential priate questions are recognized. There must thus be has Chief." The critique es"PoorMan,RichMan,Big-Man, cle, for some basis, in actualityor perception, the constituthanthesecategoweremorediverse tablished thatsocial forms of character tion of what might be called a culture area, but it is the riescouldacknowledge neglected ideological but in representa- notablethatthereis virtually discussionnow ofwhat and European thedistinction its longhistory earlier no of in The perception regional regionsare, of what status theyare supposed to have as tionsofsocial diversity thePacific. havepersisted to terms appears socialvariation evolutionary in and in changes interpretation intellec- entities in anthropologicaltalk. The relationshipsbevarioussubstantial through tween proximate societies, the causes of a degree of of typifications Discredited ethnological tualvaluejudgements. peoplesand societiesseemto live on in theuse ofthelabels and the distinctivenessof similarityor dissimilarity, and "Melanesia"and "Polynesia" contemporary in anthropology certain regions are discreditedethnological questions. Pacific studies. thusmoves betweenthelocal and the theAnthropology oretical and somehow slips across the problems of Anthropology Fellowin Cultural iS Research NICHOLAS THOMAS definition which derivefromthe time and space of preCB2 (Cambridge IST, at King'sCollege,Cambridge University and history.The banishmentof conjecturalprehistory National Bornin I960, he was educated theAustralian at U.K.). anthropology are interests ethnologyon the part of a systematizing University (B.A.,i982; Ph.D., i986). His research and colonialhistory, historical anthropology, anthropolog- raises a varietyof questions,but my interest gender, here is resoMarquesan ical theory. has donearchival He research early on strictedto the extent to which ethnological concepts SolomonIslandsandfieldwork cietyandon Fiji and thewestern of actually have been extractedfromthe repertoire aninin theMarquesasandin western Levu.His publications Viti ideas. thropological of cludePlanetsaroundtheSun: Dynamicsand Contradictions i986) and Out theFijianMatanitu Oceania Monographs, (Sydney: A critical point which has been insisted upon with in Discourse and ofTime:History Evolution Anthropological peculiarforcein Pacificstudies in recentyearshas been The Press, Cambridge University (Cambridge: forthcoming). presbeof and even falsity the distinction the unhelpfulness 22 in entpaper was submitted finalform vi 88. tween the major ethnic and cultural regions of Melawhich createdsepanesia and Polynesia.The opposition, for rateframes the discussionsofregionalspecialistsand for a provided textbookcontrast theoriesofpoliticalevolution, has been attacked not only by anthropologists and archaeologists, linguists(e.g., but also by historians,

The Forceof Ethnology

of and Origins Significance the Division' Melanesia/Polynesia


though the basis of the critique in overlappingsocial variation and prehistoricunity appears to have been accepted, the recognition that these regions about European widely with Margaret of Jolly I. A number discussions I werevery of helpful. wouldalso liketo oughtnot to be seen as discretedomainshas bornelittle representationsthePacific at analysis.The implication the fruit the level of integrated of thank staff theCambridge the Library University (especially rarebook section) their assistance. for are is that old-fashioned ethnologicaldistinctions more27

i986:20-2 (Wright and wayssimplistic overdrawn

I 986: I -2; Keesingn.d.).Even the authorofa best-selling travelbook has noted that the dichotomywas in manyi).

Hau ofa I975; Douglas I979; Pawley I98I; Friedman I984:222; Thomas I98I, I985; Guiart I98I; Spriggs Al-




Volume 30, Number I, FebruaryI989 the man" leadershiptypewas not foundthroughout region but implied that the cases at odds with the model were merelymarginal exceptions or "aberrations"(cf. rank variationon the axis of ascriptionand hereditary it versusachievementand big-manship, is clearthatthis view is unacceptablebecause it so radicallyunderstates Haucofa suggestedthat the incidence of chieftainship. this derivedpartlyfroman overemphasison the New Guinea highland societies which had been so extensively researched:the generalizationof what had been established as the "big-man" stereotypeled ethnogthe to raphers overlookor distort evidenceforhierarchy (p. and fordistincttypesof authority 292). Even if mainland Papua New Guinea is concentrated is upon, the evidence for some formof chieftainship widespread,especially in the Papuan gulf(see Hau:ofa In forreferences). the highlands,supposedlya i98i:29i and core area forwhat were seen as "entrepreneurial" egalitariansystems,some societies apparently generally In at one time possessed more rigidhierarchies. the Hagen area, certain men were apparentlyprominentbecause of their control over the exchange of pearl-shell valuables, the more fluidinequalityof the post-World of the from Europeanimportation WarII periodderiving of shell and the transformation exchangenetworks(A. pointed out that missionaryactivityand pacification, dimindefinitely amongotherfacetsof colonial history, ished the positions of a varietyof indigenousleaders inI97I:I08; Strathern

would alargument tenacious than overtcontemporary of low: this leads me to explorethe earlierhistory clasof sifications Pacificsocieties and raises the question of paradigmshave in the extentto which anthropological whichgave evolutionism factdisposedofthe discredited place. in rise to ethnologicaldiscriminations the first

to is Sahlinsi963:286 n. 2). Evenifdiscussion confined

Sahlinsand His Criticspoint formost of the The implicitor explicitreference critiquesjust mentionedis Sahlins's I963 paper,"Poor Man, Rich Man, Big-Man, Chief: Political Types in Melanesia and Polynesia," which has been extensively reproduced and used in undergraduateteaching. Althoughnow dated in its styleof political anthropology, it must remain one of the most widely read essays in that fieldand in Pacific studies. The centralfeatureof the argumentwas an oppositionbetween the competitive and egalitarianpolitical systemsof Melanesia and of chiefdoms Polynesia.These social forms the stratified were associated with two leadershiptypes,the big-man, who acq


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