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In the Absence of the Gift

New Forms of Value and Personhood in a Papua New Guinea Community

Anders Emil Rasmussen

210 pages, 3 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78238-781-7 $90.00/£64.00 Hb Published (September 2015)

eISBN 978-1-78238-782-4 eBook

Hb   Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Buy the ebook from these vendors

In the Absence of the Gift masterfully integrates a number of issues and practices—remittances, marketing and debt, community development projects, and collective activities like canoe-building—that might at first glance appear unrelated. Rasmussen embraces them all under the rubric of 'seeing' and making relations, and he illustrates how new social concepts like 'debt' or 'community' continue to operate within traditional understandings of obligation, generosity, and selfishness. At the same time, he highlights new possibilities of individual personhood and of collective identity that are currently under construction, the outcomes of which are given neither by 'traditional' culture nor by 'modern' global culture.” · Anthropology Review Database

“… a very convincing case for the refiguring of our understanding of contemporary remittance motivations. Crucial to this is the focus on sharing, as opposed to formal transaction . . . Also original and exciting is the emphasis on the deployment of ‘community’ as a crucial indigenous category of description and organization . . . I have not read a better or more convincing account of the category in Melanesia.” · Adam Reed, University of St. Andrews

“[This book] significantly advances arguments in the discipline in a number of key areas, such as the relationship between community and individualism, the role of money, and the nature of obligation in exchange. It marks a significant contribution to our ethnographic understanding of the relationship between gifts and community building.” · Keir Martin, University of Manchester

By adopting ideas like “development,” members of a Papua New Guinean community find themselves continuously negotiating what can be expected of a relative or a community member. Nearly half the people born on the remote Mbuke Islands become teachers, businessmen, or bureaucrats in urban centers, while those who stay at home ask migrant relatives “What about me?” This detailed ethnography sheds light on remittance motivations and documents how terms like “community” can be useful in places otherwise permeated by kinship. As the state withdraws, Mbuke people explore what social ends might be reached through involvement with the cash economy.

Anders Emil Rasmussen is curator and researcher at the Vejle Museums (Denmark). His publications include Materialities of Passing (co-ed., Ashgate, in preparation).

Series: Volume 5, Pacific Perspectives: Studies of the European Society for Oceanists
Subject: General Anthropology Development Studies
Area: Asia-Pacific

LC: DU740.4 .R37 2015

BISAC: SOC042000 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Developing Countries; SOC002010 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Anthropology/Cultural

BIC: JHMC Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography; GTF Development studies


List of Illustrations


Chapter 1. Historical Roots for a Singaut Economy
Chapter 2. Visible While Away: Concepts of Vision in Exchange Practices
Chapter 3. The Power of Words: Curses and Blessings of Relatives
Chapter 4. It’s never tomorrow: Debt, Selfishness and the Contest of Obligation
Chapter 5. Historical Roots for Community as Level of Organization and as a Concept
Chapter 6. …to benefit the community: Value and the Member of Community
Chapter 7. All Things Considered: Organized Action as Appearances of Social Totalities



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