Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures

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Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures
11/25/2013 8:00 pm

Accumulation by Dispossession?: Loss, Change, and the future of the Melanesian Pacific

The Elusive Concept of “Capacity Building” in International Development
November 25, 8PM, Faculty House

The Melanesian Pacific is a place where we see persistent alternative social relationships that are based on indigenous ontological formations as opposed to liberal notions of the self and others. Many of these social relations are not configured through market exchange. By thinking through the analytic usefulness of “Accumulation by Dispossession” with materials from Melanesia we may shed light on larger questions about personhood, nature, culture and possible global futures. Over the past ten years the analytic abstraction “Accumulation by Dispossession” has become a popular frame in the social sciences for thinking about the loss of land, citizenship, natural resources, and rights as well as the growth of global inequality. This new attention to “Accumulation by Dispossession” as a way to understand social, political, and economic inequality by the discipline of anthropology should cause us to examine its explanatory value and to ask whether its application is driven by our own empirical materials. Over the past twenty years, cultural anthropology has had the tendency to draw conceptual abstractions from other disciplines and apply them, often to the exclusion of other possible forms of explanation, to empirical materials from a global range of places and social configurations. This has tended to have a homogenizing effect on the discipline and a generifying effect on our interpretive and descriptive practice.  These talks ask about the usefulness of the analytic abstraction for contemporary anthropology, where it is being used to describe and understand multiple forms of contemporary social and economic inequality. They are based on eighteen years of field-based research on the island of New Guinea.

Paige West is the Tow Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University. She began teaching at Barnard and Columbia in 2001. Since 1997 she has conducted research among indigenous people in Papua New Guinea. The author of four books and many scholarly papers, her broad scholarly interest is the relationship between society and the environment. In 2002 she received the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology and Environment Junior Scholar award for her work, in 2004 she received the American Association of University Women Junior Faculty Fellowship and the American Council of Learned Societies Faculty Fellowship, in 2006 she received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Fellowship, and in 2007 she was named a Fellow by the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania.  In 2008 she founded the journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research, which is published by Berghahn Books, and for which she serves as editor. Professor West is currently the chair of the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania and the past president of the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association. In addition to her academic work, she is the co-founder of the PNG Institute of Biological Research, a small NGO dedicated to building academic opportunities for research in PNG among Papua New Guineans. She is currently on its board of directors.  She is also the volunteer anthropologist for the PNG NGO Ailan Awareness (AA), a marine-conservation NGO.