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The Capitalism of Chambri Cosmology: The 2017 Sir Raymond Firth Memorial Lecture

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Title:The Capitalism of Chambri Cosmology: The 2017 Sir Raymond Firth
Memorial Lecture
Authors:Gewertz, Deborah
Errington, Frederick
Keywords:Raymond Firth
social change
show 2 morePapua New Guinea
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LC Subject Headings:Oceania -- Periodicals
Date Issued:2020
Publisher:University of Hawai‘i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
Citation:Gewertz, D., and Errington, F. 2020. The Capitalism of Chambri Cosmology: The 2017 Sir Raymond Firth
Memorial Lecture. The Contemporary Pacific 32 (1): 124–145.
Abstract:Raymond Firth argued in “Social Organization and Social Change” that, although structure provides a framework for action, circumstances may lead to “fresh choices” and “fresh decisions” with results that “ripple” throughout a structural framework and, sometimes, beyond it; when this departure from a structure becomes permanent, the result is social change (1954). During our long- term fieldwork among the Chambri people of Papua New Guinea’s East Sepik Province, we noted such ripple effects, especially as Chambri realized that they could make fresh choices and decisions in order to create new ripples. Notably, some of these new ripples affected the totemic regulation of the Chambri world. Simply put, the ontology and logic of Chambri totemism—what had been the environment of environmental regulation—became open to capitalist-inflected choices and decisions. Here we consider this emergent capitalism of Chambri cosmology as a historical process of social change, one arising from a conjuncture with the “cosmologies of capitalism,” to reference Sahlins’s significant discus- sion (1988). Along the way, we appraise the fate of ontological purity at a time when the assumptions and practices of Chambri totemism, those constituting the relationship of humans to nonhumans, have become substantially reformulated. What does it signal for Chambri that the wrong sorts of people may be making for-profit choices and decisions about the actions of the elements while, at the same time, these elements—wind, water, and fish—have become increasingly obstreperous, apparently acting on their own volitions?
Pages/Duration:22 pages
Appears in Collections: TCP [The Contemporary Pacific], 2020 - Volume 32, Number 1

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