Dispossession and the Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea


Winner of the 2017 Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award.

My most recent book, Dispossession and the Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea directly examines the relationship between social and material inequality and racism in PNG. In it I argue that there are deeply socially embedded racist rhetorics of representation that underlie all uneven development and that if we examine the various representational strategies we see every day in PNG, we can begin to develop a more robust understanding of the ideological work that underpins the differential economic climates that capital needs for its constant regeneration there.

Throughout Dispossession and the Environment I attempt to show how representational strategies with regard to the social forms that have been called ‘nature’, ‘culture’, ‘discovery’, and ‘exploration’ in PNG are complex acts of dispossession and carefully crafted accumulation strategies as well as ideologically grounded attempts to persuade and motivate. It is a book of ethnographic essays that focus on tourism, resource extraction, environmental conservation, and international development projects, all things that I have written about before.

What is different about this book is that I specifically examine race and racism with regard to all of these practices and I tie this analysis of racism to particular intellectual genealogies directly connected to the history of anthropology in PNG. I also ask what forms of material wealth result from racist representational practices as well as what forms of identity work, on the part of non-Papua New Guineans, are being done through racism in PNG. In each chapter I ask how descriptions of nature, culture, discovery, and exploration are used to dispossess materially and in terms of representational sovereignty.

Columbia University Press

Geographical Focus
Papua New Guinea

Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures

Cover Image
Design: Rebecca Lown
Credit: J.C. Salyer