Threats to Difference in Colonial Fiji

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Essay Excerpt

The premise that societies, cultures, or communities exist naturally or generally in homogenous, territorially bound units has been called into doubt, and not only recently (see, e.g., Ferguson and Gupta 1992; Wolf 1982; but also Leach 1954). At the same time, myriad map- and census-style objectifications have drawn sharp lines for more than a century, rendering useable, specified boundaries and quantified homogenous interiors of communities, groups, and all manner of human types. Efforts to develop an ethnographic theory and method that does not neglect the effects of survey and policy instruments have revealed much about these instruments and their effects (see, e.g., Cohn 1987; Cohn and Dirks 1988; Mitchell 1991).[1] Here I want to join such efforts. However, centering our attention on official information machineries can lead us to presume their efficacy just as readily as centering our attention on a local "community" can lead us to naturalize drawn boundaries. Thus I will attend less to official information machineries and their intrinsic effects and more to dialogic confrontations across drawn but unstable lines. I will work from the premises that neither the described nor the describers hold all power to make social sameness and difference real, that origins of lived social differences are likely to be complex, and that we should not be surprised to find initiative as well as resistance taken from all points in social hierarchies. More specifically, I am supposing that the rituals and routines, crises and quotidian dramas of colonial societies were crucial sites of constitution of orders of social difference still important in our world, and that we have much still to understand about colonial practice of difference. Most specifically, in this article I discuss official responses to threats to colonial order in Fiji, a British colony. In response to threats in the colonial endgame especially, the limits and vicissitudes of "modern" European ordering powers emerge as clearly as their capacities to maintain asymmetric social fields founded on difference and European superiority (64).

Kelly, J. D. "Threats to Difference in Colonial Fiji." Cultural Anthropology 10.1(1995): 64–84.

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