In this article, I explore what a critical environmental perspective would look like in Melanesia, where the distinction between nature and culture, and the expectation that science interprets the former in terms of the latter, may not apply. I consider changes in scientific knowledge production and the shift from cultural ecology to political ecology in Melanesian anthropology, including the argument that Melanesians are neither conservationists nor environmentalists. In contrast, I show how people exposed to pollution from the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea mobilize their understandings of difference in a green critique of capitalism. I examine a strategy session of local activists, a public meeting about their campaign against the mine, and a sorcery tribunal. Finally, I suggest that Melanesian ideas about social relations provide a useful ethnographic analogy for thinking about the mobility and short temporal horizons of contemporary capitalism.
Many contemporary indigenous movements deploy strategies of counterglobalization that make innovative use of the architecture of globalization. This article examines an indigenous political movement that took legal action to gain compensation and limit the environmental impact of the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea. Even though the campaign sought to balance the desire for economic benefits with the protection of local subsistence practices, its objectives were frequently misinterpreted. Indigenous movements that deviate from an antidevelopment position run the risk of being seen as greedy rather than green. Instead of reproducing allegories about the successful exercise of veto power over development projects, anthropologists need ethnographic accounts that analyze the complex ambitions of indigenous movements and the risks of particular strategies of counterglobalization.
What are the responsibilities of anthropologists towards the communities with whom they work? This article examines debates on anthropology and advocacy in relation to the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea. Since the early 1990s, the indigenous communities living downstream from the mine have carried out on an international political and legal campaign to reduce the mine’s environmental impact and gain compensation for the damage it has caused. I argue that neutrality may not be possible in disputes between transnational corporations and indigenous communities because of structural inequalities that make it easier for corporations to take advantage of anthropological expertise and silence opposing voices. This article invokes questions raised in recent discussions of cultural property rights to consider the proprietary responsibilities of anthropologists towards the information that they collect and the claims made on anthropologists by the subjects of their research. Finally, the article considers the implications of recent political and economic trends regarding the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in monitoring international capital for anthropological activism.
engaged / public anthropology on the Ok Tedi mine
Social impact of the Ok Tedi mine on the Yonggom villages of the North Fly, 1992. Research in Melanesia 19:23-102, 1995. (Originally produced as Ok-Fly Social Monitoring Programme, report 5. Port Moresby: Unisearch PNG Pty Ltd., 1993).
The Yonggom of Papua New Guinea and the Ok Tedi Mine. In State of the Peoples: Global Rights Report on Societies in Danger, ed. Marc S. Miller, 113. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.
Indigenous response to environmental impact along the Ok Tedi, in Compensation for Resource Development in Papua New Guinea, ed. Susan Toft, 143-55. Law Reform Commission of Papua New Guinea Monograph 6 and Pacific Policy Paper 24. Canberra: National Centre for Development Studies and Resource Management in Asia-Pacific, Australian National University, 1997.
Is Ok Tedi a precedent? Implications of the settlement. In The Ok Tedi settlement: Issues, outcomes, and Implications, eds., Glenn Banks and Chris Ballard, 118-40. Pacific Policy Paper 27. Canberra: National Centre for Development Studies and Resource Management in Asia-Pacific, Australian National University, 1997.
Mining and environmental human rights in Papua New Guinea. In Transnational corporations and human rights, eds. George Jedrzej Frynas and Scott Pegg, 115-136. London:Palgrave, 2003. (Originally presented at a workshop on Indigenous peoples, private sector natural resource, energy and mining companies and human rights, organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Indigenous Perspectives 5(1):60–91, 2002).
in dialogue with Stuart Kirsch’s work on the Ok Tedi mine