Reto's chance: State and status in an urban Papua New Guinea settlement

Michael Goddard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


According to the 'state-in-society' model developed by Joel Migdal, states cannot be analytically regarded as separate from the societies they govern and have to be viewed in their social contexts. Migdal's model has been well received by scholars discussing governance and, especially, social control, in Melanesia. An anthropological qualification which could be applied to the model is that local elements of state in Melanesia are socially permeable, since their employees are likely to come from the communities they serve. This permeability arguably contributes to a mutually transformative relationship between state institutions and local groups whose praxis is informed by exigencies of kinship and community. Heuristically viewing the colonially planned 'village court system' in Papua New Guinea as an element of state in terms of Migdal's model, this paper presents a narrative of the appropriation of a village court into community sociality and individual aspirations for status in an urban settlement in Port Moresby. Ethnographically, it suggests that an application of the state-in-society model in the Papua New Guinean context, at least, must allow recognition of the way colonially and neo-colonially introduced institutions have been appropriated into the praxis of local communities, and thus must preserve a sense of the transformations both of the institutions and the social life of those communities, to be analytically viable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2002
Externally publishedYes


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