The rascal road: crime, prestige and development in Papua New Guinea

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This article critiques analyses that interpret gang crime, or "rascalism," in Papua New Guinea as an underclass phenomenon. Illustrative sketches of gang members' lifestyles and expressed attitudes toward their own criminal behavior are used to demonstrate a variety of social backgrounds and pursuing a criminal career. Themes suggested by these sketches through a discussion of the Melanesian gift economy and understandings of the concept of development. That concept tends to be apprehended by Papua New Guineans in terms of the gift economy, integration of issues of reciprocity, socioeconomic obligation, and prestige.
Parallels are drawn between the behavior and attitudes of rascals and the
ethnographically familiar patterns of behavior by Papua New Guineans associated with the pursuit of status and prestige through the manipulation of relationships of reciprocation and obligation. The "rascal" lifestyle is interpreted as a strategy for pursuing prestige and the appropriation of commodities into a gift economy. Rather than view rascalism as a product of poverty and unemployment generated by processes of development or underdevelopment, it is analytically useful to consider it as an issue of the problematic encounter between a cash economy and an enduring, robust gift economy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-80
Number of pages26
JournalThe Contemporary Pacific: A Journal of Island Affairs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


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