Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: General Anthropology Division
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Inequality
Secondary Theme: Resilience
With respect to "an anthropological understanding of change," there is no more provocative an article for Melanesianists than Joel Robbins' "Continuity Thinking and the Problem of Christian Culture" (Current Anthropology 2007). Robbins' most sustained goal in the paper is to pin the impediments to the development of an anthropology of Christianity on anthropology's investment in "continuity thinking" as it addresses its preferred subject: cultural difference (given assumptions of cultural stasis). Yet, in closing, Robbins claims that his "broadest ambition" for the article is to encourage anthropologists to address "how processes and projects of both continuity and discontinuity shape cultural transformation." He pursues this argument in his densely argued 2016 book chapter "How long is a longue durée?" which insists on the importance of developing "anthropological models of cultural change, especially those that explain cultural change in cultural terms" and without understating actual discontinuities. In fact, in "Reproduction and Transformation," a book review that is now 20 years old, Robbins characterized his own research area, Melanesia, as undergoing rapid transformation and urged ethnographers to record and analyze it, producing much needed models of change. His more specific argument, that "social reproduction in the midst of cultural change is the most important current project in so many Melanesian societies," encouraged the study of "the complex ways in which continuity and rupture are combined in the production of cultural forms," as J. D. Y. Peel wrote in responding to Robbins' Current Anthropology article. "Modeling Change in Melanesia" convenes researchers with long-term research in Melanesia to report and analyze the change or changes they have witnessed in their respective field sites, keeping in mind the existing Melanesian literature on change and its many contours and in consideration of "resistance, resilience, . . . adaptation" and a multitude of altering circumstances, including globalization and the incursions and encompassments of a developing postcolonial state.