This project is funded by the ESRC for four years from 2011 to 2015. It builds on the long term research in the region by the three co-applicants, Professor Fiona Magowan (Queens University Belfast), Professor Karen Sykes (Manchester) and Professor Chris Gregory (ANU and Manchester). It also includes our Project Partner, Professor Jon Altman (ANU) and is directed by Professor Karen Sykes.
Money, long believed to be the destroyer of subsistence economies, has become a key instrument for the maintenance of national and transnational kin relations as costs of weddings, funerals and other rituals soar and new forms of sharing money between kin, neighbours and friends develop. This has reached a crisis point in some areas of the Asia-Pacific region today as people find themselves entangled in a web of obligations that can both aid and impoverish them.
An anthropological approach to the value question opens up new avenues of inquiry because the ethnographer is not just interested in political-economic theories of value (the outsider's perspective) but also indigenous modes of valuation in different intercultural contexts (the insider's perspective). People are not only concerned with the value of commodities they also employ values around kin, neighbours, and strangers that are not always shared. This creates moral dilemmas for valuers who have to cope with the ambiguity and coevality of competing values in a world where the economy is becoming a 'non-instituted' process as the market falters with the collapse of state institutions that used to govern it. An anthropological approach to value offers a concrete analysis of valuers situated within an historically-informed theoretically comparative framework.
The scope and limits of our study examine the notion of the domestic moral economy through fieldwork in the Asia-Pacific region. The Domestic Moral Economy is domestic in that it is concerned with a 'kin orientation' to the modern world in which forms of address may become the basis for negotiation, tension, and even conflict, especially when money is involved. The DME is moral in the sense that it consists of valuers who have values that inform their moral reasoning as they meet obligations to other people. Respect and familial love are key values in the DME; the problem is not to establish the generality of these values, but to understand the myriad ways that they are engendered and realised. The DME is economy in the sense that is an integral part of the money economy at large, not apart from it. The word 'domestic' today no longer has the connotation of 'local' as the family has become transnational; families are maintained through remittances and life-cycle rituals in global flows of money now estimated to be greater in size than foreign aid.
The three senior investigators have carried out long-term ethnographic research at specific sites in PNG, India and Aboriginal Australia. These sites will be used as exemplars to develop a new comparative perspective on the relationship between economy and kinship in the Asia-Pacific region. The literature on this region is now so vast that only a collaborative approach between regional experts of this kind can create the kind of dialogue necessary to grasp the generalities within ethnographic specificities. The senior investigators will engage in multi-sited fieldwork centred on their original fieldwork sites; they will supervise two doctoral students who will conduct intensive single-sited ethnographic studies of migrant neighbourhoods in Cairns and Auckland.
An annual series of graduate seminars on anthropological approaches to value
A series of interdisciplinary roundtable discussions
A set of international workshops: May 2013 at Queens University Belfast and June 2014 at the University of Manchester, and a final conference in April 2015 at Manchester.
A website http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/disciplines/socialanthropology/research/value/agenda/
A number of books and peer-reviewed articles.