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PhD, University of Melbourne, 2012; M Soc Sci (International Urban and Environmental Mgt), RMIT, 2006; MA, LaTrobe University 1996; Grad Dip Hum Latrobe 1990; BA (Hons) University of Melbourne, 1990

Research interests

  • Anthropology of finance
  • Ponzi schemes and other types of financial fraud
  • Anthropology of Christianity
  • Urbanisation and the middle class of Melanesia (PNG and Solomon Is)
  • Local representations of the development project
  • Discourses of nation and citizenship
  • Gender, politics and development
  • The social, political and religious effects of disasters in the Pacific
  • Local understandings of and responses to climate change in Kiribati


Researcher's projects

Moral and Financial Aspiration in Papua New Guinea

This project explores the moral and financial values of the emerging middle class of Papua New Guinea. It has emerged from my PhD research on ‘fast money schemes’ (Ponzi scams or pyramid schemes), initially conducted under the ARC Discovery Project Managing Modernity: Capitalism, Globalisation and Governance in Melanesia (DP0558799) Mass pyramid schemes have been a particularly useful vantage point from which to observe some of these developments because these schemes succeed by inserting themselves into narratives of how people think the world works and then addressing problems of how the world should work (such as the distribution of wealth).


Development, Politics and Gender in Solomon Islands

I first visited Solomon Islands in 1998 as the new Country Program Manager for the Australian Volunteers Abroad program and have watched the interplay of development programs, political conflict and changing gender roles in that country since then, in various roles as a program manager, consultant and anthropologist. Academically, I have explored patronage politics in several papers and more recently have turned my attention to locally-driven development initiatives led by women that create space for more gender equity. The latest of these, on the Simbo for Change project was written with three co-authors, all of whom had played key roles on the project through the Pacific Leadership Program.


The Social and Religious Dimensions of Disasters in the Pacific

This project was a multi-disciplinary collaboration with Glenn Finau, Jope Tarai, Romitesh Kant, Jason Titifanue and Renata Varea from the University of the South Pacific and with Prof. Andreas Neef from the University of Auckland. Our work focussed on the social and political effects of Tropical Cyclone Winston, which struck Fiji in 2016. We used social media research and field diaries to examine questions of disaster preparedness and religious and political narratives of blame.


Gender and Politics in Practice

This Developmental Leadership Program project was a multi-country study of leadership, gender and politics funded by the Australian Aid program through the University of Birmingham and La Trobe University. https://www.dlprog.org/projects/gender-and-politics-in-practice

My major contribution to this work was a collaboration with Dr Ceridwen Spark (RMIT) and Prof. Jack Corbett (Southampton) researching three successful women politicians from the Pacific and trying to understand how they had risen to positions of leadership. Our research has been used in various Pacific countries by women political leaders seeking to support other women interested in politics and by development programs seeking to approach leadership and gender in pragmatic ways that take local politics into account.


Bingo! Social experiences, harms and responses to bingo playing in disadvantaged Victorian populations

This project was funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF) to investigate gambling practices in three Victorian communities, including Pacific migrant workers in Mildura, an Aboriginal community in Gippsland, and older people in Metropolitan Melbourne. This was a collaborative project with colleagues from La Trobe’s Department Social Work and Social Policy and Prof. Helen Lee from Social Inquiry. My own contribution focused on Pacific Islanders in Mildura.


Future Islands: Catalysing Solutions to Climate Change in Low-Lying Islands

This ARC Laureate project (FL180100040), awarded to Prof. Jon Barnett at the University of Melbourne, aims to create new knowledge about successful adaptation to climate change on low-lying islands. The project seeks to provide evidence about adaptation practices to sustain island communities through a changing climate. I am currently working with the team to build our knowledge of historic adaptation practices and am focussing on Kiribati, where I was first introduced to the Pacific as a volunteer English Lecturer in 1996-7.



Dr John Cox is a Social Anthropologist and Development Studies specialist. John has twenty-five years’ experience in Pacific Islands countries working as a volunteer, NGO program manager, development consultant, researcher and educator. His work addresses social and political change in the Pacific and focuses on how class, gender and religious identity in shapes developmental citizenship and nationalism.

His PhD (University of Melbourne, 2012) won the Australian Anthropological Society’s Prize for Best PhD Thesis. John’s doctoral research took mass Ponzi schemes as a vantage point from which to observe social and cultural change in contemporary Melanesia, particularly in relation to religion, financial aspiration and developmental nation-making. This research was published in October 2018 as a scholarly monograph with Indiana University Press.

John has published on contemporary politics and developmental challenges in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, including the use of new communications technologies, sorcery accusations and medical services, gender, livelihoods and patronage politics. In recent project work, John has contributed to the Developmental Leadership Program’s international Gender and Politics in Practice research and studies of locally led development for the Pacific Leadership Program and the PNG Australia Partnership. He has also worked with emerging scholars from Fiji on the social, political and religious implications of disasters and climate change.

Together with Social Work academics at La Trobe University, he has researched gambling harms among Pacific Islander migrants in Mildura and two other three Victorian communities. John is currently working on an ARC Laureate project addressing climate adaptation in small island states.


Expertise Areas

  • Anthropology of Development
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Urban and Regional Studies (excl. Planning)
  • Citizenship
  • Race and Ethnic Relations


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