Research activity per year

Personal profile


Richard Eves, an anthropologist, has published widely on issues of social change in Papua New Guinea. His first book, The Magical Body: Power, Fame and Meaning in a Melanesian Society (1998), is a detailed study of social and cultural change in a rural community in New Ireland, where he has undertaken long-term fieldwork. Richard’s work now deals widely with contemporary issues in Melanesia, straddling the boundaries between anthropology, development and international health, with a particular focus on gender (including masculinity), violence (violence against women; sorcery and witchcraft-related violence) and the AIDS epidemic. He also has experience in consulting on issues of health, AIDS and gender-based violence in PNG, having been a research advisor on two AusAID funded projects and a consultant for Caritas Australia. Richard has undertaken qualitative research in numerous provinces in PNG (including Southern Highlands, Hela, Western Highlands, Chimbu, Western, Eastern Highlands, Morobe, Milne Bay and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville) as well as the Solomon Islands. With Leslie Butt, he co-edited the significant volume, Making Sense of AIDS: Culture, Sexuality, and Power in Melanesia (2008), a collection of anthropological papers on how the HIV epidemic in Melanesia is understood. In 2015, with Miranda Forsyth, he co-edited the volume, Talking it Through: Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft Beliefs and Practices in Melanesia. Most recently, he completed research for the multi-year Do No Harm project, funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development. This project examined the relationship between women’s economic empowerment and violence against women in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. In addition to applied research focussed on gender, he is completing an ethnography of contemporary Christianity in PNG, looking particularly at the influence of Pentecostalism in New Ireland.

Current student projects

Almah Tararia (Advisor) - Women’s Political Participation and Decision-Making in Papua New Guinea. 

Research interests

Melanesian Ethnography (especially religion and social/cultural change); Medical Anthropology (especially international public health and HIV/AIDS); Gender (especially masculinity); and Gender-Based Violence; Sorcery and Witchcraft; Women's Economic Empowerment.

Past student projects

Jane Anderson (Supervisor) - A Kundu Relationship: Translating Development in the Papua New Guinea Church Partnership Program.

Gillian Dalgetty (Supervisor) - Networking Acupuncture in Vietnam.

Colin Wiltshire (Advisor) - Public Expenditure Tracking in Papua New Guinea: The Politics of Service Delivery.

Stephanie Lusby (Chair of Panel) 2018. Raitman Olgeta: Negotiating What it Means to be a ‘Good’ Man in Contemporary Papua New Guinea. 

Scott Robertson (Chair of Panel) 2018. Contesting the “Common Destiny”: Citizenship in Decolonising New Caledonia.

Christina Kenny (Chair of Panel) 2018. ‘They Would Rather Have the Women Who are Humbled’: Gendered Citizenship and Embodied Rights in Post-Colonial Kenya.

Ellen Kulumbu (Chair of Panel) 2019. Health Service Delivery in Papua New Guinea and Determinants Influencing Health Outcomes: The Case of Women and Health.

Claire Cronin (Chair of Panel) 2019. Speaking Suffering: Narrative and Transitional Justice in Post-Conflict Solomon Islands.

Asha Titus (Chair of Panel) 2019. Global Value Chains and the Networked Economy: Interrogating the Role of Information, Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Marketisation.

Researcher's projects

Masculinity, Men and Development: A Critical Analysis of Violence, Conflict and AIDS Prevention Measures in Melanesia (Australian Research Council Discovery Project). Begun in 2010, the project takes the view that fundamental changes are needed in men's attitudes and beliefs about women and their roles in society if the high levels of HIV infection and gender-based violence in Melanesia are to be improved. The project examines some of the prevention measures being made by governments, non-government organisations and churches. It has three aims:

  1. To critically analyse the underlying assumptions and methods of efforts being made in Melanesia to change men's behaviour, in order to reduce conflict, violence and the spread of AIDS.
  2. To produce policy-relevant research to inform the development of more culturally appropriate and effective conflict resolution, anti-violence and AIDS prevention measures aimed at men.
  3. To add to existing theoretical writings on masculinity and to make these more responsive to the contemporary situation by drawing on case studies that reveal the current, changing forms of masculinity in Melanesia and the factors that have brought these changes.

Matriliny Under Siege: Matrilineal Land Tenure and Development. This project examines how matrilineal land tenure systems in Melanesia are coping with modernity and particularly with increasing levels of development. Many anthropological writings of the past predicted the death of matrilineal systems in the face of such threats. These predictions have not been realised, but development, particularly in the form of permanent cash crops, is putting considerable pressure on matrilineal systems. Drawing on long-term fieldwork among the Lelet in central New Ireland, this project examines the complexity of the Lelet land tenure system, how the planting of coffee is causing conflicts over land, and the Lelet's proposed solutions to these conflicts.

Christianity and the AIDS Epidemic in Papua New Guinea. This research is part of an ongoing interest in the ways that evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal Christians understand and interpret the AIDS epidemic. Most Papua New Guineans have been Christian for generations. The many newer and more fundamentalist forms of Christianity that have appeared in the last forty years see the HIV/AIDS through a particularly moralistic lens that conflicts with government efforts to stem the epidemic. The research draws on material collected during fieldwork in the Southern Highlands in 2007 and in New Ireland over many years.

Papua New Guinean Conceptions of the 'Failing State'. This research focuses on how Papua New Guineans themselves conceptualise the role of the state and judge its performance. A considerable literature contests the description of the Papua New Guinean state as failing, if not failed. Much of this comes from national intellectuals and politicians, who regard such judgments as pejorative and vigorously object to their use. However, the view that the state is indeed failing is regularly met with in many parts of the country, and this research draws on case material from the Southern Highlands, Chimbu and New Ireland to document the ways that the people of these provinces voice their profound disenchantment with the state. The project examines several questions: How people see the role of the state and their expectations of it; what this reveals about Papua New Guinean national identity; what views and expectations Papua New Guineans have of other countries; and what are the implications of these issues for aid policy.

On the Ruins of Modernity: Christianity, Globalisation and Apocalypticism in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. This ongoing research project draws on long-term fieldwork among the Lelet in central New Ireland to elaborate the specific form Christianity takes there. Through the example of the local appropriation of Pentecostalism, the research explores theoretical issues, such as the changing nature of the self, governmentality and the nature of historical change, particularly the articulation between continuity and change and how local frameworks relate to the globalising trajectories of modernity. So far, this project has seen the production of several journal articles and chapters, and I am currently working towards a monograph.

Do No Harm: Understanding the Relationship between Women’s Economic Empowerment and Violence against Women in Melanesia 

The poor development outcomes for many women in the Pacific, and their increasingly high levels of economic exclusion, indicate a need to understand the factors that influence this situation. The broader development literature shows that women’s economic empowerment can have positive and negative outcomes, including both increases and decreases in levels of violence. Few studies have addressed this issue for the Pacific and what is reported is mostly anecdotal. A great need exists for research that clearly shows donor agencies what needs to be incorporated into the planning of economic empowerment initiatives, and into organisational policies, in order to minimise possible harm and to maximise positive gender equality outcomes.

In a collaboration between the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) and SSGM, Do No Harm will research the relationship between women’s economic inclusion and empowerment programs and violence against women in three countries in the cultural region of Melanesia (Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea). Specifically,  Do No Harm seeks answers to the problem of how to empower women to improve their livelihood security without compromising their safety, and to enumerate the diverse ways that women endeavour to overcome economic disadvantage. It will focus on a range of economic inclusion and empowerment initiatives that exist in the informal and formal economies, including community-based microfinance and banking initiatives, women’s business enterprises, donor-funded market projects, and women’s employment in the public sector and donor agencies.

Sorcery and Witchcraft-Related Accusations and Violence: Understanding the Perpetrators (with Angela Kelly-Hanku, PNG Institute of Medical Research/UNSW).

The issue of sorcery and witchcraft-related accusations and violence in Papua New Guinea is receiving increasing attention from researchers. However, very little research has been done on the perpetrators of these violent attacks. In collaboration, Richard Eves and Angela Kelly-Hanku (PNG Institute of Medical Research & School of Public Health & Community Medicine, UNSW) are undertaking in-depth qualitative interviews with male perpetrators of witch-hunts in the Eastern Highlands Province. This research seeks to comprehend the worldview of the perpetrators and the factors driving their violent attacks, as an important prerequisite to devising culturally appropriate and effective prevention strategies. 


BA (Adel), PhD (ANU)

Expertise Areas

  • Pacific Peoples Health
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Government and Politics of Asia and the Pacific
  • Race and Ethnic Relations
  • Studies of Pacific Peoples' Societies
  • Culture, Gender, Sexuality
  • Postcolonial Studies
  • Pacific History (excl. New Zealand and Maori)
  • Religion and Society


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