Social segmentation, voting, and violence in Papua New Guinea

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    Over the past quarter century there has been a resurgence of warfare in the New Guinea Highlands. Much of this warfare and other violence has occurred at the interface between electoral politics and more "traditional" forms of segmentary social organization: tribes, clans, and the like. It has been seen by some scholars as a matter of "upward colonization," whereby local political traditions have penetrated the state. Although this view is illuminating, it has its limits: in practice, state and local forms of politics cannot be articulated with each other without having a substantial impact on both. Here I illustrate this ethnographically, drawing on case materials from the Ku Waru region, Western Highlands Province. Tracing the history of marital and ceremonial exchange relations between two Ku Waru groups over the past two generations, I show how an emerging alliance between them was undermined by a conflict of interest over the 1992 national election. Although such conflicts could never be avoided altogether, I argue that they could be reduced by a change from the present first-past-the-post voting system to a preferential system.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)305-333
    JournalThe Contemporary Pacific
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


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