Fieldwork in Papua New Guinea: Who are the exotic others?
A recent post by Alex Golub on Savage Minds is interesting for several reasons: Even a scientific project on a very narrow topic might suddenly be relevant for a wider audience. Golub has studied the relationship between indigenous people in Papua New Guinea and the white senior management of a gold mine. He writes:
I’ve been really amazed to see the New York Times’s series on the impact of gold mining that has been running recently—suddenly my area of expertise is literally news.
Furthermore, Golub reminds us that - when doing fieldwork, it's not always clear who "the exotic other" actually is. In Golub's case it's not the indigenous people, but the white mining employees, although, as he writes "mine management were supposedly ‘from my culture.’":
Learning to like and respect these men (they were almost entirely men) was one of the hardest parts of my fieldwork. They were mostly Australian and Canadian, and had the usual Commonwealth suspicion of Yankees. I was an artist and an intellectual, and over-educated to boot. And they were MEN in a way that I was not—they talked about rugby and worked with their hands and had pictures of naked (or nearly naked) women on their walls, in there calendars, on their screen savers. And, of course, in the struggle between landowners and company, I was sympathetic to my indigenous hosts.
Golub also draws our attention to the consequences of our consumption of metals:
It is commonplace these days for people who drive cars to lament the way they are destroying the environment. Very few people realize what the set of silverware in their kitchen cupboard makes then an accessory to. (...) Look up from your computer screen for a moment and look around the room—how much metal do you see? Imagine the copper wires and metal pipes and lines of nails that stretch around you for thousands of miles. Where did they come from?