The pioneering ethnographical studies in the Asia and Pacific regions have had a profound effect on the history of European thinking about the economy, kinship and religion. The theory of gift and reciprocity is but one example. Until recently the theory of reciprocity used to be a specialist concern of anthropologists but nowadays the idea has been taken up and developed by scholars in philosophy, law, sociology, history and literary studies among other disciplines. Paradoxically, just as the theory of the gift is about to reach its full inter-disciplinary development, anthropologists are turning away from it as contemporary ethnographers in the Asia and Pacific regions question some of the fundamental assumptions upon which it is based. For example, ethnographers working independently on the domestic moral economies of India, Melanesia and Aboriginal Australia have shown that the moral values informing money transfers between kindred need to be rethought; the generality of the obligation to repay has been a particular focus of attention.
The reasons are not hard to find. The rise of the transnational family and remittances (now twice the size of global aid flows), the globalisation of life-cycle rituals and the spread of new forms of religiosity has given rise to new forms of morality that pose new questions about money transfers. The classic assumption, which saw money as the quintessential form of negative reciprocity on the boundaries of the tribal economy, needs to be turned upside down. Money, it seems, defines the essence of the transnational family of today but not always harmoniously as cleavages develop between the haves and the have-nots who find themselves caught in a web of familial sentiment from which it is not easy to escape –often because the have-nots do not want them to.
Strategies for coping with these moral dilemmas vary across time, place and culture, with the growing importance of inter-cultural relations between previously distinct communities complicating the matter even further. The situation found in a remote Australian settlement like Yirrkala, where Indigenous Aborigines, Fijian pastors and White Australians interact as neighbours on a daily basis is replicated with variations in settled towns such as Griffith and in the neighbourhoods of cities in Sydney, Auckland, Suva and elsewhere, but scholars have tended to focus on one community to the exclusion of others.
The aim of this workshop is to bring together scholars in different disciplines and from different parts of Oceania who are been working independently on these questions. Regional and disciplinary specialisation has hampered a general discussion of these questions and it is hoped that through the sharing of new concrete data and ideas participants will be better able to appreciate the generality and specificity of their material. Questions discussed will range from a discussion of the generality of Altman and Peterson’s respective ideas about the hybrid economy and demand sharing to the presentation of concrete case study material on how people in different domestic settings cope with the problems of finding money to pay for school fees, life-cycle rituals, paying off loans and other demands of everyday life.