The Domestic Moral Economy: An ethnographic study of values in the Asia-Pacific Region

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.


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Busse, Mark, (2014) Urban food security and the Goroka fresh food market. in University of Goroka Journal of Postgraduate Studies and Research

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Foale S (2013) Food security and the Coral Triangle Initiative in Marine Policy

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Gregory C (2011) Skinship: Touchability as a virtue in East-Central India in Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory

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Gregory C (2016) 'Forgive us our Debt, as we Forgive our Debtors': Our Debt to Graeber in The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

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GREGORY C (2013) The value question in India Ethnographic reflections on an ongoing debate in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory

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Gregory C (2014) Unequal Egalitarianism: Reflections on Forge's Paradox in The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

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Gregory C. (2013) The value question in India Ethnographic reflections on an ongoing debate in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory

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Gregory C. (2011) Skinship: Touchability as a virtue in East-Central India in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory

Description Our conferences and workshops and conferences enabled us to establish (a) new research networks with scholars from around the world. These enabled us to appreciate the (b) comparative significance of our original but highly specific ethnographic findings and (c) to pose new questions of a more general theoretical nature for future research.

(a) A workshop in Canberra co-sponsored by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 2012 brought together Australia-based Pacific specialists from different disciplines concerned with the general problem of kinship and the economy; a conference in Belfast in 2013 on ritual and the DME brought together UK-based anthropologists working on India and the Pacific; and a final conference in Manchester in 2105 brought together members of three recently commenced ERC projects (based in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Halle) and one completed ESRC projects (based at LSE) on the general theme grassroots perspectives on the value question. Morality has emerged as a major theme in anthropology over the period of our grant and discovery of these new networks was an unexpected bonus which will be of mutual benefit in our work on ethnographic approaches to moral economy in the future.
(b) Our team have collected a considerable body of ethnographic data on multinational families in Cairns and Suva, on migrants in Vanuatu, the Solomon Island and central India, and Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land. Conference and workshop discussions have enabled us to perceive the theoretical generality and concrete specificity of our otherwise diverse data sets. For example, economic organisation based on kin relations is a common feature of all our case studies. Governments used to see this as a 'barrier to market-oriented development' but now, following the uncertainties brought about by the GFC, thinking has changed. Work by our research network colleagues in South Africa, Southern European and Eurasia reveals a similar approach to the revaluation of the kin-based economy as youth unemployment rises and with it intra familial transfers of money. Increasing urbanisation, and booming urban land prices is another commonality, but one that is coped with in a variety of ways that reflects the culturally specificities of the case in question. The paradox of land rich, cash poor householders is found everywhere but the options available for people in the Pacific are constrained by kin-based systems of land tenure that have become ever more complicated over the years as squatters, traditional land owners, and modern business vie for rights over land. Our case studies reveal the extraordinary resilience of kin-based values; caring and sharing remains important but in a much changed environment where mixed-ethnicity marriages and single motherhood have risen significantly. Familial transfers between members of transnational families assume a bewildering variety of forms. Some of these have negative prices, others no price at all; in all cases the valuation of the transaction is a matter of intense negotiation, often dispute, that reflects the perspective of the observer be they participants, government institutions or academic theorists
(c) Moral economy is the theory of the just price. We entitled our project 'Domestic Moral Economy' in order to narrow the scope of our study to an ethnographic investigation of the value question in the domestic domain. This was a methodological move but results of our research leads us to redefine moral economy as the theory of the just transaction. This, paradoxically, broadens the scope of moral economy by posing questions about the morality, ethics, and legality of a transaction as a whole and not simply about the fairness of a price. For example, the domestic domain has traditionally defined the limits of the market but the fact of growing global inequality has forced poor women to hire out their wombs, poor people to sell their body parts, and poor parents to sell their babies for adoption; the rich, for their part, can buy access to the prestigious educational institutions and passports to rich countries; rich corporations can buy the right to pollute, and so on.
Exploitation Route Findings by Sykes from research in North Queensland have enabled researchers on a related ARC project to identify the movement of elderly Papua New Guineans between the homes of their children, largely in order to enable care for their failing health. In addition, research supported by the grant for an incidental project in Redfern, Sydney, NSW, Australia has enabled the video recording of elderly men remembering their years as children in the Kinsella Boys Home, a school for Aboriginal children taken from their mothers in order to educate and 'better' them. The circumstances of their removal from their homes is highly controversial in Australia, and is an example of the tragedy affecting so many Aborigianal children in post WWII era who came to be known as members of the stolen generation.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description Narrative Impact Statement 1. Socio-Economic Impacts with Stakeholders/User Groups Focus Groups: The Northern Territory research on neoliberalism in Aboriginal Australia revealed the effects of intervention policies on Indigenous households, employment and corporate processes. As neoliberal regimes have transformed people's livelihoods, the research demonstrates how kin negotiations and transactions shape moral values and engagement with the market over time. The research has impacted upon focus groups in Darwin and Cairns. In both cases, the workshops that were held engaged with theoretical issues around the good life and local economic practices, challenging participants to consider how the domestic moral economy informs broader economic concepts cross-culturally. The Darwin focus group brought together representatives from banking, Indigenous employment, development services, financial literacy programmes, cultural tourism, the church and a linguistics organisation. Contributors discussed issues of kin expectations, principles of motivation, action and value, income management, financial terms and translation matters. Magowan's focus group findings influenced how remote liaison officers in the banking sector approach value terms and how they communicate the meanings of finance-related concepts. Further workshops were requested on economic and moral value concepts and translation issues in the future. These are outside the scope of this grant to deliver. The subject of family welfare was the focus of three meetings in Far North Queensland. Initial plans with the multicultural council of Cairns Regional Government, in the company of those with representatives from different state departments and civic groups supporting PNG households, await further development until such time as the State of Queensland revives its funding programme support cultural diversity there. Subsequently, meetings with different churches working to support PNG families in Far North Queensland culminated in a workshop to discuss ways of sharing information, and creating structures of mutual support for PNG families in the region. At two of these workshops Sykes presented her data on the composition of PNG households in Far North Queensland, and used analysis of ethnographic narrative and anecdotal information. Sykes consulted her ethnographic archive, anonymized the data, and analysed it so that it could be included in a report written by the Cairns Catholic Diocese. Their report was used to request financial and administrative support for the creation of a PNG Family Centre in Central Cairns. The scope of Sykes's data helped to make the case of the worthiness of the Church's investment, which aims to care for all families (not simply their parishioners). The centre was opened in July 2015, and had an official opening during the celebration of PNG's 40 Anniversary of Independence. . Some of the findings will be incorporated in Gregory and Altman's forthcoming edited volume. In Gregory's research, his collaboration with members of an Indian-based development organisation which has an MoU with the Australian National University ensured that the genealogies and household statistics that were collected were of benefit to them. 2. Media Impacts: Web/Magazine/Newspaper articles Altman was employed in 2011 by the founding editor of the National Indigenous Times and was contracted and paid as a regular columnist for the magazine, Tracker. He contributed numerous pieces for this publication, which led to an invitation to compile all of his public writings on economic policy between 2011-2014 in two volumes of the Journal of Indigenous Policy. He has also created opinion pieces for the Land Rights News, New Mathilda, The Drum and The Conversation. As their Indigenous policy expert, his monthly columns, entitled Evidently, challenged the imposition of hegemonic neoliberal governmentality on Indigenous communities and influenced the public in alternative understandings of how economic and cultural policy transformations can be achieved. Radio/TV Altman contributes regularly to a monthly broadcast, which takes the form of an hour long wrap with National Indigenous Radio Service's Let's Talk. Sykes participated in community radio interviews in 2014 stimulating further debate and meetings. The follow up meetings led to the founding of a Centre for Papua New Guinean Families in Far North Queensland. The Centre is based adjacent to Raintrees Shopping Centre, Manunda, a suburb of the city of Cairns. 3. Public Lectures and Workshops In February 2013, Gregory spoke on mining in Fiji in a Public Debate at the Australian National University on ' Is the Resource Boom good for Melanesia?' This debate was funded by ANU and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This event was attended by NGO representatives of the State Society Governance in Melanesia Program and USAID. In November 2013, Gregory presented an invited public lecture to staff and students on the 'Economy and Culture of Bastar' at the University of Bastar, Jagdalpur, India. This was published in the Bastar Vishwavidyalaya International Lecture Series'. In May 2014, Gregory was Visiting Professor, University of Pretoria Human Economy Program. He gave a public lecture as part of this tenure. In 2015, Gregory participated in a colloquium entitled 'Reframing the Moral Foundations of Economics'. The colloquium is intended to generate a radical challenge to the morally jejune assumptions about human values and well-being which predominate in current economic research, practice and policy. He was asked to write a position paper 'Reframing the moral foundations of classical political economy: A perspective from economic anthropology' which will be published in the ISRF Bulletin No 10 in 2016. The ISRF ( is a European public benefit foundation established in 2008 by a group of private philanthropists with interests in academia and social science. Through its research funding it aims to promote cross-fertilisation in the social sciences, and the development of interdisciplinary expertise and methods, in order to find new solutions to real-world problems. From its inception, the ISRF has had a particular interest in research in economics that meets the above criteria, but such research has proved hard to find. The intention in holding the colloquium was to explore the reasons for this, as well as to invite discussion on the research questions and strategies which the ISRF should be foregrounding in its funding calls. The colloquium sought to stimulate plans for further critical work, and for dissemination of ideas, which could be supported by the ISRF and could reach a wide, international audience. The outputs from the conference included an ISRF position statement and a five year outline plan for the ISRF's research funding in economics. In April 2014, Rachel Smith took part in a two-day "publication workshop" convened by SSGM/ANU and Oxfam Australia as part of the Australian Association for Pacific Studies (AAPS) biennial conference held at Sydney University. The workshop brought together policymakers, academics, NGOs and activists with a shared interest in contemporary land issues in post-colonial Melanesia, including Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu's Minister of Lands. Smith has submitted an article on historical factors in land disputes and leases on Epi, Vanuatu, for inclusion in an open access edited volume as an outcome of the workshop, designed to be accessible and distributed in Pacific Islands. Maggio gave three informal talks in high schools in Italy and Japan and two in universities in Italy in 2013/2015. Students learnt about the difference between gifts and commodities, state law and kastom, and about the work of anthropologists. Maggio won the Material Culture Collecting Initiative organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute & The Horniman Museum in 201 for a tafuli'ae from Kwara'ae. He used it as part of his talks about Solomon Islands for the general public in order to enrich them with knowledge about distant cultures and spread the value of anthropology. More importantly, perhaps, the tafuli'ae is an object that concretises the value of unity in difference, the importance of turning separation into unity, the value of forgiveness and other principles of morality. 4. Educational Outcomes for Schools and Books for the Public In line with Vanuatu's Cultural Research Policy, Smith designed an outcome for use by the local community. She collected stories from older members of the community, which were transcribed and translated into the vernacular (Lamenu Lewo), Bislama and English. With the collaboration of Lynn Overmeyer, a Peace Corps volunteer IT teacher at Epi High School in Lamen Bay, school students learned to use publishing software to illustrate and design booklets based on a selection of these stories. When final edits have been made by Overmeyer (a practising graphic designer), the books will be printed in multiple copies to be distributed via community schools and kindergartens, and copies will be given to the national Cultural Centre and Archives. Maggio has written analyses of anthropological works that are aimed at the general public and which are easily accessible to people without previous education on the subject. The company for which Maggio produced these books (Macat International) seeks to educate people who do not have access to University education due to lack of financial resources and/or geographical distance. It is possible to read and/or listen to the analyses on the internet. These analyses were completed as part of the doctoral training programme. Maggio, R. 2016. An analysis of Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. London: Macat International Ltd. Maggio, R. 2016. An analysis of Karen Ho's Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. London: Macat International Ltd. Maggio, R. (forthcoming). An analysis of Marshall Sahlins' Stone Age Economics. London: Macat International Ltd.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Discovery Award
Amount $300,000 (AUD)
Organisation Australian Research Council 
Sector Public
Country Australia
Start 06/2014 
End 12/2017
Description Newton Trust
Amount £126,000 (GBP)
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2015 
End 12/2016
Description Community Radio Interviews 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The interview broadcast stimulated further meetings

After my interview, the follow up meetings led to the founding of a Centre for Papua New Guinean Families in Far North Queensland. The Centre is based adjacent to Raintrees Shopping Centre, Manunda, a suburb of the city of Cairns.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Foundation of PNG Family Centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The data from the research in northern Queensland, Australia was used to solicit financial and political support for the Cairns PNG Family Centre in Manunda
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015