Anthropology Seminar Series – “Reconfiguring social identities among Febi and Kubo, Papua New Guinea: anticipating the PNG LNG project”

A/Prof. Monica Minnegal, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne and Dr Peter D. Dwyer, Department of Resource Management and Geography, University of Melbourne


Through late 2013 and the first half of 2014, in anticipation of the PNG LNG royalty payments they expected to start flowing from mid-2014, people at Suabi village dramatically ramped up a reconfiguring of social identities they had tentatively begun eight years earlier.  This paper explores how people are responding to what they see as new demands and potential opportunities, by renegotiating relationships within, between and crosscutting previously named groupings and among variously named persons.  To some extent, the negotiations are occurring in an information ‘vacuum’; people do not know the bases on which benefits will be distributed, or the legal requirements and processes for incorporating land groups (ILGs) which they know will have a part to play in the receipt of royalty payments.  There is thus considerable variation in how identities are being mobilised and redefined.  But prior understandings of relational personhood continue to shape the ways that people are responding to those uncertainties.  And politics of allegiance beyond those entailed in securing access to royalty payments are crucial in shaping the configurations that are emerging.  The consequence of these processes has been a cascade of decisions that will have effects far beyond those that the people making them envisage. This paper describes that cascade and explores some of its implications.


Monica Minnegal is Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on the processes that shape change in the ways that people understand relationships to each other and the land. Monica has spent many years working in Papua New Guinea studying the impacts of modernity on their understandings and practices.  Her latest research explores how anticipating the arrival of a major resource-extraction project – the PNG LNG pipeline – is affecting local social practices and cultural understandings.

Peter Dwyer is an honorary Senior Fellow in the School of Geography, Faculty of Science, The University of Melbourne. After many years researching and teaching as a zoologist – bats, rats, rock wallabies, bowerbirds, ants – he diverted to anthropological concerns after taking a sabbatical in Papua New Guinea. He has undertaken research, for the past 28 years with Monica Minnegal, among Siane, Etolo, Kubo, Bedamuni and Febi people in PNG and among commercial fishermen in Victoria. An early emphasis was on ethno classification but social and ecological concerns now predominate and questions of social change – particularly of process – are always focal.

Where: Deakin University, Geelong Waterfront Campus, Sally Walker Building, Seminar Room ad1.122. A map of the campus can be found here:

When: Thursday, Mar 5, 5.00-6.50pm

All welcome. For enquiries, contact Gillian G. Tan, After the seminar, please join us for drinks/dinner at the Max Hotel, Gheringhap Street, Geelong.