My area of study is Oceania with a primary focus on Melanesia. Since 1992 I have been conducting fieldwork in the nation-state of Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific. The people with whom I work, the Arosi, live mainly on the island of Makira.
Currently, my chief theoretical interests lie in anthropological approaches to questions of being (ontology), including classic ethnographies of indigenous cosmologies and contemporary developments such as the 'new animism', 'perspectivism', 'relationalism', 'non-dualism', and the study of human-nonhuman relations. In recent and forthcoming publications, I contribute critical analyses to debates within the anthropology of ontology, exploring, for example, the relationalist assumptions implicit in much of the literature in this subfield.
Additionally, I am engaged in a comparative study of wonder as both an index and an instrument of ontological crisis and transformation. This project emerges from talk among my Arosi consultants that their island, Makira, may contain a marvellous subterranean urban-military complex, but also tracks the pursuit and production of wonder in modern Euro-American contexts, including anthropology itself.
These projects reflect my continued development of analyses introduced in The Severed Snake, an ethnographic and historical exploration of what I term the poly-ontological cosmology of Arosi and its relationship to place-making and the indigenization of Christianity. (Click here to read the Table of Contents and Introduction.)
I am interested in supervising research on topics such as: contemporary, historical, and anthropological cosmologies and ontologies; wonder and the re-enchantment of modernity; religion; indigenous Christianities; human-nonhuman relations, especially human-land relations; myth-making; ethnogenesis; 'cargo cults'; personhood, sociality, and relatedness.
During the academic year I co-organize the monthly Melanesia Research Seminar at the British Museum.
2016. To be Makiran is to see like Mr Parrot: the anthropology of wonder in Solomon Islands. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 22(3): 474-495. Click here to read this article.
2015. Cosmogony today: counter-cosmogony, perspectivism, and the return of anti-biblical polemic. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 6: 44-61.
2015. “When people have a vision they are very disobedient”. A Solomon Islands Case Study for the Anthropology of Christian Ontologies. In Individualisierung durch christliche Mission? ed. Martin Fuchs, Antje Linkenbach-Fuchs, and Wolfgang Reinhard, 635-650. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. Click here to read a pre-publication version of this article.
2014. To be a wonder: anthropology, cosmology, and alterity. In Framing Cosmologies: The Anthropology of Worlds, ed. Allen Abramson and Martin Holbraad, 31-54. Manchester: University of Manchester Press.
2014. Anthropological Cosmochemistry. Anthropology of This Century, Issue 11. Click here to read this review essay of Philippe Descola's book, Beyond Nature and Culture.
2014. Collecting Makira: Kakamora Stones, Shrine Stones and the Grounds for Things in Arosi. In The Things We Value: Culture and History in Solomon Islands, ed. Ben Burt and Lissant Bolton, 67-79. Canon Pyon, UK: Sean Kingston Publishing.
2014. Equal Time for Entities. Fieldsights — Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology Online, January 13. Click here to read this article.
2013. The Anthropology of Ontology (Religious Science?). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 19(4): 859-872.
2013. Steps to a methodological nondualism. In The group for debates in anthropological theory (GDAT), The University of Manchester: The 2011 annual debate – Nondualism is philosophy not ethnography, ed. Soumhya Venkatesan et al., 303-8, 356. Critique of Anthropology 33(3): 300-60. Click here to read the debate.
2013. "Heaven on Earth" or Satan's "Base" in the Pacific?: Internal Christian Politics in the Dialogic Construction of the Makiran Underground Army'. In Christian Politics in Oceania, ed. Matt Tomlinson and Debra McDougall, 49-77. Oxford: Berghahn Books. Click here to read this chapter.
2012. The Matter of Makira: Colonialism, Competition, and the Production of Gendered Peoples in Contemporary Solomon Islands and Medieval Britain. History and Anthropology 23(1): 115-148. Click here to read this article.
2011. 'The Makiran Underground Army: Kastom Mysticism and Ontology Politics in South-east Solomon Islands'. In Made in Oceania: Social Movements, Cultural Heritage and the State in the Pacific, ed. Edvard Hviding and Knut M. Rio, 195-222. Wantage: Sean Kingston Publishing. Click here to read this chapter.
2008. 'Proto-People and Precedence: Encompassing Euroamericans through Narratives of "First Contact" in Solomon Islands'. In Exchange and Sacrifice, ed. Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern, 141-176. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
2007.Neither "New Melanesian History" nor "New Melanesian Ethnography": Recovering Emplaced Matrilineages in Southeast Solomon Islands. Oceania 77(3): 337-354. Click here to read this article.
2007. The Severed Snake: Matrilineages, Making Place, and a Melanesian Christianity in Southeast Solomon Islands. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
2005. "I was like Abraham": Notes on the anthropology of Christianity from the Solomon Islands. Ethnos 70(1): 101-125.
2005. Hybridity, vacuity, and blockage: Visions of chaos from anthropological theory, Island Melanesia, and Central Africa. Comparative Studies in Society and History 47(1): 190-216. Click here to read this article.
2000. Ignorance is cosmos; knowledge is chaos: Articulating a cosmological polarity in the Solomon Islands. Social Analysis 44(2): 56-83.
Photographs and the aperture of wonder
In the early twentieth century Jacques-André Boiffard and Eugène Atget each made a series of Parisian street photographs featuring seemingly deserted, desolate and banal urban spaces which, in the words of film scholar Annette Michelson, 'project a sense of imminence, of occurrences past or still to come.…These streets, squares, boulevards, arcades are cleared for the emergence of le merveilleux; their emptiness is ecstatic' (quoted in Walker, City Gorged with Dreams, 2002: 61).
This unremarkable photograph of the black sandy beach at Manu'a'a in Arosi (Solomon Islands), which I made in 1992, provoked a similar response of wonder in one local resident who saw in its emptiness the imminence of a glistening tarmac road he hoped would pave this place when infrastructural development finally comes to Arosi.