Browsing by Author "Autio, Petra"

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  • Autio, Petra (Helsingin yliopisto, 2010)
    Hard Custom, Hard Dance: Social Organisation, (Un)Differentiation and Notions of Power in a Tabiteuean Community, Southern Kiribati is an ethnographic study of a village community. This work analyses social organisation on the island of Tabiteuea in the Micronesian state of Kiribati, examining the intertwining of hierarchical and egalitarian traits, meanwhile bringing a new perspective to scholarly discussions of social differentiation by introducing the concept of undifferentiation to describe non-hierarchical social forms and practices. Particular attention is paid to local ideas concerning symbolic power, abstractly understood as the potency for social reproduction, but also examined in one of its forms; authority understood as the right to speak. The workings of social differentiation and undifferentiation in the village are specifically studied in two contexts connected by local notions of power: the meetinghouse institution (te maneaba) and traditional dancing (te mwaie). This dissertation is based on 11 months of anthropological fieldwork in 1999‒2000 in Kiribati and Fiji, with an emphasis on participant observation and the collection of oral tradition (narratives and songs). The questions are approached through three distinct but interrelated topics: (i) A key narrative of the community ‒ the story of an ancestor without descendants ‒ is presented and discussed, along with other narratives. (ii) The Kiribati meetinghouse institution, te maneaba, is considered in terms of oral tradition as well as present-day practices and customs. (iii) Kiribati dancing (te mwaie) is examined through a discussion of competing dance groups, followed by an extended case study of four dance events. In the course of this work the community of close to four hundred inhabitants is depicted as constructed primarily of clans and households, but also of churches, work co-operatives and dance groups, but also as a significant and valued social unit in itself, and a part of the wider island district. In these partly cross-cutting and overlapping social matrices, people are alternatingly organised by the distinct values and logic of differentiation and undifferentiation. At different levels of social integration and in different modes of social and discursive practice, there are heightened moments of differentiation, followed by active undifferentiation. The central notions concerning power and authority to emerge are, firstly, that in order to be valued and utilised, power needs to be controlled. Secondly, power is not allowed to centralize in the hands of one person or group for any long period of time. Thirdly, out of the permanent reach of people, power/authority is always, on the one hand, left outside the factual community and, on the other, vested in community, the social whole. Several forms of differentiation and undifferentiation emerge, but these appear to be systematically related. Social differentiation building on typically Austronesian complementary differences (such as male:female, elder:younger, autochtonous:allotochtonous) is valued, even if eventually restricted, whereas differentiation based on non-complementary differences (such as monetary wealth or level of education) is generally resisted, and/or is subsumed by the complementary distinctions. The concomitant forms of undifferentiation are likewise hierarchically organised. On the level of the society as a whole, undifferentiation means circumscribing and ultimately withholding social hierarchy. Potential hierarchy is both based on a combination of valued complementary differences between social groups and individuals, but also limited by virtue of the undoing of these differences; for example, in the dissolution of seniority (elder-younger) and gender (male-female) into sameness. Like the suspension of hierarchy, undifferentiation as transformation requires the recognition of pre-existing difference and does not mean devaluing the difference. This form of undifferentiation is ultimately encompassed by the first one, as the processes of the differentiation, whether transformed or not, are always halted. Finally, undifferentiation can mean the prevention of non-complementary differences between social groups or individuals. This form of undifferentiation, like the differentiation it works on, takes place on a lower level of societal ideology, as both the differences and their prevention are always encompassed by the complementary differences and their undoing. It is concluded that Southern Kiribati society be seen as a combination of a severely limited and decentralised hierarchy (differentiation) and of a tightly conditional and contextual (intra-category) equality (undifferentiation), and that it is distinctly characterised by an enduring tension between these contradicting social forms and cultural notions. With reference to the local notion of hardness used to characterise custom on this particular island as well as dance in general, it is argued in this work that in this Tabiteuean community some forms of differentiation are valued though strictly delimited or even undone, whereas other forms of differentiation are a perceived as a threat to community, necessitating pre-emptive imposition of undifferentiation. Power, though sought after and displayed - particularly in dancing - must always remain controlled.