Doctoral Dissertation Research: From Citizen to Corporate Stakeholder: New Logics of Humanitarianism in West Papua, Indonesia

Investigator: Ian Whitmarsh, PhD
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Location(s): Papua New Guinea


Supervising Clare Coghill Cameron U. of California, Berkeley

Anthropological engagement with Melanesian gift economies can be traced back to Malinowski's (1922) seminal work on the kula ring, itself instrumental to Mauss's (1925) theorization of gifts, countergifts and social debt. Yet, the logics of gift exchange -- notably, reciprocity, obligation and debt -- remain contemporary concerns, as they are increasingly appropriated toward the production of economic value. This project is concerned with a specific manifestation of this appropriation: corporate social responsibility programs. These programs not only speak to global trends in the privatization of social welfare, but a simultaneous marketization of the humanitarian ethic. In this shift, logics of humanitarianism can be appropriated and reconfigured -- by both donor and recipient -- to new ends that are not yet well understood. Situated in West Papua, Indonesia, this project, thus, explores how corporate humanitarian enterprises craft a complex dynamic between the corporation, its local stakeholders, and the public (state) sector. Although this new humanitarian project bears striking resemblance to past imperial projects of development, the contemporary mode of intervention -- the public-private partnership -- is an emerging formation that has important implications for how citizens relate to the state. My project examines what relationships, mediated by both debt and opportunity, might suggest about a new humanitarian logic that has widespread significance as public-private partnerships increasingly characterize the global health enterprise.