Can the Subaltern Listen? Self-determination and the Provisioning of Expertise in Papua New Guinea

Slotta, James
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Voice is a major concern in contemporary liberal-democratic politics, one that stresses the political importance of speaking (“giving voice,” “speaking up”). But in the Yopno valley of Papua New Guinea, where NGO and government projects are expanding, people’s sense that they are losing control of their future has led them to worry about their capacity to listen, not their capacity to speak. In largely acephalous villages, people’s self-determination seems particularly threatened by their ignorance of the true nature of their own actions. From a perspective in which the antecedents and the consequences of action are deeply unclear—a perspective stressed in the provisioning of expertise prevalent in political discourse—self-determination hinges on listening and gaining the understanding needed to shape one’s future.

Slotta, James. 2017. Can the subaltern listen? Self-determination and the provisioning of expertise in Papua New Guinea. American Ethnologist 44(2): 328-340