Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stereotypes, policy making and the lack of value research in the Pacific

I have been working on some policy related research work. The first stage of the project is a literature review of available research on values in the Pacific. The review generated is supposed to inform policy making in the Pacific. It is a fascinating project and topic. Yet, I am struck by two very peculiar observations as I am trying to locate relevant material.

Little research and lots of recommendations

The first thing that is really noteworthy is the absence of much high quality empirical work, but the abundance of policy recommendations, guidelines and advise based on a complete lack of information. For example, government departments in NZ provide information to employers about  how to deal with Pacific Island staff, but I was unable to locate any first hand research that supports these recommendations. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but seems to be part of a larger picture of wild guessing, stereotyping and random observations being turned into potentially ill-informed and inappropriate guidelines, policies and interventions. This is outright problematic in my opinion.

Old School Anthropology and lack of insider voices

The second striking fact is that there are quite a few books by American/European/Western anthropologists describing the exotic features of island life and isolated topics of interest to these foreign outsiders, but relatively few ethnographic or anthropological accounts (beyond artists responding to journalists questions) by local people. In some cases, the diverging view points by outsiders (as in the famous Mead vs Freeman exchange) are heavily debated by other anthropologists from overseas, but there is little voice in that debate that came from Samoans (as far as I can tell based on my initial search). Outsiders determine how one of the most diverse regions in the world is portrayed and described.
Island themed performance and stereotypical accounts from age-old ethnographic studies shape our vision of the Pacific

Basically it seems that our understanding of issues in the Pacific are shaped by Western anthropologists doing research with more traditional communities from the 1920s-1970s mainly and there is a relatively lack of research on how modern day general populations in the Pacific feel, think and believe about all sorts of issues of societal relevance. Advise to business, clinicians, and even governmental policies are built on the absence of reliable data.


  1. Interesting.
    Do you have any examples of such policy recommendations on how to deal with Pacific Island staff?

  2. Yes, I can show you some leaflets and brochures that are used by NZ government departments.