Becoming Patrons of Gold: Factional Litigation and the Making of Inequality around a Prospective Mine in Papa New Guinea

Date Tuesday 19 February 2019
Time 3:10pm - 4:10pm
Where K.G.06 (K Block, Ground Floor, University of Waikato
Presenter Willem Church - PhD Student University of Lucerne, Switzerland
Contact Rachel Gosnell-Maddock
Contact email
Admission Cost Free

Anthropological research on large-scale extractive projects in Papua New Guinea has long noted that the benefits and burdens of such projects are unequally distributed among local actors.

Royalties, contracts, and employment unevenly flow between local people, resulting in novel forms of social inequality among those living adjacent to such projects. To date, scholars have predominately focused on the consequences of these inequalities—whether violent conflict or inflated prestige economies—after extractive projects have begun, but largely underexamined the processes that determine these inequalities.

This presentation explores how long histories of litigation over the customary ownership of project land contributes to the groundwork for inequalities long before extractive projects begin.

By examining three formative periods in the history of the prospective Wafi-Golpu copper-gold mine in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea, I argue that a process of factional competition via litigation drives the assembly of politically unequal, and eventually economically unequal, factions.

When prospecting first begins, it is relatively open who will end up benefiting from mining. However, as time passes, cases move up the courts, companies build relationships with particular coalitions, and communities become settled in the vicinity of the mine, making incumbents more socially, economically, and legally entrenched.

To challenge incumbents or defend a position, networks form around well-connected and educated individuals who have the necessary resources and skills to recruit followings. The result is hierarchical factions, topped by antagonistic members of the local elite, linked to their followers in networks of clientelistic dependence, perfectly set up for lopsided distribution of mining rents. 

Bio: - Willem Church - PhD student University of Lucerne

Willem Church is currently undertaking his PhD at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland. His doctoral research examines how factional competition between the customary claimants to a prospective mine in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea, lays the groundwork for future economic inequality.

This research is part of a wider Swiss National Science Foundation funded research program headed by Prof. Dr. Bettina Beer, which examines the relationship between large-scale, capital intensive projects and local inequalities among the Wampar of Papua New Guinea.

Willem completed his undergraduate degrees in anthropology and economics, and graduate studies in anthropology at the University of Auckland