The ‘Postdoc’ visits Fiji & PNG

October 24, 2014

by Sharon McLennan

One of the advantages of being the post-doctoral scholar on this project is the opportunity to visit both Papua New Guinea and Fiji, working with both PhD students and getting an overview of the two case study sites. The aim of my visits to the field sites, which I undertook in September and October 2014, was to explore the aspects of corporate community development initiatives and private sector-led development which intersect, an interesting challenge as tourism and mining are such different industries and the commonalities are easily obscured by the obvious and highly visible differences.

One of the most immediate differences for me was in the living arrangements. I visited Emma H. in the bustling town of Nadi where she is able to live simply but in Western comfort, although she had just completed two months in a village during her first case study. When I visited PNG,  Emma R’s home was a two roomed village house with no running water or electricity and a pit toilet. Although not easy, it was an important (if short) insight into village life and an interesting community-level perspective on mine activities and impacts.

Despite the challenges of living in the tropical Pacific, both Emma and Emma are making great progress with their research, and it was a privilege to tag along with them as they went about their data collection. During the visit to Fiji Emma H. and I visited two villages to bring a sevusevu (gifts of kava to the chiefs, seeking permission from them to talk to people in the villages about the research); got sunburned during an unexpected interview on the beach at Denerau; sat, talked (talanoa) and had kava with a local family; went to a school fundraiser supported by one of the hotels in Nadi, and visited another rural school to talk to the headmaster … and that was just the ‘community’ side. We also had a look inside two hotels and talked to staff involved in CSR, and had a meeting with the General Manager of a hotel to present preliminary findings.

During my two-week stay in PNG, Emma R. and I were also able to complete some important interviews, to observe some development-related meetings and to visit several surrounding villages. We met and talked to the visiting priest (following a spectacular confirmation service), explored the delights of the mining company club and mess, and had some good conversations with community affairs staff. In addition Emma perfected her 4WD driving (and river-crossing) skills!

The whole experience was incredibly interesting. I’ve learned a lot about Fiji and PNG, gained some insights into the impact of the tourism and mining industries, and developed my thinking around the questions of uneven development, immanent/intentional development and the role of the private sector in the Pacific. These experiences, and the discussions we had over the data already collected, have reinforced my conviction that there are significant intersections in the case studies of mining and tourism. As I prepare for my next trips (conferences and meetings in the UK and NZ) I will continue to puzzle over these issues/ideas.

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