History as relation. On the “use and abuse” of the past in Australia and Vanuatu

Abstract : Even - and in particular - when working on such controversial topics as kinship or land tenure, ethnography inevitably deals with the multiple and diverse embodiments, expressions, treatments and deployments of what Ricœur called the “traces of the past”: an exertion of memory as much as of oblivion. Comparing two bodies of discourse and description from two different ethnographic locations, this paper will attempt to elaborate on the modalities through which such traces are deployed to (re)define contemporary being and belonging. The first body reflects current Australian Aboriginal recollections of “first” and “early contact” situations in the Western Desert in the 1950s and 1960s. In a language of explicit disruption, the traces recalled from these situations are deployed to signify the emergence of an authenticity and of distinctions of ways of doing and of thinking that continue to define contemporary being and belonging. The second body stems from rural communities in the southern part of Malekula in Vanuatu. Here, again, the reference to and deployment of traces from the past are substantial means for situating contemporary practice within ideologies of belonging. However, in this second case, multiple regimes of historicity coexist and compete, reflecting divergent visions for the collective future. Despite this important difference, on which the paper will reflect, a common observation emerges from both situations – an observation that is relevant in many domains and subjects of sociological enquiry. In Aboriginal Australia, as in South Malekula, traces are not only about the connection of people with their past; they are also, and above all, a means for shaping and reviewing relations between people through their past.
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Contributor : Laurent Dousset <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, June 30, 2015 - 4:25:07 PM
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  • HAL Id : halshs-01169995, version 1



Laurent Dousset. History as relation. On the “use and abuse” of the past in Australia and Vanuatu. European Society for Oceanists Conference 2015, Jun 2015, Bruxelles, Belgium. ⟨halshs-01169995⟩



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