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Informality and Ôthe Idea of the TownÕ in Hubert MurrayÕs Papua

John D. Conroy ()
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John D. Conroy: Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University

Crawford School Research Papers from Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University

Abstract: Without pretension to novelty in the historical narrative, this paper examines how far economic informality emerged among Papuans in Pt. Moresby, capital of Australian Papua. Informal behaviour arises out of inability or unwillingness to conform with what Hart calls 'the institutional effort to organize society along formal lines', where form is 'the rule, an idea of what ought to be universal in social life'. The paper follows my study of informality among Chinese and indigenous Tolai in German New Guinea (GNG), where the goal was to impose conformity with a German ideology of 'national-economic purpose'. In Papua, bureaucratic effort was devoted to organizing society in accordance with a less coherent and compelling ideology, the 'preservation of village life' and, in Pt Moresby, with achieving an 'idea of the town' congenial to Europeans. 'Natives' were excluded from the town, other than as menial workers. The paper considers the bureaucratic effort to realize the 'idea of the town' in Pt Moresby and its impact on the traditional landowners and other Papuans, who proved more acquiescent to bureaucratic suasion than the Tolai in GNG. In consequence, urbanism was retarded and Papuan initiative smothered by paternalism. Much of the narrative revolves around comparisons of GNG, a classic plantation economy, with Papua, seen as an 'unlucky place', lacking natural resources, private investment and government funding, and handicapped (in the eyes of settlers) by undue concern for native welfare. Crucially, the Chinese intermediary class which drew the Tolai of GNG into the monetary economy was absent from Papua. Nor were white traders encouraged to perform this role, while official efforts to engage Papuans with 'the market' were ineffective. Colonial Papua was, as Charles Rowley said, an obsolescent society and economy. The comparatively vigorous economic informality in and around Rabaul before the Pacific War was emblematic of greater progress towards economic development than had proved possible in Hubert Murray's Papua, while Rabaul also expressed a more vigorous urbanism.

Keywords: informality; urban informal economy; regulation; bureaucracy; plantation economy; colonialism; racism; Keith Hart; Papua; Papua New Guinea; German New Guinea; Hubert Murray; overseas Chinese; Port Moresby (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014-11
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