Prof. Christina Toren, of the Department of Social Anthropology,
at a Pacific Connections event at the European Parliament.
Pacific Connections: Euro-American and Pacific knowledge exchange
The Min peoples of Papua New Guinea are renowned for their secret male initiation rituals. These knowledge-practices are a long-standing interpretative impasse known as the ‘Min Problem’ which has for over forty years defeated anthropologists. Dr Tony Crook, Director of the Centre for Pacific Studies (Department of Social Anthropology) found a solution to the ‘Min Problem’, which was the understanding of the meaning of knowledge itself. A key finding was that the Min peoples take the differentiation and incommensurability of “knowers” and what they know for granted, and work by accommodating diverse positions rather than attempting to homogenise them. In this way, they avoid offending and collapsing the relations through which knowledge is made effective (2009). Thus, for the Min peoples, 'knowledge' (kál) is a water-like substance in the skin (kal) that circulates between people, plants and food gardens (Anthropological Knowledge, Secrecy and Bolivip, Papua New Guinea: Exchanging Skin (British Academy/OUP)). Knowing this, the problem of conventional Euro-American encounters with Pacific lifeworlds was not simply a matter of cultural difference, but a completely different insight into knowledge exchange and understanding.
Dr Crook has since trialled and developed a practical method, ‘Pacific Connections’, for knowledge-exchange that acknowledges the value of respecting and creating differentiation as the relational basis for meaningful dialogue with Pacific peoples. Dr Crook’s research has been presented at the Westminster and European Parliaments, and led to invitations to speak to UK Ministers, EU Commissioners and Pacific Ambassadors on Climate Change and Millennium Development Goals. Dr Crook is implementing a research-policy knowledge-exchange for the EU European External Action Service (EEAS) Pacific Division and the European Commission in order to enhance the effectiveness of the EU’s presence and support in the Pacific region.