Unequal Lives

Unequal Lives

Gender, Race and Class in the Western Pacific

Edited by: Nicholas A. Bainton orcid, Debra McDougall orcid, Kalissa Alexeyeff, John Cox orcid

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As we move further into the twenty-first century, we are witnessing both the global extensification and local intensification of inequality. Unequal Lives deals with the particular dilemmas of inequality in the Western Pacific. The authors focus on four dimensions of inequality: the familiar triad of gender, race and class, and the often-neglected dimension of generation. Grounded in meticulous long-term ethnographic enquiry and deep awareness of the historical contingency of these configurations of inequality, this volume illustrates the multidimensional, multiscale and epistemic nature of contemporary inequality.

This collection is a major contribution to academic and political debates about the perverse effects of inequality, which now ranks among the greatest challenges of our time. The inspiration for this volume derives from the breadth and depth of Martha Macintyre’s remarkable scholarship. The contributors celebrate Macintyre’s groundbreaking work, which exemplifies the explanatory power, ethical force and pragmatism that ensures the relevance of anthropological research to the lives of others and to understanding the global condition.

Unequal Lives is an impressive collection by Melanesianist anthropologists with reputations for theoretical sophistication, ethnographic imagination and persuasive writing. It brilliantly illuminates all aspects of the multifaceted scholarship of Martha Macintyre, whose life and teaching are also highlighted in the commentaries, tributes and interview included in the volume.’
— Robert J. Foster, Professor of Anthropology and Visual and Cultural Studies, Richard L. Turner Professor of Humanities, University of Rochester

‘Inspired by Martha Macintyre’s work, the contributors to Unequal Lives show that to theorise inequality is a measured project, one that requires rescaling its exercise over several decades in order to recognise the reality of inequality as it is known in social relations and to document it critically, unravelling their own readiness to misjudge what they see from the lives that are lived by the people with whom they have lived and studied. This fine volume shows how the ordinariness of everyday work and care can be a chimera wherein the apparent reality of inequality might mislead less critical reports to obscure its very account. From reading it, we learn that such unrelenting questioning of what makes lives unequal becomes the very analytic for better understanding lives as they are lived.’
— Karen M. Sykes, Professor of Anthropology, University of Manchester


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Jan 2021
ANU Press
Pacific Series
Social Sciences: Anthropology, Gender Studies
Pacific: Melanesia

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Unequal Lives »

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  1. Unequal Lives in the Western Pacific (PDF, 0.4MB)Nicholas Bainton and Debra McDougall doi
  2. ‘I Will Be Travelling to Kavieng!’: Work, Labour and Inequality in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea (PDF, 0.3MB)Paige West and John Aini doi
  3. The Unequal Place of Anthropology in Cross‑Disciplinary Research on Environmental Management in the Pacific and What to Do About It (PDF, 0.3MB)Simon Foale doi
  4. The Problem of the Semi‑Alienable Anthropologist (PDF, 0.2MB)Melissa Demian doi
  5. Global Health, Tuberculosis and Local Health Campaigns: Reinforcing and Reshaping Health and Gender Inequalities in Lihir, Papua New Guinea (PDF, 0.3MB)Susan R. Hemer doi
  6. The Missionary’s Dilemma: A Short History of Christian Marriage and its Impact upon Gender Equality in Maisin Society (PDF, 0.2MB)John Barker doi
  7. Gendered Ambition and Disappointment: Women and Men in a Vernacular Language Education Movement in Melanesia (PDF, 1.3MB)Debra McDougall doi
  8. Stingy Egalitarianism: Precarity and Jealousy at the Sisiak Settlement, Madang, Papua New Guinea (PDF, 0.2MB)Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington doi
  9. Inequalities of Aspiration: Class, Cargo and the Moral Economy of Development in Papua New Guinea (PDF, 0.3MB)John Cox doi
  10. Exiles and Empty Houses: Contingent Events and Their Aftermath in the Ok Tedi Hinterland (PDF, 0.8MB)Dan Jorgensen doi
  11. Transforming Inequalities and Uncertainty: Gender, Generational and Class Dimensions in the Gende’s Longue Durée (PDF, 0.7MB)Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi doi
  12. From Donation to Handout: Resource Wealth and Transformations of Leadership in Huli Politics (PDF, 0.2MB)Michael Main doi
  13. Measuring Mobilities and Inequalities in Papua New Guinea’s Mining Workforce (PDF, 0.4MB)Colin Filer doi
  14. Menacing the Mine: Double Asymmetry and Mutual Incomprehension in Lihir (PDF, 1.3MB)Nicholas Bainton doi
  15. Intersecting Inequalities, Moving Positionalities: An Interlude (PDF, 0.6MB)Margaret Jolly doi

Coda: A Legacy of Engaged Anthropology

Personal Reflections and Tributes to Martha Macintyre


‘This collection of 15 excellent ethnographically grounded essays focuses on the ambiguous and transformative effects of modernities, mainly in in Papua New Guinea, but in once case from Solomon Islands. They were written in honour of Martha Macintyre, whose historically conscious work has led the way in studies of inequalities in gender, race and class in the post-colonial Pacific Islands … The collection offers invaluable insight into the contextual circumstances of the converging inequalities described. It should be read, not only by students and scholars with anthropological interests in contemporary Pacific Island societies, but by economists and others working for mining companies, NGOs, and development agencies.’

Review in Pacific Affairs by Penelope Schoeffel, National University of Samoa, Apia.

‘This festschrift is a truly celebratory publication, a feast of critical, cutting-edge scholarship as well as a party for Martha Macintyre’s life as an academic and a generous, lovely person. Its sheer size speaks to the richness of her accomplishments: over 560 pages, 15 scholarly chapters and a treasure trove of personal stories and pictures. Such a publication is a badge of honour that not many academics receive when they retire. A beautiful book, with a cover created by a Papua New Guinea (PNG) artist, John Siune (1965–2016), whose short lifespan reminds us of the key inequality of inadequate health services.’

– Susanne Kuehling, The Journal of Pacific History, Volume 56, Issue 4, 2021.

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