From Fellow Katerina Teaiwa: My entry point is “Framing,” because the ANU, and Australia-based research on the Pacific in general, is widely known for either producing or sustaining fairly negative framings of the Islands — some grown in this region and others imported from analyses of what many view as the “developing” parts of the world.

These frames consistently focus on what scholars and policy makers see as a Pacific Islands deficit or lack and include terms such as “the Doomsday Scenario,” “Arc of Instability,” “Arc of Crisis,” and “Failed States.” While much research in the disciplines of History, Anthropology and Linguistics focuses more on complexity and indigenous cultures, it is predominantly from a non-reflexive, “laboratory-like,” authorial position and with very few Pacific Islander scholarly voices or critiques.


Key Terms

Framing: Framing in the context of my chapter refers to the process of bounding and representing a particular place, people, geographic zone or practice according to the perspective or opinions of those doing the framing. These perspectives have often become normalised across popular, public, scholarly and policy domains. The framing of peoples and places according to dominant ideas about race, gender, class, scale and geopolitics has major economic, social and political consequences. How you “see” and “frame” a people or place can shape major aid, development, migration, defence, environment and other policies or decision making processes. The framing of Oceania as “underdeveloped,” for example, has resulted in a proliferation of aid agencies, projects and programs shaped more often than not by donors, rather than Pacific Islanders.

See for example: ‘Too many’ aid agencies in Pacific development organization says

Indigeneity: There is no single definition of indigenous peoples or indigeneity but the United Nations system has adopted the following broad understanding:

  • Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member.
  • Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies
  • Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
  • Distinct social, economic or political systems
  • Distinct language, culture and beliefs
  • Form non-dominant groups of society
  • Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and 

The Pacific provides an interesting contrast to some aspects of this definition because with the exception of a small number of countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Hawai’i, indigenous peoples or their descendants are also the dominant groups in society and government. The declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples was adopted in September 2007.

See: Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

See: UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples factsheet

Agency: This generally refers to the capacity of an individual or group for choice or action. In the context of globalisation, colonialism, imperialism and patriarchy, there are structural impediments to the agency of subordinated nations, states, individuals or groups such as small island developing states, indigenous peoples, slaves, people of diverse sexualities and genders, and women. A study of agency in this context thus looks for ways in which peoples, especially on the ground navigate the systems in which they are disempowered finding creative and meaningful ways of claiming and expressing their agency. In the Pacific, Epeli Hau’ofa’s seminal essay “Our Sea of Islands” (1994) was seen as a call for Pacific Islander agency in a postcolonial (or neocolonial) context. His approach particularly called for resistance and revitalisation of Pacific identities and histories through the arts.

Oceania: The Pacific covers one third of the planet and is the largest geographic zone on earth. Most world maps are produced to emphasise landmasses resulting in a distorted view of the earth as dominated by terrestrial rather than aquatic spaces. There are 27 nations, states and territories spread across the Pacific from Guam to Hawai’i, to West Papua, Australia, New Zealand and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). 20% of all the world’s languages are spoken in this region and it has the highest linguistic diversity per capita.

Discussion Questions:

1) Before you read this chapter what kinds of images or words sprung to mind when you thought of Oceania or the Pacific Islands? What is your impression now and do you see a Pacific presence in your own hometown or state?

2) Think about your own local or national context. Who are the marginalised groups and how are they framed in public or popular discourse? What are the impacts of framing disempowered or minority groups

3) What kind of acts of creative agency or resistance emerge from these spaces?