Governance in the Pacific: A Sepik Pentecostal Movement as a Pacific Form of Grassroots Democracy, Papua New Guinea

research project
Basic Info

  • Project Executive on ZRC

    Tomi Bartole, PhD
  • Original Title

    Governance in the Pacific: A Sepik Pentecostal Movement as a Pacific Form of Grassroots Democracy, Papua New Guinea

  • Duration

    since August 1, 2018 to July 31, 2020
  • Leading Partner


  • Project manager

    Tomi Bartole, PhD

  • Financial Source

    Slovenian Research Agency

Since the late 1980s the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund have framed the promotion of democracy, economic justice and sustainable development through the all-encompassing idea and practice of governance. In the Pacific region, the new language of governance has gained purchase through the foreign policies of non-Pacific states, which aim at modernising and developing Pacific states that have been glossed “weak states” due to their poor performance. Three causes have been identified for such performance: 1) lack of grassroots democracy; 2) domestication of the (modern) state by indigenous forces; 3) failure to fill the “leadership deficit”. The proposed research will anthropologically interrogate the triad of propositions for explaining bad governance in the Pacific. Deviation from an imagined trajectory of governance evolution above all highlights the ‘missing’ element: grassroots democracy. This leads some scholars into a logical and methodological deadlock: the cause for bad governance is nonexistence (of grassroot democracy) rather than an existing social phenomena. Consequently, because it does not exist, grassroot democracy cannot be studied. In 2014 a Pentecostal group from the East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea performed healing rituals at the National Parliament to chase away evil spirits causing personal and institutional corruption which was disturbing state governance. The performance of the rituals, not incidentally, coincided with a crisis of the Parliament’s legitimacy. The research will conduct a 9 months multi-sited ethnographic study of the above mentioned Pentecostal group, which will be analytically approached as a Pacific form of grassroots democracy in order to expose how relations can operate differently than current views in political theory allow and to elevate Pentecostal groups from ‘mere’ religious phenomena devoid of true human agency and incapable of engendering freedom to genuine political forces that encompass at once the human, divine and spiritual aspect of Pacific peoples.

Project steps

The project will follow the below specified work phases. The text in bold represents the phase that is currently underway:

First work phase: General project set up and fieldwork preparations

Second work phase: Multisited fieldwork in the villages of Awim, Yimas, Imboin, Warlamas, Yamandim in Meska in Papua New Guinea

Third work phase: Analysis and dissemination

governance • christianity • grassroot democracy • ritual • Papua New Guinea • Pacific