Year

2009

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies and School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication - Faculty of Arts

Abstract

Understanding the impact of global influences on the ‘local’ is fundamental to the study of social and cultural transformation. Using Samoa as a case study this research seeks to engage in this debate by critiquing the impact of contemporary globalisation on an indigenous culture. Samoa was chosen as a case study because of its global engagement and because its culture, fa’aSamoa, is celebrated for resilience. The Samoan people, like many Pacific Islanders, are renowned for their mobility. After World War II sojourns turned into more permanent journeys, however, when increasing numbers of Samoans responded to offshore opportunities. What resulted was the formation of a vibrant Samoan community across the Pacific Rim. Exploring the nexus between this ‘transnational corporation of kin’ and the impact on contemporary Samoan society is at the core of this thesis. In so doing this study engages with broader debates around development, modernity and cultural transformation. The primary research data for the study was gathered through interviews with Samoans in New Zealand, Australia, USA and Samoa. Interview questions centered on migration history and motivation, identity, life in the diaspora and cultural changes. Supplementary data was sourced via public internet sites, artwork, novels, poetry, music, documentary film and newspapers. In order to critique cultural change, whereby teasing out points of tension and negotiation, I examined what were judged to be indicative areas of susceptibility: the traditional system of governance, fa’amatai, the shifts in motivations behind people’s decision to migrate and changes around personal, group and community identity. The findings are detailed in four chapters focusing on changing forms of cultural enactment, shifts in motivation behind emigration, issues of identity and a specific chapter on youth ‘inbetweenness’. Complexity has increased across all sectors of the Samoan community. In particular the fa’matai governance system is under increasing pressure, with some questioning its capacity to negotiate the added burden. Most, however, continued to express confidence, pointing to its on-going flexibility and increasing openness. Given the centrality of this system to fa’aSamoa the implications are highly significant. The impact of shifting attitudes and behaviour around emigration, and changing ideas about identity and ‘connectivity’ were, likewise, found to have the potential to devastate fa’aSamoa. It is ultimately concluded, however, that Samoans will continue their process of strategic adaptation and that fa’aSamoa will continue to hold relevance and provide guidance. The implications of this research go beyond the bounds of the Samoan case study. First noted is the need to culturally contextualise studies and next, the importance of seeking out and encompassing indigenous knowledge. There are implications also for our understanding of development. The findings of this study highlight the need also to recognise the ongoing place of tradition in the lives of indigenous peoples everywhere, even those who have ‘reached’ a state of modernity. Finally the importance of facilitating strong transnational networks is stressed. Maintaining pathways will assist the network to remain strong which, in turn, has implications for the economic, political and social wellbeing of those living within it and for the region as a whole.

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