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The Meaning of Whitemen

Race and Modernity in the Orokaiva Cultural World

A familiar cultural presence for people the world over, “the whiteman” has come to personify the legacy of colonialism, the face of Western modernity, and the force of globalization. Focusing on the cultural meanings of whitemen in the Orokaiva society of Papua New Guinea, this book provides a fresh approach to understanding how race is symbolically constructed and why racial stereotypes endure in the face of counterevidence.

While Papua New Guinea’s resident white population has been severely reduced due to postcolonial white flight, the whiteman remains a significant racial and cultural other here—not only as an archetype of power and wealth in the modern arena, but also as a foil for people’s evaluations of themselves within vernacular frames of meaning. As Ira Bashkow explains, ideas of self versus other need not always be anti-humanistic or deprecatory, but can be a creative and potentially constructive part of all cultures.

A brilliant analysis of whiteness and race in a non-Western society, The Meaning of Whitemen turns traditional ethnography to the purpose of understanding how others see us.

328 pages | 4 halftones, 2 maps, 6 figures, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: Southeast Asia and Australia

Culture Studies

Sociology: Social History


“We are one of the others. Deconstructing the ancient sociology of in-group versus out-group, this finely observed and brilliantly interpreted ethnography of a New Guinea people’s conceptions of whitemen fashions a powerful new paradigm for the study of intercultural relations. Incidentally, damn good reading.”--Marshall Sahlins

Marshall Sahlins

“In the very best tradition of anthropology, this is a book that will force readers to confront their settled understandings and rethink many things they thought they knew about the cultural construction of racial formations and about whiteness as a global phenomenon. A milestone in the anthropology of the Pacific, this is quite simply a great book to think with.”--Joel Robbins, author of Becoming Sinners:Christianity and Moral Torment in a Papua New Guinea Society

Joel Robbins

"A nuanced account of a culturally-specific logic of racial categorization and racial evalustion. . . .This thoughtful book deserves a wide audience, and wide published discussion. Its most impressive virtue is that it is at once an accessible, model work of ethnographic interpretation, and a work that breaks new, ambitious ground on important anthropological problems."

Rupert Stasch | Anthropological Quarterly

"[Bashkow’s] focus on white people as the ’foreign’ makes this an excellent tour of critical race studies and basic anthropology, encouraging students of all levels to think through the social construction of whiteness and the culturally productive boundaries between groups of people."

Jennifer Roth-Gordon | American Anthropoliogist

"Bashkow’s book is thoughtful and thought-provoking, a fine addition to the regional literature and its place within anthropological theory."

Aletta Biersack | Pacific Affairs

"A rich, detailed, beautifully presented , immensely enjoyable, and thought-provoking book which advances a general and important argument about racial stereotyping and the formation of racialized categories. . . . I would thoroughly recommend this book to everyone interested in the concept of race."

Peter Wade | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"This is not an easy subject matter to handle and Bashkow carries the theoretical load commendably, delivering a thoughtful, engaging and consumately written contribution to the anthropology of race. Overall, his richly detailed and historically grounded account offers an exemplary study not only for scholars but a wider audience interested in the construction of race and the experience of modernity in the Pacific and beyond."

Katherine Lepari | Oceania

Table of Contents

Note on Orthographic Conventions
1. Introduction: The Cultural Construction of Whitemen
2. Cultural World, Postcolonial Situation
3. The Lightness of Whitemen
4. The Bodies of Whitemen
5. The Foods of Whitemen
6. Conclusion: Whitemen Beyond

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