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Humiliation and Transformation: Marshall Sahlins and the Study of Cultural Change in Melanesia
Joel Robbins

Marshall Sahlins is one of the most influential living anthropologists. Of the handful of those whose prominence might be said to be similar to his, he is the only one who has made the theorization of cultural change central to hislher work. Dming a period when disciplinary interest is increasingly focused on issues of change - be it under the rubric of globalization, postcolonial transformation, postsoviet transitology or what have you - the importance of his work in this area shows no sign of diminishing. The contributors to this volume take up Sahlins' work on cnltural change, delineating and extending it by applying it to cultures in Melanesia, one of the areas from which Sahlins commonly takes his own examples and one whose literature has clearly shaped his own vision. The result is a set of essays that exemplifies the power of Sahlins' approach while also opening up new questions about it and putting it in dialogue with other important theoretical trends. Along with being the first such collection of papers taking up Sah1ius as a theorist of cnltural change, this volume is also distinctive because it comes to Sahlins' work as it were through the back door. Sahlins is best known as a master of the task of finding continuity in change, and his theoretical work is widely used to produce analyses showing how indigenous orders of meaning have been able to shape even the most cataclysmic transfonnations in ways that allow for their own survival, even if in modified forms. While many of the chapters in this volume also demonstrate continuities across what at first might look like cultural divides, and while they draw on Sahlins' best known work in doing so, none of them take such continuity for granted. This is so because all of the contributors have taken as their starting point a relatively little read 1992 paper of Sahlins' entitled 'The Economics of Develop-man in the Pacific' (reprinted as chapter one here). Sahlins devotes most of this chapter to developing what were at the time of its original publication some relatively new ideas about how people work to preserve and extend indigenous cultural values in the face of change. But at the end of the chapter, he asks what must happen in order for people to give up on such projects of cultural reproduction and exteusion. What kinds of transformations rupture the unfolding of processes of cnltural continuity-in-change on which he focuses? Although Sahlins' discussion of these questions in this chapter

The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia

Humiliation and Transfonnation: Marshall Sahlins and Cultural Change

is very brief, he does speculate on some answers to them. And because nothing like this discussion appears in any of his more well known published writings, these few pages take on a great importance for anyone who would read his theoretical work in. a thorough way. Such, at least, is the point of view from which the. chapters .m thiS volume take their bearings, for the authors of all of them find their mvesl1gal1ons of continuity enriched by having make them while reckouing with an approach that also comprehends discontinuous change. Foreshadowing a fuller discussion later in this introduction, we can broadly sketch Sahlins' answer to the question of how it is that cultures cease to produce continuity through change by noting that it turns on the notion of will not stop perceiving the world that confronts them through therr receIVed -categories and bending it to their own values until they come to see categones and values -that is, their culture - as something shameful and debased. To quote a turn of phrase that almost every chapter of the volume discusses: before people give up on their culture, they
must first learn to hate what they already have, what they have always considered their well-being. Beyond that, they have to despise what they are, to hold their own existence in contempt - and want, then, to be someone else (Sahlins, 1992a, p.24).

At the same time, however, I point out how Sahlins' remarks about humiliation link his work to contemporary discussions in postcolouial theory and, perhaps surprisingly, liberal political thought. We also discuss the extent to which humiliation may be considered a cultural fact, rather than or alongside its more obvious status as a psychological one. In doing so, I review the arguments made in many of the chapters of this volume that humiliation and other 'emotions' may not be as insubstantial players in cultural life as some perspectives, including the structuralist one from which Sahlins takes so much, might suggest.

Sahlins on Continuity and Discontinuity in Cultnral Change

In the introduction to a recent collection of essays originally publisbed between 1963 and 1999, Sahlins (2000a, p.9) discusses three fundamental ideas around which he has based ltis work on cultural change. First, he notes in passing that 'in all change there is continuity.' Second, he points out more directly that a theme that he develops through all of the texts collected in the volume 'has to do with the cultural integrity of the indigenous peoples. 'And, third, he hints at the importance to his thinking of the idea "active .agents' "processes of change, even in those which the other players represent the dominant powers of the world capitalist systeIii--These" three themes are, of course, connected: it is the -enduring integrity of Indlgen()uS peoples and their cultures that constitute the continuities that underlie change, and this integrity endures because indigenous people actively struggle 'to encompass what is happeuing to them in the terms of their own world system' (Sahlins, 2000a, p.lO). Sahlins elaborates each of these points individually in particular essays, but in all of his work their coherence as a framework for studying cultural change is evident. The roots of these three ideas, and of the overall approach to cultural change that Sahlins fashions from them, are various. Sahlins has recently stressed the importance of White's superorganicist symbolic theory in preadapting him to the sophisticated structuralist version of cultural theory be would encounter in the 1960s (Sahlins, 2000a, pp. 10-17). One can also surmise that White's evolutiouism, which Sahlins worked to refine in his early work, also made issues of change fundamental to him to an extent they were not to those who came to study symbolism out of other traditions such as the Parsouian one. If this point is taken, then one might argue that this evolutiouist side of White's thinking also shaped Sahlins' reading of structuralism, allowing him to recognize aspects ofUvi-Strauss' work that most others missed. For Sah1ins appears from the outset to have been aware of the fact that Levi-Strauss was himself interested in history and change, and to have avoided falling for the willfully simple-minded interpretations of the hollcold distinction that refused to credit that it was not a claim about the absence of change, but rather one about the danger of universalizing a Western cultural model of the nature and valne of change as a theoretical construct. Indeed, if The Savage Mind is to be read as a book with a single theme - if it is to be read beyond the bricoleur and tbe science of the concrete of its first chapter -it

It is this observation that is the back door through which these papers encounter Sahlins' theory of change. We all begin with his arguments about discontinuity grounded in humiliation, query and develop his observations, and at the same I1me reread his better known arguments about continuity from this novel vantage pomt. The remainder of this introduction is divided into three parts. The first reviews Sablins' theoretical work on cultural change from the late 1980s onward, paying particular attention to a series of well known essays that I :rrgue siguificantly Sahlins' basic tbeory of change as laid out most famously m Islands of HIStory. Smce these essays are polemical and were also for the most part written for specific occasions, it is easy to miss the way that taken as a whole they open up a new chapter in Sahlins' work. Only by reading them together, I suggest, can one see the extent to which they have served to enricb his basic theoretical scheme. These essays also provide the context in wbich the chapter reprinted here and its uncharacteristic final few pages needs to be read. I offer such a reading and use it to contextualize the arguments of the chapters of this volume as well. The second part of the introduction focuses on Sahlins' argument about humiliation. I consider the extent to whicb it needs to be seen as making a break with the main body of his work, and suggest that many of the chapters in this volume would argue against seeing it as such. A review of these chapters indicates that it is possible to indigenize humiliation itself, and show how it becomes a spur to the kind of indigenous agency Sahlins' theory of change has always focused up?n. . "The third part of the introduction addresses the fact that humilial10n nught seem ! a rather slender thread upon which to hang a major theory of cultural change. I consider the extent to which it is in fact ouly a placeholder that points to the need to develop a broader theory of the role of cultural debasement in fostering discontinuity.



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Humiliation and Transformation: Marshall Sahlins and Cultural Change

has to be read as a book about the relationships that hold between structure and change (Levi-Strauss, 1966). Read in this way, the book is about the work structures do to make change comprehensible either by taking it in on their own terms or transforming themselves under the sway of its force. Uvi-Strauss' point is not that nothing happens in history, it is rather that in societies that do not share the Western valorization of change, lots of structural work gets done to lend history its placid appearance. 1 Continuity is thus a historical product, not an indication of an absence of history. Sahlins seems almost unique among American readers of Uvi-Strauss in recognizing this point early on. As early as 1976 he wrote that:
Structuralism developed in the first place out of the encounter with a of the so-called primitive, distinguished by a special capacity to absorb perturbatlOns by the event with a minimum of systematic deformation. By of that capacity, structuralism takes on the explication of the of history III Its most powerful form, the persistence of structure by means of event (SaWins, 1976, p.23).

This point would become a central plank of Sah\ins' structural history, and it allowed him to work with a powerful version of structural theory WIthout glVlng up the mterest . . in change that is also part of his Whitean inberitance. Yet at the same time as Sahlins was preadapted both to apprecIating the structuralist interest in symbolism and to recognizing that it contained at least the seeds of a major theory of cultural change, he also brought to his encounter with structuralism an interest in agency, in acting subjects, that was largely lacking m Uvi-Strauss' antihumanistic vision. If Levi-Strauss (1966) could see in Sartre little more than a philosophical gussying up of Western folk ideas about change and about the power of individuals to make themselves, has. had ,-"ore time for the Sartrean notion that the inapact of structure on mdlVlduals IS mediated by the particulars of their life experience and the corollary claim that in acting individuals are guided by structure but do not mechanically reproduce it Sartre's (1968, p.56) point is nicely captured in his famous quip that 'Valery IS a petit bourgeois intellectual, no doubt about it. But not pellt is Valery.' In Sahlins, a similar insight leads him to conSider how people s individuality plays a role in the way they take up or negotiate the oPP?rtumlles for meaningful action created by structure (Sahlins, 2000a, p26). In dOll)g so, he IS
more attentive to contexts of action, differences of SOClal posItiomng and the

history, and the concern with issues of agency - come together (Sahlins, 1981, 1985, 1992b, 1995). The model Sahlins' develops in these works - a model of people putting the categories of their culture into play by acting, thus subjecting those categories to risk in the eveut that the fit between category and reality is not a neat one, and finally suffering the transfonnations of categories and the relations between them when there is a mismatch betweeu category and reality - is well enough known that there is no need to lay it out in delail here. This work on Hawaii provides a fully developed example of how Sahlins' theories illuminate particular histories and demonstrate the power of an approach that looks for how a culture can shape processes of change and in doing so relain its own integrity for a longer time than many would expect. Since the late 1980s, Sahlins has also worked to elaborate and defend not only his model as a whole (as in his debate with Obeyesekere), but also to develop new approaches to the study of change that remain faithful to his fundamental commitment to the study culture in its own terms and to recognizing the force of indigenous agency in securing cultural continnity in situations of change. He has done this in a series of polemical chapters pitched against the arguments of world-systems theorists, globalization theorists and post-modernists. Scholars working in each of these areas present arguments that attack Sah\ins' fundamental assumptions, and his goal in these pieces has been to parry these attacks both by offering critical readings of their theoretical underpinnings and by showing how his assumptions and the kinds of argument they underwrite can shed light on situations that on first glance seem to lend themselves most readily to analysis in the terms favored by his opponents. The
outcome of these encounters is a set of analyses that carry over the most basic points

variety of culturally available motives than most others who work the structuralist tradition or in other traditions that are build around sophisllcated conceptions of culture. His theoretical advances in this area have allowed him to and to create a structuralist approach to history that is far more change than anything produced by Uvi-Strauss or others working III the traditIOn he founded. The novelty of Sahlins' approach is evident in his work on Hawaiian history, where all of the elements of his thinking so far discussed - the interest in change, the appreciation of symbolism, the recognition of the value of structuralist thiuking about

of Sahlins' Hawaiian work but also add a great deal to it. Because Sahlins' argument about humiliation also arises in the midst of this recent work, it is important to review it here. Sahlins takes on arguments about the corrosive effects of globalization on indigenous cultures in a 2001 piece entitled 'Reports of the Death of Culture Have Been Exaggerated.' Although this piece, like all of Sahlins' recent work, conlains an important theoretical polemic, this feature is less in the forefront here than elsewhere. Instead, in this piece_Sahlins focuses on working with what should be hard cases of globalization for his approach .tohandle to.. show. the value ofthat approach to good Many anthropological notions of culture were historically wounded in assumptions about closed, locany situated cOlmt1]mities. that no .one can anymore accept in a world marked. by migration, exile, and the extensive diffusion gf aspects of Wes!<'11lc\llture<Drawing on a wide range of cases from the Pacific and counters this point by examitting what he calls the 'translocal' societies or 'translocal' cultures formed by circular migration (2001, p.191). In thes;,-J types of societies, the homeland and its culture remain important, and migrants regularly send home remittances f\1at are funneledinto ritual.and other activitie_tI1.at_ keep the homeland culture vibrant.\ That is to say, in translocal cultures migrants put their mastery of Western culture and their absence from the traditional site of their indigenous culture to work in furthering the development of that culture. In these cases, then, the deterritorialization and Westernization that are supposed to deliver

The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia

Humiliation and Transformation: Marshall Sahlins and Cultural Change

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the coup de grace to 'integral' cultures actually serve to secure existence. .,,-. Even as he attacks that position within globalization theory that equates human and symbolic flow with cultural destruction, SaWins also very regularly borrows from globalization theory the observation that the global spread of Western culture served to produce anything like a single, homogenized global culture. It has elicited innumerable self-conscious movements of cultural preservation, reVIval and differentiation. In order to put this point to work in his OWO arguments, however, Sahlins has to counter the claim that sometimes goes with it that such self-consclOus culturalism at best represents an attachment to something less than an 'authentic' culture and at worst is little more than a cynical 'invention of tradition' in the service of local elites. Offering a critique of these positions is the primary goal of his chapter 'Two or Three Things I Know about Culture' (Sahlins, 1999). In this chapter, the theoretical polemic is front and center. SaWins take the invention of tradition theorists to task for being pat! of a more general trend of 'powerism.' Powerists, on Sahlins argument, make arguments very much in the functionalist tradition by explaining any given cultural phenomenon as existing/persisting as a result of the work it does to stabilize the power of the society in which it appears. Like other functionalist arguments, SaWins pomts out, powerist analyses cannot explain the cultural content of the phenomena they analyze, since there is no reason why other contents could not have equally well perfoIDled the stabilizing work with which they are credited. To explain the contents, SaWins argues, one has to stat! with the culture that gives them sense and then examme how that culture constructs and channels the competition for power. But if one is to start with culture, then one cannot start, as powerists do, with universalist assumptions what people want and what constitutes power in the first place. Hence, shift .to explaining contents would ultimately lead to the collapse of the mam soctal theoretical assumptions about the universality and transparency of the nature of selfinterest that are at the heat! of the powerist approach. After attacking powerist arguments in general, Sahlins turns specifically to the invention of tradition literature and defends the claim that even if newly invented traditions are born in struggles for power as locally defined, or are self-consciously constructed as pat! of efforts to resist the hegemony of an encroaching world system, they are not for all that somehow less than cultural. SaWins supports this point with two different arguments. One is that cultures have always been mvented (albeit in terms given by the culture of those who invent them), hence the fact that they are also being invented now does not make them from or somehow less authentic than those of the past. The other argument IS that even when people appear to invent culture by taking one or two aspects of their tradition as central to the whole in a move to differentiate themselves from others, thIS does not represent a reification that makes their culture with a nod toward Durkheim, SaWins argues that these seenungly decontextuallzed symbols are able to serve as emblems of cultural identity precisely because they express for people the whole invisible skein of meanings that constitute the culture that they share. Both of his arguments against the prevailing style of analyzmg mvented

traditions are designed to rehabilitate the status of such traditions as trnly cultural, and hence to make them susceptihle to analysis in the terms of Sahlins' own models of how cultural continuity shapes cultural change. The third position that SaWins has recently been in critical dialogue with is world systems theory, especially as it has been developed by Wolf (1997 [1982]) and those influenced by him. In many ways, SaWins' engagement with world systems theory has been more sustained than those he has had with theories of globalization and post-modernist powerism. Reading the world systems theorists as arguing that what anthropologists have always studied as indigenous cultures are actually in most cases products of the world capitalist system, Sahlins reacts strongly against their tendency to cast doubt on the integrity of indigenous cultures and to suggest that indigenous people have little power to affect the courses of change in which the world system catches them up. In opposition to world-systems arguments about the force of the world capitalist system to destroy traditional cultures and remake them to its own specifications, SaWins promotes the notion of 'develop-man. ' Sahlins fashioned the teIDl develop-man out of his own mishearing of Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin speaker's pronunciation of 'defelopman' (see the chapter included here). He uses it to refer to cases in which non-Western people use their encounter with the world capitalist system to develop their owo culture in its owo teIDlS. If development happens when people learn not just to sell their labor on the market but also to remake their social relations along Western lines and hence open up at least the possibility of reinvesting what the market brings them back into the capitalist system, develop-man occurs when people plow the fruits of their labor into the project of expanding traditional social life along traditional lines. In develop-man, the rituals get bigger, the chains of reciprocity get longer, and the followings of the big men and chiefs expand - and throughout the period in which all this happens, the cultural logics governing social relations remain recognizahly indigenous. In develop-man, the ends of social life remain much the same, ouly the means of attaining them and the scale on which one can do so change 2 On Sahlins' reckoning, develop-man happens far more often than most social scientists imagine, and it can last for hundreds of years. In his well known piece 'Cosmologies of Capitalism,' he demonstrates this in great detail and goes on to show how the agency of indigenous people, agency they exercised in the service of their projects of develop-man, decisively iulluenced the development of the world capitalist system rather than capitulating before it (SaWins, 1989). He also makes similar points about develop-man in several later chapters, including the one reprinted here (e.g. 1993, 2000b). Readers of Sahlins' recent writings will recoguize the extent to which the notion of develop-man has hecome one of his favorite ideas to think with. Even when he does not mention it explicitly, one can see its main outlines at work in franting his analyses of pat!icular cultural configurations. For example, the logic of develop-man clearly underlies his argument ahout culture-preserving nature of 'translocal cultures,' which, based as they are on converting market gains into indigenous cultural ones, can be seen as develop-man projects carried out across spatial disjunctures. Given the foregoing


The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia

Humiliation and Transformation: Marshall Sahlins and Cultural Change


discussion of Sahlins' fundamental ideas, it is not hard to see why the notion of developman should be so central to his thinking: it very economically combines his interests in cultrnal integrity, continuity in change, and indigenous agency. In spite of the important role develop-man has played in Sahlins' thinking, however, we should see it as just one of a set of innovations - a set that also includes the notion of translocal cultures and that of the integrity of invented traditions - that he has developed by putting his approach to culture into dialogue with other popular theoretical progtarns covering similar gtound. Sahlins (2000b) himself makes almost this point in a recent chapter that picks up themes from all of the work discussed here. Considering his whole set of innovations at once, he notes that develop-man, translocal cultures and selfconscious culturalism should be seen as 'unprecedented forms of human culture,' as new 'kinds of cultural processes' (Sahlins, 2000b, p.I71). What they should not be seen as, however, is symptoms of the death of culture, of its incoherence or irrelevance. Out of his critical engagements with world systems theory, globalization and postrnodern powerism, Sahlins has discovered a set of processes in which we can look for and continue to theorize the integrity of culture,
continuity in change, and indigenous agency. We are, in a sense, a long way from

the Hawaiian case in terms of the basic ethnogtaphic gtound the analysis has to cover. But theoretically, Sahlins' structural approach to action, history and change remains in tact and ready to confront the 'whole new cultural manifold' that today's world presents (2000b, p.I71). The arguments just laid out constitute the main lines along which SaWins' work has developed over the last 15 years or so. They also constitute the background against which his remarks about humiliation stand out as so noteworthy. For SaWins' consideration of the possibility ofradical cultural change in the face of humiliation unfolds in stark contrast to these arguments about the resilience of traditional cultures and their ability to maintain their integrity while guiding change. Indeed, as Sahlins discusses it, the huruiliation argument ouly makes sense as a sequitur to his arguments about cultural continuity. For him, develop-man-style attempts to use the new to better meet traditional goals is everywhere th? 'initial response' to the couring of global capitalism, and it could hardly be otherWIse smce people can only interpret the novel experiences the market brings 'according to their own principles of experience' (Sahlins, 1992a [This volume], pp. 23, 16). It IS . the fact that people's first responses to the market always support cultural continuity in this way that makes humiliation 'a necessary stage in the process of modernization' (1992a, p.23). Put otherwise: humiliation, in Sahlins scheme, is an answer to the question of how, given the bias toward indigenous cultural
reproduction and expansion, people ever come to embrace the West and make achieving development stricto sensu their goal. It is the need his theory has to

this question that makes the huruiliation argument an important development WIthin it. How then does huruiliation work itself out as an answer? Humiliation breaks the cycle' of reproduction and expansion by convincing people of their own worthlessness and the worthlessness of their cultures. It instills a 'global

inferiority that leads pe?ple actively to want to change (Sahlins, 1992a, p.24). SaWms wntmg on this tOpIC IS evocatIve and widely quoted throughout the essays 10 this volume, so we will not reproduce the particulars of his discussion here can be found on pages 36-39 of the chapter reproduced here). Readers WIll notice, however, that in his brief discussion of the topic he does not speculate III gteat detail on the mechanisms that bring humiliation about. But he does insist against those who imagine that any encounter with the West and its technology bound to. be hunulIating, that It does have to be actively brought about. One tool for bnngmg It about that he does discuss is Christianity, but I would suggest that all of the vanous discourses of diminishment at play in colonial situations and recently considered in detail by scholars of postcolonialism - discourses of race wildness, backwardness, primitiveness. temporal behindness etc. can have a SImilar effect. Similarly, a full study of humiliation in imperial and contexts would also have to attend to rituals of rule and other governing practices and the ,;ay routinely humiliated people. The chapters in this volume, each of which prOVIde examples of ways in which humiliation can come about, flesh out Sahlins' very sketchy initial discussion of this topic. those .who come upon the few pages Sahlins devotes to discussing havmg already read his better known work, they have to come as s?methmg of a surpnse. For they lead onto a discussion of questions of cultural discontrnmty and canonical processes of modernization that he has otherwise worked hard to denaturalize for Western social scientists. There are some hints as to the gene.sis of in these issues in an earlier paper that has enjoyed an even more restricted distrIbution than the one reprinted here. In this paper, Sahlins mentions first developmg idea that huruiliation may have a role to play in cultural change while he was a VlSlting professor m China in 1988. There, he reports, 'such words as "culture" . ''backwardness, ., "deve1 opment", ''progress'', and ''modernization'" were 'on everyone's lips,. together with certain overtones of huruiliation' (Sahlins, 1990, p.79). Struck by this fact, and recoguizing that he could hear similar discussions pretty much 'everywh?re in the so-called Third World,' he was led to try to integtate the. Issues they ratsed mto his own understanding of processes of history and change (IbId.). At least m blOgtaphical temas, then, the humiliation argunaent does not come out of nowhere and in fact it comes out of the kind of encounter with other people that anthropolOgiSts used to assume helped generate their best ideas). Havmg given the humiliation argument something of a genealogy, however, we should .also note that Sahlms did not go on to fully integrate it into the larger body of his theoretical work. The 1990 and 1992 papers are not reprinted in his recent book of collected essays (Sahlins, 2000a). And while his final discussion of the issue which appears in to Triste Tropes,' is included there, his discussion in that chapter is one that munnnzes the Impact of the huruiliation thesis. After reviewing the basic argument m a paragtaph, he goes on to note that 'Around much of the world ... the umversalizing eultrn'al project of the West does not succeed so well' in humiliating peopk, and With. that the matter is dropped. Even in the original papers that take up humiliation, Sahlins has a way of turning from the topic before he gives it a full airing. He does this m both cases by arguing that often humiliation is 'double-edged' in that it


The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia

Humiliation and Transfonnation: Marshall Sahlins and Cultural Change


can lead people to develop a cultural self-consciousness that, after an initial period of humiliation, they can use as a basis from which to resist further Western dominance (Sahlins, 1990, p. 93; 1992a, p.24). Because one has to become aware of one's culture to be humiliated by it, this argument makes good sense, and empirical examples of it can be found in the literature on kastom movements in the Pacific (Tonkinson, 1982; Keesing, 1982; see also Akin this volume). At the same time, however, because as noted above Sahlins has also taken pains to argue that self-conscious culturalism is a way of carrying an integral culture into the present, once humiliation gives rise to it we are no longer dealing with radical, Westemizing cultural change. My point in bringing up how marginal the humiliation argument has been in Sahlins own oeuvre has not been a critical one, for Sahlins has surely sidelined it because his own interests were elsewhere. I mention it just by way of indicating how much work still needs to be done to take his insights, develop them and consider the extent to which they can be integrated with the extremely influential model of cultural change that constitutes the main body of his work. The papers in this volume do much of this work, for they not only develop the humiliation argument but also set it in the context of Sahlins' other work in several unexpected
ways. The next section takes up some of their contributions.

Humiliation, Continuity and Change

Sahiins is not much given to Weberian turns of phrase, but if he were, and if he had developed the humiliation argument at greater length, he might well have pointed out that in his usage develop-man and development function as ideal types. No case. fits either completely, and making them do so is not the point. Given this, it is not surprising that, as Foster discusses in detail in his concluding piece, many contributors here emphasize the complexity of the situations they study, noting that they carmot be exhausted by analyses focused exclusively either on develop-man or development. What is surprising is the extent to which in attending to the complexities of their cases our contributors come to see them through the lens of Sahlins' general approach to continuity-in-change, and thus bring that work into dialogue with the humiliation argument. It is this move, repeated throughout this collection, that performs the work of integrating the humiliation argument back into the mainstream of Sahlins' writings on change. One of the core ideas of Sahlins' model of cultural change is that indigenous categories shape people's understanding of novel experiences. Several of the papers here apply this insight to huruiliation itself, arguing that in their efforts to come to grips with their colonial and postcolouial situations, people in the past worked with, and even now continue to work with, indigenous understandings of humiliation and traditional ways of dealing with it. Leavitt, for example, points out that Bumbita Arapesh men traditionally risked huruiliation in the sphere of competitive exchange. Adopting Miller's (1993) definition of humiliation as what one experiences when one is caught out trying to convince people that one has prestige or powers that one has no right to claim,

Leavitt notes that losses in traditional exchange put one's claims to ancestral support and personal efficacy very much in doubt. Confronted with Westerners who always threatened to out-give them and thus huruiliate them in this way, the Bumbita responded by construing the Westerners as involved in a very different kind of exchange: that of traditional parenthood. This construal supports a certain amount of develop-man activity, for the Bumbita worked to stabilize their traditional model of parental nurture in the face of the new forces they encountered. Here, then, we have a case where the threat of humiliation, registered and responded to in local terms, drives develop-man itself, rather than pushing for development. Yet in the Bumbita case this solution is not stable. For when parents fail to give, the result is not huruiliation so much as intense feelings of abandoument. These feelings have led the Bumbita to engage in extensive cargo cult activity aimed at the attention of ancestral and Western parents and have also led some of them to embrace Christiauity - both moves that keep issues of development proper very much in play in their lives. The Hagen case that Stewart and Strathern discuss exemplifies similar themes. They too note that negatively valued feelings such as shame, jealousy, and anger played an important role in traditional competitive moka exchange practices. For many decades, the Moka was a classic case of develop-man, with people deploying what they could gain from the market economy in exchanges patterned along traditional lines in efforts to enhance prestige and avoid humiliation as they traditionally understood them. With the recent breakdown of the moka system, however, Stewart and Strathern argue that the emotions that it once handled now show up in unpredictable places and to destabilizing effect. The Hagen answer to this has been a turn to Christiauity, which provides new ways of understanding and ritually managing emotions, and also, through competitive church building, allows for the competitive jockeying that once found a home in the Moka. As in the Bumbita case, then, in Hagen peoples' attempts to address traditional experiences of emotional difficulty in traditional terms through moka first supported a long run of developman-style expansion, but then, for all its success, proved finally unable to make the issue of development disappear. Silverman also demonstrates the role of indigenous culture in shaping the huruiliation people experience in the face of contact and colonialism. Among the Tarnbunum, the individualism of Western culture has served to exacerbate a contradiction already present in the indigenous conception of the self. This conception saw the self in both sociocentric and individualist terms and tolerated the' contradiction between them. The Tambunum had no difficulty recognizing Western notions of the self, since they accorded well with the individualist side of their own. What they were not prepared for, however, was the lack of emphasis Western ideas put on the sociocentric self. As they became caught up in Western individualism, they found themselves humiliated by their inability to balance the two sides of themselves as they had before.' The Tambunum case is thus another one in which traditional ideas have played an important role in defining the nature of the humiliation people experience. Biersack's is a final chapter that exemplifies the importance of traditional ideas in defining the grounds of humiliation and does so in rich ethnographic detail.

. .r T. . . ._______




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The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia

Humiliation and Transfonnation: Marshall Sahlins and Cultural Change



Among the Ipili, there is a sense in which humans, who need to labor to live and who deplete themselves in reproduction, even traditionally found their condition somewhat humiliating. Contact with Whites, who appear to have no need to work, and with Christian ideas about the fallen-ness of the body and the need to liberate oneself from its degrading influences, has fed an elaboration of these ideas through the development of mi11enatian doctrines and movements. As Biersack points out, the Jpili have developed these ideas over a 70 year period, a period in which one can see them as caught between develop-man and development and as working on both at once. As in all the chapters so far discussed, we can see the Ipili as indigenizing humiliation - figuring it in local terms and using it at least in part as a spur to develop-man rather than development. The Jpili case is noteworthy, however, for the way the in-between position of being caught between develop-man and development has become for them a relatively durable adaptation to their encounter with the West. Leavitt, Stewart and Strathem, Silverman, and Biersack, by showing that humiliation can unfold along lines laid down by the indigenous culture and can support efforts both at develop-man and development, all move toward reconciling the humiliation argument with Sahlins' interest in how indigenous cultures influence change and in doing so maintain their integrity. Other chapters in the volume reconcile the argument with another important aspect of Sahlins' primary model of change: the argument that indigenous people remain active agents pursuing their own goals even during periods of change spurred on by their encounter with the West. Read carefully, this reconciliation is in part effected within Sahlins' own argument. Because he treats humiliation as an impetus to selfdirected attempts to engage the market economy and become modem, his emphasis always remains on local people and their initiatives. Even if the humiliation comes from without, the response is a locally directed one. This makes Sablins' argument one of affinnative Of agentive modernization, rather than passive capitulation. Several chapters here further explore this theme, and they converge in the finding that Papua New Guineans tend to deploy their agency in projects that aim to balance develop-man and development. Errington and Gewertz provide several complex examples of such balancing in a contribution that also picks up the theme of the traditional importance of humiliation and the endurance of traditional ways of addressing it. Among the Chambri, they tell us, humiliation was considered such a powerful negative force that people actively sought to avoid causing as well as experiencing it in the realm of competitive exchange. This emphasis has continued into the present, as those Chambri who have been successful in the capitalist economy are careful to avoid humiliating those who have remained in the village. By virtue of their efforts to avoid causing humiliation, the successful businessmen Errington and Gewertz discuss end up involving themselves deeply in develop-man projects (and come to be participants in the type of translocal society Sahlins discusses elsewhere), even as they prove themselves masters of development as well. Fully beholden neither to the traditional or the modem, these men demonstrate the room for creative action that situations of change have opened up for some Papua New Gnineans.

Josephides also stresses the agency of those who encounter modernity in her .discussion of the lives of three Kewa individuals of different generations. All of the individuals she discusses have engaged in extensive projects of self-fashioning in which they respond to the elements of Western culture they encounter without losing control of their own life projects. For them, development has not been humiliating, but has rather presented itself as an opportunity to try out new ways of developmg the self; they deploy their creative abilities in choosing which parts of both the traditional and the modem they will accept or reject. The role of indigenous people in steering processes of humiliation is most strikingly exemplified in Akin's discussion of the Kwaio. The notoriously traditionalist Mountain Kwaio regularly humiliate themselves for their failure to live up to their collective project of cleaving to their traditional culture as it is presently constituted in the complex set of codified rules they refer to as kastom. them, humiliation follows not from their lack of development, but from their faIlures at develop-man - their failures to follow kastom rules. These failures only become more prevalent as people have more exposure to the blandishments of modem life, so in a sense it is the world-system that leads to their humiliation. But in the last analysis they humiliate themselves. As a reflexive project that takes the West only as a foil, the Kwaio make the case for indigenous agency in particularly strong terms: they are both the perpetrators and the victims of their own humiliation. Yet in the K waio case, the indigenous ability to deploy hunriliation to traditionalizing ends is not equally distributed. It is men who have most fully developed means of humiliation, and it is against women that they most frequently dlfect them. This point sensitizes us to the fact that humiliation probably plays out differently for men and women in many cases (see also Clark, 1989), a theme which IS touched on in several chapters but is worthy of further study (see Wardlow's chapter for a fuller discussion of this theme). Akin's paper as a whole not orn,y an eXaIDple of the extent to which humiliation becomes a support or baSIS for md,genous agency, but it also speaks to the complexities of such agency, and to the fact that a simple score-keeping in this regard (do people have agency or not?) should not be confused with an analysis. The. way that many of the chapters included here locate the indigenous roots of hunulIation and show how active people are in shaping its course do much to reincorporate the humiliation argument back into the main body of Sahlins' work on cultural change. Read together, they also converge on another argument that would fit well with that work, though no chapter makes it explicitly. That argument runs as follows. If we ac<:ept Sahlins' argmnent that when people first encounter new phenomena they understand them through the lens of their indigenous cultural categories, then in order for humiliation to dislodge people from their attachment t? those categories it must first be felt within them. Humiliation, that is to say, must flfSt m traditional terms, since these are the only terms that exist at that point m the lIves of the people whose humiliation is at issue. It is only once humiliation arises in traditional terms that it can work to dislodge the very culture that first made it sensible (see Robbins, 2004 for an elaboration of this argument).


The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia

Humiliation and Transfonnation: Marshall Sahlins and Cultural Change


Sahlins (1990) implies as much when discussing the case of China in his first discussion of humiliation. In that discussion. he suggests that China's goal in seeking to develop has been to recover its sense of its own cultural importance visa-vis others. In indigenous terms, it is slipping out of the top position that is humiliating, rather than any perception of poverty or technological behindness. It is their desire to regain their sense of superiority that has driven them to seek 'development'. The chapters in this volume also attest to ways humiliation is first felt in indigenous terms. It is this point that underlies their authors' emphasis on the extent to which the humiliation that haunts traditional exchange, and traditional concerns about efficacy and the nature of personhood, serve to define the nature of the threat presented by the coming of the West. In the contributions to this volume we have so far discussed, Sahlins' arguments about humiliation are put back in dialogue with the more influential parts of his theory of cultrnal change. Yet Sahlins' humiliation argument initially looks a bit odd not ouly by virtue of its emphasis on discontinuities in cnltural change, but also for the important role it gives to an emotion. Despite his discussion of the place of love in the structuring of Hawaiian social life, Sahlins, and others working in the structuralist tradition, are not known for their extensive treatruent of emotions or other aspects of the person that might be considered matters of individnal 'psychology' (Sahlins, 1985, ch.1). Surely Sahlins, with his interest in agency, is not a garden variety structuralist anti-humanist. But the question remains of how to situate the humiliation he discusses in the world, and of whether to take his use of the term as significant at all rather than assume it is simply a placeholder for some other notion, presumably not tied to emotion, that he might have developed had he focused more extensively on the humiliation argument rather than made it primarily in passing. In the final section of this introduction, I consider these issues, examine the rather novel lines of communication the humiliation argument opens up between Sahlins' work and that of others interested in cultural change, and then look at the ways some of the contributors to this volume exploit these new openings in developing their arguments.

More Than a Feeling? On the Nature of Humiliation

For those more familiar with anthropological discussions centered around structures - be they of symbols or of power - humiliation may appear at once too concrete (because it's a tangible phenomenon) and too insubstantial (because as a feeling it comes and goes) to carry the heavy explanatory load Sahlins settles on it. At the very least, it may appear as a term from some other theoretical language game that has somehow found its way into a discnssion in which it really should have no part. Yet it is also interesting to note that Sahlins' discourse is not the ouly recent one in which the term pops up rather unexpectedly, and he is not the ouly one to give it a surprisingly large role to play in social life. Rorty (1989), for example, bases his entire model of an ironist liberal polity upon it. Such a polity, he argues, need not be founded on any shared assumptions about

human essence, but ouly on a willinguess to recoguize that human beings are susceptible to humiliation (1989, p.91). As he puts it, 'recognition of a common susceptibility to humiliation is the only social bond that' need tie members of his ideal liberal polity together (Rorty, 1989, p.91, his emph.). Coming after Rorty, Margalit (1996) has argued at length that a decent society should be defined as one that does not humiliate its members. Although many are critical of Margalit's argument, it has gained wide notice and his emphasis on humiliation has clearly struck a chord among both liberal and communitarian philosophers (see the responses in Mack, 1997). Humiliation, then, has been on the scholarly agenda in the last decade or so - and Sahlins' remarks resonate with a growing recognition of the importance of humiliation within the liberal political tradition. By giving humiliation a prominent role in their theories, Sahlins, Rorty and Margalit also come to speak in terms relevant to recent work in postcolonial smdies. Although they do not address this body of literatrne directly, both Rorty and Margalit treat colonial situations as paradigms of social systems set up to produce enduring humiliation. We humiliate people, Rorty (1989, p.89) says, 'by making the things that seemed most important to them look futile, obsolete, and powerless.' 'Something like that,' he goes on to add, 'presumably happens to a primitive culture when it is conquered by a more advanced one.' Margalit (1996), who defines humiliation as what follows when people are treated as non-human, are rejected from the human community, and have their self-control impaired, also describes colonial regimes as particularly humiliating. In doing so, he recoguizes that his argument connects up with themes in what he calls 'the anticolonialist literatrne of humiliation' (Margalit, 1996, p.101). Fanon's early work is particularly relevant here. His discussions of feelings of inferiority fostered by the 'death and burial of ... local cultural originality' are echoed with some fidelity in Sahlins' discussion and lend plausibility to the claims Margalit and Rorty make about the role of humiliation in colonial situations (Fanon, 1967, p.18). Fanon's work also raises an issue about how to locate humiliation that is iroportant for Rorty and especially for Margalit. It is an issue that Sahlins does not take up, but that those who would extend his theory need to grapple with. While many are inclined to read Fanon primarily in psychological terms, his insistence that feelings of inferiority in colomal contexts have social rather than individual psychological causes leads him to treat colonial humiliation as at least in part a social fact. His insistence on this point is very clear in his critiques of both Mannoni and Jung, and he clearly also assumes it even when he is not arguing it directly (Fanon, 1967, pp.83-108, 187-8). Rorty and Margalit share with Fanon a tendency to downplay the emotional c!'aracter of humiliation and define it in more sociological terms. In their efforts to place humiliation at the center of political thought, neither of them focus on its emotional qUalities. Rorty is most interested in our susceptibility to it, and our recognition that we share this with others. Margalit, for his part, is interested in the conditions in which people can legitimately claim to be humiliated, rather than in whether they actually feel humiliated in those situations or in how that humiliation feels to them. As he puts it, he is interested in the normative rather than the psychological aspects of humiliation. Furthermore, Margalit is concerned ouly with


The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia

Humiliation and Transfonnation: Marshall Sahlins and Cultural Change


the legitimate humiliation inflicted by institutions, rather than by individuals.. Miller (1993), auother scholar who has recently taken an interest in hUImhal10n aud Its role . . llili likewise devotes a good deal of thought to a normallve understaudmg of . li ' .. 'd' al m socm e,
humiliation. Humiliation, he points out, can sometimes re er to a

contrast, Wardlow sees as an emotion that only makes sense in a world of

status' rather than a feeling (Miller, 1993, p.196). Hence, one can be m.a state of humiliation without having the feeling at all (Miller, 1993, p.146). In this respect, humiliation is a 'social fact' as much as a psychological one (N,llller, 1993, p.196). This is a view which accurately characterizes the status of hunuhal10n m all of these
recent discussions. The sociological character of humiliation was importaut to Fauon because he wauted to avoid making an argmnent that would pathologize all colonized people. Rorty, Margalit and Miller have different reasons for preferrmg focus on the social qualities of humiliation, but the nuances of theu need
concern us here. For the purposes of the work our contributors do

disconnected individuals who can deny any connection to the self - it is the proof of this disconnection aud the other's lack of obligation to the self that leads to humiliation. As one would expect, given the emphasis other papers have put on the indigenization of humiliation, she suggests that madane characterized early responses to the coming of the West and led people to attempt to define HuliWestern relations as part of a develop-mau project of social growth. More recent responses to development projects, however, suggest that humiliation may finally have taken root, leading people to waut to remake themselves along Western lines
in order to foster a connection with the West where they feel none now exists.

Robbins' paper takes up the social force of emotion by focusing on how Christianity has served among the Urapmin as something of a master-narrative of colonial and postcolonial humiliation. He shows how Urapmin Christiau thought
organizes Urapmin understandings of the humiliations they have experienced and continue to experience into a coherent notion of sin. Like others in the volume


Sahlins' humiliation argument, it is only the fact that humiliation can be.understood as a social fact that is crucial because it allows them to dISCUSS hunuhation and other emotions without abandoning the level of analysis on which the rest of Sahlins' aud much of their own work unfolds. Although there are some astute psychological analyses in these chapters (e.g. Leavitt and Silverman), there are even more detailed discussions of the cnltural definition of emotions and of
these definitions set up expectations, ground motivations, and processes. These discussions are at the core of many of our authors

(Biersack, Wardlow, Stewart and Strathern), he also demonstrates that Christianity both fosters humiliation and suggests ways of overcoming it. For this reason, it maintains its appeal well beyond the colonial era. Even as it proves very effective at dislodging develop-mau projects, however, Robbins points out that Christianity also supplies the grounds for a critique of developmentalist aspirations toward
worldly success. This makes it somewhat unexpected resource for critiques of the

postcolonial state and complicates auy suggestion that humiliation must lead
directly to an interest in development understood in economic terms.

of how humiliation and other emotions become pall of culturally sanclloned reactions to the coming of the West. In continuity with the works discussed in the previous section that dwell on the ways humiliation becomes defined in indigenous terms, ,Dalton how the Rawa drew on their own understandings of the emotlOns. of son and compassion) and les (laziness and weariness) in respondmg the colomal and postcolonial eras. While sari is, for the Rawa, the legitimate emotional respons? to contexts that connect one to others through exchauge, les 18 the. appropnate
reaction to the lack of an involving social context. Western mdlvlduahsm, as it is on internal states as opposed to social contexts as the of

fosters enduring feelings of les that lead to frustration and disconuecl1on from projects of development. Yet at the same time, the indigenous recogmllon of les as an at times appropriate response to the world has also, It seems, allowed the Rawa to interpret their chauging situation in terms that do not lead them to come to see themselves as humiliated. .
Wardlow's account of the Huli also centers on a discussion of notlOns

The connection of emotion and postcolonial politics is also at the heart of Sykes' chapter. She focuses on how the shift from shame to humiliation marks much as Wardlow would expect, a shift to au understauding of Western notions of the possessive individual. She also discusses the way humiliation cau as easily lead to VIOlence (duected at others rather than at one's own tradition) as it does to a drive toward development. This point recalls Errington and Gewertz's argument about how careful Sepik businessmen are to avoid humiliating others - for they recogruze how potent humiliation can be. Its potency, Sykes reminds us, makes it an important tool that the colonial encounter has left in play in situations now open to a variety of different, indigenously driven developments. There are many other themes that arise in the chapters of the volume. For example, as my discussion of individual chapters has made clear, many contrIbutors offer detailed considerations of notions of personhood and their
transformations. Several authors also discuss the way class distinctions now raise

the kinds of issues colonial distinctions raised in the past. This introduction,
however, has focused on drawing out two sets of themes in particular. One set

f emotion and their ramifications for models of personhood and actIOn. Her of the Hnli concept of madane, a state of disappoinllnent, resenllnent model of and righteous indignation, shows how it is connected to a personhood in which people are understood to have arange oflegrllmate cla:ms on others for support. When those claims go umnet, acllons mol1vated by feelmgs of ho are madane, actions that are often aggressive in nature, serve to remmd remiss of their connection to the person who has been wronged. Hunuhallon, by

contains those themes that are embedded in SahHns' own discussion of hurniliation
and that serve to tie that account to his more well know ruminations on cultural

change. The other is made up of the responses many authors make to Sahlins'
provocation to open the discussion of change up to issues of the social life of


emotions. It is hoped that this discussion gives enough of a glimpse of the

Important terram covered by these essays to prompt further reading and response.


The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia Sahlins,

Humiliation and Transfonnation: Marshall Sahlins and Cultural Change


1 This work is the precise analogue of the work that gets done in Western culture to see in all developments examples of major change - the kind of cultural work that gets done to make, for example, technological developments seem always radical, giving us such cataclysms as 'high speed modem revolutions' and 'breakthroughs in cosmetic dentistry.' Seen from any distance, Western culture is as dully regular in it."> ability to render everything that happens something new under the sun as any moiety system is in construing the future as coming to it two-by-two. Sahlins provides a variety of concrete ethnographic examples of the develop-man process in the chapter included in this volume and so none will be summarized here. Silvennan's argument has wide comparative resonances. Kulick (1992) and Robbins (1998) offer related accounts of changes in concepts of the self, and Tuzin (1997) provides a detailed account of the way the impact of novel ideas - in this case Christian ones - can be exacerbated as they become caught up in contradictions within indigenous culture.


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