"Colonial Planning and the Unravelling of Plans. Where is the agency? And what forms might such agency take?"


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Presenter:  Professor Helen Verran, Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, Australia

Date: Jun 06, 2016

Time: 10:00am to 12:00pm

Contact person:  Sarah Blacker
T: (+4930) 22667-0
E: sblacker@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de

Location:  MPIWG’s Department III conference room (room 265), Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Boltzmannstr. 22 14195, Berlin Germany

"Colonial Planning and the Unravelling of Plans. Where is the agency? And what forms might such agency take?"

Professor Helen Verran, Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, Australia

I begin with two brief stories of colonial planning of what has become the Papua New Guinea PNG modern economy, and of the unravelling of these plans. In the first case, planning by German colonising companies was systematically countered by the German colonial judiciary. The legacy of this judicial counter-planning remains active in PNG to this day. In the second case planning by PNG’s new Australian colonisers was effectively unravelled by some daisy plants of the speciesTanacetum cinerariifolium.
The second story is partly ethnographic. As a nineteen-year old girl I worked for a few months with these daisies and their Engan growers (mostly women), and Australian colonial officials (all men), in what became Enga Province after PNG independence. It was my very first job. I felt deeply ambivalent about my work putting into effect a colonial plan to establish a New Guinea modern economy. Yet it was clear that the Engan women who took me under their collective wing welcomed me enthusiastically. As it turned out I need not have worried myself, for the daisies themselves countered and unravelled the planning quite effectively without any help from me. The daisies’ agency turned out to be far more significant than any agency I could identify for myself despite my wanting to intervene to make a difference. I take this as a cue to reprise that experience in the form of an analytic excavation of the figure of the Australian girl colonial officer. My entry point into this reprise is a disturbing puzzlement I experienced at the time. I recognized that the care showered upon me by Engan village women entailed obligations. But how to understand these obligations? In reprising the
experience, I propose the village women rendered me as a representative, and in feeling my way around in this idea I pick up on a recent intervention in science studies which seeks to evert the concept of representation. I see this eversion as remembering that in representing one is always managing a paradox—making present that which is not bodily participating in a here and now.