Bianca Hennessy: More Specific Than Transpacific: How Notions of Place Invoke Ways of Thinking in Pacific Studies

This paper is about people and place, and people in place, in Pacific Studies. In it, I review how place is conceptualised by Pacific Studies, focusing on the complex interplay between the twinned forces of belonging to place, and movement of people between places. The coupling of ‘roots and routes’ is enacted by the connections between people across space, offering a nuanced framing of lived diasporic existence. I investigate how place is invoked in Pacific Studies to encourage particular ways of thinking, arguing that place is often a metaphor for an epistemic approach, and that these approaches re-centre Islander lives and ontological foundations in a way that resist neo-colonial attempts at control. Both specificity and fluidity are needed here: a transindigenous framing allows us to understand the connections between colonised peoples that resist interventionist mediation from neo-colonial structures and systems, and specificity of place (and connections to, or experiences of it) is vital to avoid the flattening, numbing effect invoked by a capitalist view of globalisation which highlights only endless fluidity of bodies, things, and ideas. I conclude the paper with a short set of case studies of actual Pacific Studies places – departments that I visited as part of fieldwork. My goal here is to redirect the reader’s gaze to a micro, lived scale, attending to the minute ways that an intellectual community implicitly invokes particular notions of place to its own community, thus re-embedding their favoured epistemic approaches.

Bianca Hennessy is a final-year PhD candidate at the Australian National University based in Canberra, on Ngunnawal land. Her PhD is under the supervision of Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa in the School of Culture, History and Language in the College of Asia and the Pacific. She studied Pacific and Southeast Asian studies and anthropology in a Bachelor of Arts/Asia-Pacific Studies, also at the ANU. She grew up in the Newcastle area in Australia. Her PhD project, on the decolonising efforts of the Pacific studies academic community, has taken her to campuses and academic gatherings in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Hawai’i, Guam, Fiji and the United Kingdom. Her work celebrates Pacific Studies’ commitment to academic activism. She is interested in how decolonial ideologies shape pedagogy, research ethics and methodology, institutional organisation and processes, mentoring and community-building. The key questions that emerge from this work are based around the challenge of radically re-centering indigenous knowledges and allowing for a plural epistemological landscape in scholarly practice, as well as the task of productively reckoning with enduring colonial structures in universities and beyond.

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