Reprises: Chris Gregory’s Gifts and Commodities and the frontier
Chris Gregory’s Gifts and Commodities (1982) is widely regarded as a classic in economic anthropology as well as in studies on Melanesia. The work offers a lucid typology and definition of the concepts of ‘gift’ and ‘commodity’based on the tradition of political economy and economic anthropology. It shows how in colonial Papua New Guinea (PNG) gift and commodity economies articulated with each other and—contrary to the assumption of neoclassical economists—expanded simultaneously. In recounting how labour and primary production were commodi ed in colonial PNG, Gregory analyses the development and demise of the plantation economy and utilizes the concept of the ‘labour frontier’ that moved to new areas and eventually closed leading to the crisis of the plantation sector. In this essay I will briefly discuss Gregory’s notion of the ‘labour frontier’, relate it to later theorizations of the concept of ‘frontier’ and discuss how Gregory’s accounts helped me to understand contemporary dynamics of oil palm development in contemporary PNG.
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