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Social Relations and the Green Critique of Capitalism in Melanesia



ABSTRACT  In this article, I explore what a critical environmental perspective would look like in Melanesia, where the distinction between nature and culture, and the expectation that science interprets the former in terms of the latter, may not apply. I consider changes in scientific knowledge production and the shift from cultural ecology to political ecology in Melanesian anthropology, including the argument that Melanesians are neither conservationists nor environmentalists. In contrast, I show how people exposed to pollution from the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea mobilize their understandings of difference in a green critique of capitalism. I examine a strategy session of local activists, a public meeting about their campaign against the mine, and a sorcery tribunal. Finally, I suggest that Melanesian ideas about social relations provide a useful ethnographic analogy for thinking about the mobility and short temporal horizons of contemporary capitalism.