Uneven development in the Papua New Guinea highlands

Mining, corporate social responsibility, and the “life market”

in Volume 2015 (2015): Issue 73 (Dec 2015): E. P. Thompson and the anthropology of twenty-first-century capitalism. Guest Editor: Kathleen M. Millar
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Over the last 20 years, Papua New Guinea has been at the center of a resource development boom as mining, petroleum, and logging companies extract the rich resources of this tropical Pacific island. As 97 percent of the country is owned by customary groups who correspondingly receive benefits from extraction, resource development has the potential to integrate local communities into the global economy in beneficial ways. Often, though, this is not the case, as small factions of landowners control the bulk of development proceeds. In this article, I examine the development of a coffee growing scheme adjacent to the world-class Porgera Gold Mine, intended to help local people who are marginal to mining benefit streams. Tragically, however, instead of engaging in coffee production, many disenfranchised young men in Porgera prefer to work in the “life market”—a term they use to describe tribal warfare in which groups not receiving benefits attack benefit-receiving groups in the attempt to extort monetary payments. Not only are individuals' lives at stake in the life market, but so too are the economic conditions—coffee and gold mining—that allow the life market's very existence.