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Moving Up the Ranks: Chiefly Status, Prestige, and Schooling in Colonial Fiji

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2017

Carmen M. White*
Affiliation:
The Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at Central Michigan University

Extract

In a 1987 volume titled Class and Culture in the South Pacific, Samoan historian Malama Meleisea describes orthodox Marxism, modernization theory, and unilineal evolutionary thought as united in their “Eurocentric frame of reference,” their “notion of unilineal progress,… assumption that pre-capitalist social institutions are obsolete and that class formation is historically inevitable.” While Meleisea's pointed polemic against metanarratives that privilege a universality of Western laws of historical development and progress is partly informed by the undelivered promises of modernization theory, his critique is more than the mere stirrings of an incipient postmodernist discourse. It also derives from a practical engagement with socio-political developments in the South Pacific region that puts in relief the ways in which grand paradigms can mold and distort contemporary Pacific Island institutions into Western images. Here, he speaks to the tendency to explain the endurance of chieftaincies in modern Pacific states as homologous with, a local variant, or the actual equivalent of, a new type of “class relations.” In a more recent edited volume that focuses on chiefs in the contemporary Pacific, White and Lindstrom similarly note a popular regard for chiefs as “antique survivals from pre-state political formations” that ultimately fails to address contemporary chiefly authority on its own terms. As White and Lindstrom note further, based on the projections of development proposed in Weber-inspired modernization theory, chiefs should have become obsolete in the modern nation-state: “The forces of modernity were meant to usher him (or sometimes her) from the global stage, replacing tribal or feudal styles of leadership wkh thg universalistic, rational forms of the natioh-state and its attendant bureaucracies.”

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © 2006 History of Education Society 

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References

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125 A number of Fijians from various walks of life, but not of chiefly descent, and with whom I spoke, noted that Fijians of chiefly status, or well connected to high-ranking chiefs, are still favored for university scholarships abroad, most notably for graduate studies—thus suggesting a new frontier of educational exclusivity.

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