Research

I am a political anthropologist with a commitment to transdisciplinary explorations, speaking, in particular, to development, peace and conflict studies and, as secondary fields of research, food and mobility studies. With a geographic focus on Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, I am especially interested in the role of the seemingly banal or everyday in international peacebuilding and development. For example, my article in Social Anthropology (2017)  examines how foreign peacebuilders’ perceived rejection of Solomon Islands food negatively affects non-elite Solomon Islanders’ confidence in lasting peace. A more recent article in Development in Practice (2019) examines the everyday politics of infrastructure maintenance and promises for economic development through infrastructures. A focus on the everyday reveals the problematic temporalities of international development and peacebuilding. While global initiatives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals are essentially future-oriented, my research pays attention to how the present often reflects “interrupted futures,” failed promises that accompanied previous development programmes.

My focus on the everyday builds on my doctoral thesis, “An Ethnographic Study of the State in Rural Solomon Islands (Lau, North Malaita): A Quest for Autonomy in Global Dependencies.” Here I examined how the Solomon Islands state, marked by a history of colonial and aid dependancies, becomes visible in the everyday lives of rural and, to a lesser degree, urban non-elites; and how this visibility affects non-elite perceptions of, and engagements with, the capitalist state as legitimate and globally dominant political-economic system. I propose an analytical framework that examines the ways internal state legitimacy is negotiated (1) in prosaic encounters with the state, (2) in shifting domestic and global core-periphery relations, and (3) in reference to deep anxieties about the place of indigenous ways of being in the contemporary capitalist state system, in particular as they pertain to land ownership and political organization.

My postdoctoral research expanded my analytical lens to the Bariai coast in West New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea. This project teases out the increasing role of digital technologies in mediating state-society relations, and how this mediation links to gendered experiences with political-economic development. You can learn more about some aspects of my postdoctoral research here: https://ourstories.ok.ubc.ca/stories/stephanie-hobbis/