Exploring exchange networks as hidden infrastructure in Papua New Guinea
Places like rural Papua New Guinea, where public utilities such as electricity networks or public infrastructure such as health centres and medicines do not reach, have become archetypal ‘off grid’ spaces. Here people are imagined to live in persistent poverty, cut off from the basic infrastructures necessary for improving standards of living. In the popular imagination Papua New Guinea has come to exemplify ‘off the grid’ living as the continuation of traditional cultural lifestyles that have escaped the influence of modernity and capitalism. Social scientists, meanwhile, have shown the everyday experience of being ‘off the grid’ in rural Papua New Guinea to have arisen from postcolonial politics, state neglect and the failure of colonial importation of modern grids for electricity or health.
In Begasin, a place that is no more than 20 miles from the provincial centre of Madang, but which has no roads, no electricity network and a barely functioning rural health centre, life off the grid describes both a historic condition and a future predicament. We are interested in the ways in which village based kinship networks and exchange relationships with government workers become the basis for access to energy and health services in this place, one kind of relational infrastructure.