Document Type


Department (Manual Entry)

Dept. of Anthropology


The criteria for delineating "the New Guinea Highlands," a fundamental category in Melanesian anthropology, are variable, vague, and inconsistently applied, with the result that there is little clarity or agreement with regard to its characteristics and its membership. So far as the literature is concerned, "the New Guinea Highlands" is a fuzzy set. The common resort to notions of "cores," "margins," or "fringes" is an attempt to preserve an essentialist approach but inevitably leads to the same confusion. The continued use of "the Highlands" as an analytic or theoretical construct carries the costs of misleadingly implied homogeneity, with marginalization of "exceptions," ahistorical reification of social and cultural "traits," and deemphasis on linkages among communities. A plea is made here for a shift from studies of morphology to studies of process-from concerns with what people are to concerns with what people do.