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Reclaiming Hope

Reclaiming Hope

Has hope become a word that betrays you? In an escalating “war on words” (van Eekelen et al. 2004, 1), has hope bulldozed over our dreams? During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, “hope” became yet another vacuous political slogan (Kirksey 2012, 20). Shortly after Barack Obama was elected, many people who had dared to harbor dreams of political change experienced profound disappointment. Optimism can be cruel, according to Lauren Berlant (2011, 24), when you discover that the dreams you are attached to are either “impossible, sheer fantasy, or too possible, and toxic.” While hopes can indeed have toxic properties, optimistic dreams also have the indeterminate qualities of the pharmakon—a substance capable of acting as both poison and remedy depending on the dose, the circumstances, and the context (Stengers 2010, 29).

This curated collection of articles explores articulations of hope in the contemporary Pacific (cf. Clifford 2001). Against the backdrop of historical contexts of disappointment, scholars of the contemporary Pacific have recently begun to illuminate concrete future possibilities (e.g., Teaiwa 2015). Indigenous political leaders continue to ground collective desires in the topos of territory and native soil (Kirksey 2012, 205; Derrida 1994, 82), as well as the expansive, connective flows of Oceania’s “sea of islands” (Diaz 2015; Hau’ofa 1994). Ideas relating to sovereignty, freedom, and the political dimensions of imagination are being reconfigured in response to U.S. regional hegemony, ongoing legacies of European colonialisms, emergent Asian expansionist projects, and growing threats from climate change. Hybrid forms of Christianity, the promises of development economics, and institutions of global governance are among the many forces structuring desires in the region. We have pulled three articles from the Cultural Anthropology archives that speak to these themes: Vincent Crapanzano’s “Reflections on Hope as a Category of Analysis,” Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington’s “First Contact with God,” and Webb Keane’s “Sincerity, ‘Modernity,’ and the Protestants.”

To reanimate these articles, we asked the authors to engage with a series of interrelated questions: What freedom dreams and figures of hope populate the political and cultural imaginaries of the Pacific? What strategies are being deployed for entering and exiting from global entanglements? How are different imaginings about the future generating new sorts of persons, social relations, and political and cultural formations? Crapanzano, Gewertz and Errington, and Keane each respond in turn.


Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Clifford, James. 2001. “Indigenous Articulations.” The Contemporary Pacific 13, no. 2: 468–90.

Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning, and the New International. New York: Routledge.

Diaz, Vicente M. 2015. “No Island is an Island.” In Native Studies Keywords, edited by Stephanie Nohelani Teves, Andrea Smith and Michelle Raheja, 90–108. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Hau’ofa, Epeli. 1994. “Our Sea of Islands.” The Contemporary Pacific 6, no. 2: 148–61.

Kirksey, Eben. 2012. Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Stengers, Isabelle. 2010. Cosmopolitics I. Translated by Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Teaiwa, Katerina. 2015. Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba. Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press.

van Eekelen, Bregje, Jennifer Gonzalez, Bettina Stotzer, and Anna Tsing. 2004. Shock and Awe: War on Words. Santa Cruz, Calif.: New Pacific Press.

Further Reading

Cheah, Pheng. 1999. “Spectral Nationality: The Living On [sur-vie] of the Postcolonial Nation in Neocolonial Globalization.” boundary 2 26, no. 3: 225–52.

Kauanui, J. Kēhaulani. 2008. Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Lattas, Andrew. 2011. “Logging, Violence and Pleasure: Neoliberalism, Civil Society and Corporate Governance in West New Britain.” Oceania 81, no. 1: 88–107.

LeFevre, Tate A. 2013. “Turning Niches into Handles: Kanak Youth, Associations and the Construction of an Indigenous Counter-Public Sphere.” Settler Colonial Studies 3, no. 2: 214–29.

Mawyer, Alex. 2014. “Oriented and Disoriented Space in the Gambier, French Polynesia.” Ethos 42, no. 3: 277–301.

Miyazaki, Hirokazu. 2004. The Method of Hope: Anthropology, Philosophy, and Fijian Knowledge. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Robbins, Joel, and Holly Wardlow, eds. 2005. The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia: Humiliation, Transformation and the Nature of Cultural Change. New York: Ashgate.

Rutherford, Danilyn. 2012. Laughing at Leviathan: Sovereignty and Audience in West Papua. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Shewry, Teresa. 2015. Hope at Sea: Possible Ecologies in Oceanic Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

West, Paige. 2006. Conservation is Our Government Now: The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.


Crapanzano, Vincent. 2003. "Reflections on Hope as a Category of Social and Psychological Analysis." Cultural Anthropology 18, no. 1: 3–32.

Gewertz, Deborah and Errington, Frederick. 1993. "First Contact with God: Individualism, Agency, and Revivalism in the Duke of York Islands." Cultural Anthropology 8, no. 3: 279–305.  

Keane, Webb. 2002. "Sincerity, “Modernity,” and the Protestants." Cultural Anthropology 17, no. 1: 65–92.

Image Credit

Photo by Steve Corey, licensed under CC BY NC SA.


Created by Eben Kirksey and Tate LeFevre, 2015.