Bridging Mental Boundaries in a Postcolonial Microcosm: Identity and Development in Vanuatu
296pp. December 1998
Bridging Mental Boundaries in a Postcolonial Microcosm: Identity and Development in Vanuatu
Author: Miles, William F. S.;
The South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu simultaneously experienced the two major types of colonialism of the modern era (British and French), the only instance in which these colonial powers jointly ruled the same people in the same territory over an extended period of time. This, in addition to its small size and recent independence (1980), makes Vanuatu an ideal case study of the clash of contemporary colonialism and its enduring legacies. At the same time, the uniqueness of Melanesian society highlights the singular role of indigenous culture in shaping both colonial and postcolonial political reality. With its close attention to global processes, Bridging Mental Boundaries in a Postcolonial Microcosm provides a fresh comparative approach to an island state that has most frequently been examined from an ethnographic or area studies perspective.

William F. S. Miles looks at the long-term effects of the joint Franco-British administration in public policy, political disputes, and social cleavages in post-independence Vanuatu. He emphasizes the strong imprint left by "condocolonialism" in dividing ni-Vanuatu into "Anglophones" and "Francophones," but also suggest how this basic division is being replaced (or overlaid) by divisions based on urban or rural residence, "traditional" or "modern" employment, and disparities between the status and activities of men and women. As such, this volume is more than an analysis of a unique case of colonialism and its effects; it is an interpretation of the evolution of an insular society beset by particularly convoluted precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial fractures. Based principally on research conducted in 1991 and, following a key change in Vanuatu's government, a subsequent visit in 1992, the analysis is enriched by regular comparisons between Vanuatu and other colonized societies where the author has carried out original research, including Niger, Nigeria, Martinique, and Pondicherry. Extensive interviews with ni-Vanuatu are integrated throughout the text, presenting islanders' views of their own experience.

"Lively and stimulating" --Oceania 73 (2002)

"A fascinating, well-written and carefully researched book on the shifting nature of identity and boundary construction in post-independence Vanuatu, the former New Hebrides" --Australian Journal of Political Science 35, 2000

"Must-reading for Vanuatu specialists and Pacific social scientists interested in history, political science and postcolonial studies" --Journal of the Polynesian Society, December 1999

"Written with a firm grasp of the histories, cultures, and social characteristics of these diverse islands. Miles did extensive firsthand research among the contemporary leaders of Vanuatu. He writes of them with affection and understanding and offers considerable insight into the contradictions of the key category of kastom in postindependence Vanuatu, mediating issues of modernity and the bridging of the peculiar Franco- and Anglophone past of the islands... An invaluable account for those who have long been interested specifically in the peoples and cultures of these islands." --Choice

"A very satisfying book, accessible to the general reader and challenging to the specialist audience (or audiences). Like its [UH Press] stablemates, Cargo Cult: Strange Stories of Desire from Melanesia and Beyond, by Lamont Lindstrom, and The Tree and the Canoe, by Joel Bonnemaison, Bridging Mental Boundaries ... fundamentally recasts what is so often taken for granted in the distinction drawn between "colonialism" and "independence." --The Contemporary Pacific, Spring 2000 (Download full review)

Author: Miles, William F. S.;
William F.S. Miles is professor of political science at Northeastern University.