Pacific studies in Hawai'i and possibly New Zealand, and certainly Hawaiian and Maori studies, are mostly conceptualized as projects of cultural renaissance, in which the aim is to reclaim and reassert cultural identity. The fundamental research question becomes How can we understand the Pacific in ways that honor the past and reclaim the future for uniquely Pacific Island ways of doing things? In the independent Pacific and in certain other places such as the Australian National University, Pacific studies tends to be conceptualized more, though not exclusively, as a project of modernization and development, and the fundamental research question becomes How can we understand the region in ways that will make people better off? These two central paradigms of Pacific studies, both of which contribute to our understanding, derive from different historical experiences, above all in the degree to which foreign influence altered or preserved tradition. Events in Melanesia are an important part of the contemporary political background against which we must ponder the future of Pacific studies, and the outlook there is less positive than in Polynesia and Micronesia. There will be less room in the future for romanticism about Melanesian tradition and more inclination to examine the endless ways in which Melanesians use tradition to serve modern ends. In imagining how a Pacific studies consortium might work, the emphasis should be on exchanges of every kind: of information over the Internet, of staff, of courses and simulations, and of students.
The Contemporary Pacific – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Feb 10, 2003