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Gossip and the Everyday Production of Politics$
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Niko Besnier

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780824833381

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824833381.001.0001

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Hierarchy and Egalitarianism

Hierarchy and Egalitarianism

(p.64) 3 Hierarchy and Egalitarianism
Gossip and the Everyday Production of Politics

Niko Besnier

University of Hawai'i Press

Beneath the overelaborated veneer of harmony and peace that Nukulaelae people try so hard to maintain are long-standing conflicts, contradictions, and complexities about how the island should be organized. This chapter examines the basic ideological tension between a “discourse of nostalgia” and a “discourse of egalitarianism.” Both are part and parcel of what Nukulaelae people articulate quite readily to one another and to the prying anthropologist, although the discourse of nostalgia is more closely associated, in the local logic, with the image of the atoll community as harmonious and peaceful than the discourse of egalitarianism is. In turn, the discourse of egalitarianism is invoked to undermine the hierarchical order put forth in the discourse of nostalgia, and this undermining frequently takes place in gossip. The chapter’s goal is not to locate Nukulaelae’s “genuine culture” in either a harmonious order or a conflictual disorder, or in either hierarchy or egalitarianism. Rather, the atoll’s culture and politics are located in the tensions between these different qualities, at the convergence of these various seemingly incommensurable discourses.

Keywords:   Nukulaelae, island people, egalitarianism, nostalgia, gossip, atoll community

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