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Singapore, Big Village of the Dead: Cities as Figures of Desire, Domination, and Rupture among Korowai of Indonesian Papua

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An important theme in the anthropology of space is that specific spatial forms often work for people as mediations of historical consciousness. I analyze here the example of cities in recent experience of Korowai of Papua, and I develop two theoretical points. First, a spatial form’s power as a focus of consciousness rests in how it draws together multiple different elements of the historical field. In the example of Korowai thought about cities, these elements include “foreigners” as a type of people, consumer culture as an economic system, and urban superiority as a new social hierarchy. Second, a spatial form can be a powerful sign through which people engage specifically with emotional features of their historical condition, including emotional contradictions entailed in subjection to new hierarchies. I look at a striking Korowai pattern of associating cities with death, which I suggest is motivated by death and cities both being objects of contradictory feelings of simultaneous desire and repulsion, or involvement and separateness. The power of specific kinds of spaces to attract contradictory but conjoined emotions is also important to why people often seize upon them for reckoning cognitively with history at large.



rural-urban articulations, space, structures of feeling, ethnic hierarchy, wealth, historical consciousness

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American Anthropologist

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