To Excel at bridewealth, or ceremonies of Office

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Pickles, AJ 

At a bridewealth payment made at the start of a wedding in Papua New Guinea the groom diligently kept a note of contributions from relatives and co-workers. The next day he used one of his employer’s computers to compile an Excel spreadsheet that detailed all the guests, what each one brought, and, in a separate column, its value in money. Turning people's gifts into nominal amounts of money helped register these into an enduring electronic form. The spreadsheet – an all-too-familiar tool of enumeration – gave the groom a record of transactions going forward. Papua New Guinea is most often known for the widespread emphasis placed on gift giving, large prestations important especially in the making of the Big Men, which are based on the belief in the high status of the giver and the onus of reciprocity. Today spreadsheets permit transactions to be analysed in a very different way, namely in terms of currency-like properties, allowing Papua New Guineans to understand, tap into and ultimately control the powers of money that echo current debates about the manipulation of big data.

4404 Development Studies, 4401 Anthropology, 44 Human Society
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Anthropology Today
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ESRC, Royal Anthropological Institute