Author: Niko Besnier

Publisher: Stanford: Stanford University Press

Available From: Stanford University Press

Publication Date: 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7406-2

On the Edge of the Global: Modern Anxieties in a Pacific Island Nation is the eighteenth title in the East-West Center book series, Contemporary Issues in Asia and the Pacific, published by Stanford University Press.

Niko Besnier’s illuminating ethnography explores the malaise present in the postcolonial Global South, focused on the island kingdom of Tonga. His work highlights the ways in which segments of this small-scale society hold on to different understandings of what modernity is, how it should be made relevant to local contexts, and how it should mesh with practices and symbols of tradition.

Adopting a wide-angled perspective that brings together political, economic, cultural, and social concerns, Besnier argues that life in twenty-first-century Tonga is rife with uncertainties at odds with the appearance of stability and order conveyed by traditionalism. In the political realm, these uncertainties adopt a vocabulary of neo-traditionalism, democracy, neo-liberal economics, and citizenship. In Tongans’ everyday lives, they take on a shape of a more mundane nature: how to make ends meet, how to pay lip service to tradition, and how to present a modern self without opening oneself to ridicule. Engaging with key issues in contemporary, Besnier’s work is ideal for introductory and upper-division courses in social and cultural anthropology.

Niko Besnier is Professor of Cultural Anthropology in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. He has also taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Yale University, Victoria University of Wellington, and UCLA. He is the author of five books, most recently, Gossip and the Everyday Production of Politics (2009).

Details and ordering information at Stanford University Press


Figures, Tables, Charts, and Maps
Note on Tongan Orthography and Transcription Conventions
1.Straddling the Edge of the Global
2.Tonga’s Modernity
3.Consumption and Cosmopolitanism
4.When Gifts Become Commodities
5.Modern Bodies on the Runway
6.Coloring and Straightening
7.Shaping the Modern Body
8.Reconfiguring the Modern Christian
Conclusion: Sites of Modernity


“Besnier takes us to Tongan beauty parlors, pageants, pawn shops, outdoor markets, church services and gyms to show how local ‘modernities’ and ‘traditionalities’ are enacted within disparate sites. His book, remarkable in its nuanced, respectful depiction of the emotional lives and intellectual perspectives of diverse informants, is wonderful in argument and ethnography.”

-Deborah Gewertz, Amherst College

“Ethnographically acute and open-eared, interpretively imaginative and principled, and always engaging, Besnier’s book takes Tonga from ‘the edge’ to the center of new ways of thinking about ‘the global.’ Besnier’s subtle attentiveness to the shape of both ordinary and extraordinary lives and events makes for a rich and theoretically provocative examination indeed.”

–Don Brenneis, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

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