In July, the ANU approved the award of a PhD to Rebecca Monson for her thesis “Hu nao save tok? Women, men and land: negotiating property and authority in Solomon Islands”.
Rebecca’s thesis focuses on gender relations as a critical lens for understanding land tenure in Solomon Islands. It examines the ways in which claims to land are negotiated and performed in two sites, one rural and one peri-urban, and pays particular attention to changes in land tenure and social relations arising from processes of colonisation, missionisation, and the commodification of land and other natural resources.
Rebecca’s case studies demonstrate that claims to land in Solomon Islands are not only shaped by norms and institutions that might be described as “state-based” and “customary”, but that Christianity has also had a profound influence on the ways in which people claim access to and control over land. Furthermore, while there are multiple pathways for negotiating access to and control over land, people are differently positioned to make and approve of claims as they occur across different arenas. Rebecca argues that property and authority are mutually constitutive, and that this has worked to consolidate control over land in the hands of a small number of men, while reproducing state norms and institutions as a (hyper)masculine domain. This means that contests over land not only reflect local social differentiation but that they also have implications that extend far beyond the local contexts in which these land disputes initially arise.
Rebecca’s thesis makes an important contribution to scholarly and policy debates about land tenure in the Pacific, where the gendered nature of land relations have received less attention than they have elsewhere in the world. However her work also links policy debates about land to broader debates about the nature of social, political and economic transformation in Solomon Islands and elsewhere in Melanesia. Importantly, while her Rebecca’s thesis is grounded in the detailed study of land tenure in two sites in Solomon Islands, she also draws on the broader literature on Melanesia and sub-Saharan Africa. Rebecca’s work therefore provides insight into a range of issues that are of interest to scholars working on land relations elsewhere, in particular the ways in which “local” disputes are linked to broader processes of state formation.
Rebecca is continuing her work at the ANU as a lecturer in the College of Law, where she convenes the Master of Laws program in Law, Governance and Development. She also convenes the ANU-wide Law, Governance and Development Initiative [read the program from the inaugural conference].