Regionalism and Colonialism in Contemporary Oceania

Stephanie Lawson presenting during a SSGM seminar. Image SSGM

Regionalism in Oceania emerged in a context shaped both by the decolonization movement as well as the Cold War, the dynamics of which are still being played out today. This paper considers two cases of particular interest in current regional politics which illustrate a number of important contradictions in conventional approaches to the analysis of colonialism. The first involves the two larger French territories in the region – New Caledonia and French Polynesia – which have recently been admitted to full membership of the Pacific Islands Forum despite falling short of the technical requirements for such membership, namely independent status. The second concerns Indonesia’s claim to sovereignty over West Papua. Although this claim has been recognized in international law since 1969, its basis is highly suspect and Indonesia’s record from the start is arguably tantamount to a repressive form of colonialism enabled by the UN itself. Placed in comparative perspective, these cases invite us to reconsider just what colonialism on the one hand and self-determination on the other really mean in the contemporary period.

About the speaker

Stephanie Lawson is Professor of Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University, Sydney, Senior Research Associate, Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg and Honorary Professor with the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia project at the Australian National University. She has previously held teaching and research positions at the University of New England, the Australian National University, the University of East Anglia, and the University of Birmingham. She is a past president of the Australian Political Studies Association and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. She is also the current President of the Pacific Islands Political Studies Association. Her publications span the fields of comparative and international politics, normative theory, and Asia-Pacific studies on issues ranging from nationalism and ethnic politics to the theorization of democracy and human rights in cross-cultural settings. She has written extensively on politics in the Southwest Pacific more generally and is currently engaged on a research project on regional politics in Oceania funded by the Australian Research Council.

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