Living the good life: the ownership of wellbeing on company settlements
Location F
Date and Time 8th December, 2008 at 13:30


Karen Sykes (University of Manchester)
Martha Macintyre (The University of Melbourne)
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Short Abstract

to follow

Long Abstract

The industrial exploitation of natural resources has invariably generated migration of people from village to settlement in pursuit of a better life. Life on company settlements, whether attached to the industries of mining, plantation, or timber raises key questions about well-being and happiness of the residents there. While the immediate aims might be to acquire a house, furniture and to possess the accoutrements of urban life, what is not so clear is how one comes to own a good life? Companies may plan settlements, housing and services to their workers, yet often the settlement grows more organically-through networks of aspirant people seeking specific forms of happiness in their lives, such as rich husbands, housing, education, health care, electricity and running water. Life on settlements can be known by the specific experience of people on them, where they benefit from the working life and its specific services, and yet also find their return to home villages complex if not impossible.

From classical to modern philosophy it is often assumed that a good life is won through work; that corruptions of working life prevent the wellbeing of homo faber, entailing the assumption of specific relations to the natural world, to each other, and to a trajectory of social economic development. This panel focuses on wellbeing and the good life as it is circumscribed in ethnographic description of work and settlement life. We invite research into aspirations that lead people to migrate in order to work, the experience of happiness and discontent at work, and most importantly how the experience of life on the work place settlements bears witness to the possibility that the good life is accessed through working.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Living side-by-side: discourses on the meaning of space and belonging for fly-in-fly-out and residential workers in a remote mining town in Australia

Author: Catherine Pattenden (University of Queensland)

Short Abstract

In this paper I explore FIFO workers and residents living side-by-side in a remote and “closed” company town in Australia. I argue that the FIFO and residential lifestyles entail fundamentally oppositional conceptualisations of work/domestic spatial distinctions, and that these oppositions informed discourses on space and belonging.


Many contemporary mining communities within Australia and internationally comprise a mixed population of residential and long-distance commute workers - that is, those who co-locate their primary residence and that of their families to mining settlements, and those who move in and out of mining settlements according to work-based rotations but whose primary domicile lies elsewhere. The problems associated with these two radically different lifestyles living side-by-side is usually embedded within analysis and debates around economic and sustainable development. In contrast, there has been little attention paid to the respective groups' conceptualisation of space and belonging, and the ways in which the variant degrees of fragmentation of the two lifestyles lead to differing articulations of relationship to spatial and temporal spheres.

In this paper I explore the experience of fly-in-fly-out workers and residents living side-by-side in a remote and "closed" company town in Australia and the differing ways they conceptualised and articulated their social, spatial, and temporal relationship with the town. This paper is based on extended fieldwork exploring notions of belonging and community within a highly transient and mobile population of mining workers and their families, and the ways in which residents' rallied around the concept of "community" as a means of resistance to the emerging dominance of fly-in-fly-out. I argue that the fly-in-fly-out and residential lifestyles entail fundamentally oppositional conceptualisations of work/domestic spatial distinctions, and that these oppositions informed discourses on the significance of space and belonging.

The 'good life' at work: 'energy' and 'skills' as competing parameters of wellbeing in contemporary China

Author: Anna Lora-Wainwright (University of Oxford )

Short Abstract

This paper examines how and why 'energy' and 'skills' offer contending parameters of a 'good life' for Chinese rural dwellers and migrant workers. Contestations about their relative value articulate an active engagement with the contradictory demands of past and present moral and political economies


Since the start of market reforms in the 1980s, increasing numbers of Chinese villagers have been migrating to more prosperous urban areas in search of work. While the economic implications of their activities has been widely debated, little is known about how diverse parameters for well being are constituted through embodied experiences of farm work and wage labour. Based on long-term fieldwork in rural China, this paper will critically examine the processes by which divergent attitudes to the body have been produced by the moral and political economies of the Mao (1949-1976) and post-Mao (1976-present) periods. It will take perceptions of farming and wage labour in terms of 'energy' (you jin) and 'skills' (you benshi) as emblematic of this transition both in ideology and in socio-economic conditions. I show that given the rising cost of living, the value of farming has consequently decreased, and therefore the bodily qualities associated with it are no longer sufficient to constitute a 'good life'. Yet farming remains central to the local economy, alongside wage labour, and offers a supplementary (if not fully alternative) definition of well being based on energy, family values and family produce. By unpacking how different types of work redefine the contours of a 'good life', I challenge the simplistic assumption that wage labour eradicated the value of farming as foundational to well being. Local attitudes to well being highlight an active engagement with the contradictory demands of collectivism and market, communism and neoliberalism.

Urban dreams, village realities and corporate funding in Lihir, Papua New Guinea

Author: Nick Bainton (The University of Queensland)

Short Abstract

This paper will consider the history and complications surrounding the Village Development Scheme run by the Lihir gold mine in Papua New Guinea.


Since at least the 1960s, many Lihirians have imagined a future existence characterised by the trappings of modern urban life. For a long time, isolation and limited economic engagement ensured these dreams could not be met. When the early stages of mining activities commenced in the 1980s, visions of this imagined future were expressed through prophesies like 'da lo mon na moni' (we will just throw away money), 'Lihir nitel a city' (Lihir will become a city), and 'Anoikaka nitoi Ladolam' (a ship will come ashore at Ladolam). The ensuing development that accompanied mining activities has brought partial fulfilment; in particular, the provision for permanent housing, and assistance for housing improvement, through the mining company's Village Development Scheme (VDS). For many this scheme has not transpired as anticipated; nor have Lihirians used this program in the ways the company expects. This paper will trace the history and complications of the VDS - its failures and successes - with attention to various local desires and hopes for village transformation, and the realities that inevitably follow.

Work, Kinship and Material Goods: Pursuing the Good Life in Londolovit Township, Lihir

Author: Susan Hemer (University of Adelaide)

Short Abstract

This paper examines the debate amongst Lihirians, other Papua New Guineans, and expatriates in Londolovit township, purpose built to house workers for the Lihir Gold mine, about just what constitutes the good life, whether money and material wealth, services and facilities, or connections to family.


In Londolovit township in Papua New Guinea, purpose-built to house workers for the Lihir Gold mine, just what constitutes 'the good life' is a matter of much debate. Lihirians, for example, often locate the good life in the material wealth accumulated by expatriates and PNG nationals (non-Lihirian Papua New Guineans) living in the township. Comparing their lives unfavourably with the latter, they express a desire for large, well-provisioned houses available to expatriates and non-Lihirians. While many expatriates working at the mine spend some years in overseas mining employment with its high salaries in order to secure the good life for themselves and their families, many female expatriates, generally not employed by the mine express dissatisfaction with their lives citing lack of connections to family, boredom and lack of services and facilities. Non-Lihirian Papua New Guineans living in the mining camp or government housing compare their lives unfavourably with those living in the superior mining company housing. For many Papua New Guinean citizens, access to the good life is seen as a question of race rather than the result of hard work. Just who has access to 'the good life' and what this concept represents is subject to dispute. For Lihirians such disputation was part of their critique of the mine more generally, while for expatriate women discussions about quality of life occurred in less public forums. For numerous people in Londolovit township, expatriates and PNG citizens alike, it seems the good life is elusive.

Forty Years on… Migrant Lives in West New Britain

Authors: George Curry (Curtin University of Technology)
Gina Koczberski (Curtin University of Technology)

Short Abstract

The paper examines changes in the lives of migrants on the Hoskins land settlement scheme as they began a new life where indigenous authority, social structures, clan identity and kinship networks were weak, and ideologies of work, progress, individual autonomy and national development were paramount.


New Britain Palm Oil Limited (NBPOL) began operating at Hoskins, West New Britain Province (WNB), Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 1967. The plantation and milling company was the nucleus in an ambitious nucleus estate-smallholder development in which state leasehold land was developed for estate plantations and a smallholder land settlement scheme with settlers recruited from other parts of PNG. On the 15 September, last year NBPOL and smallholders celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the Hoskins nucleus estate-smallholder settlement scheme. The celebrations ran for a week as company employees and local and migrant smallholders enthusiastically joined in the festive events.

Most migrants who settled the land settlement scheme or worked for the company in the initial development phase saw themselves as intimately involved with bringing 'progress' and 'development' to WNB and contributing to nation building more broadly. Thus, the anniversary of the company was a cause for much celebration. Settlers not only viewed themselves as crucial players in the progress and development of the province and nation, but they also initially saw the scheme as being imbued with transformative powers and had high expectations of what the scheme would deliver them in terms of modernising lifestyles and advancing their standards of living. The paper examines migrants' attraction to the Hoskins nucleus estate development and their desire for a transformation of their social and economic lives as they began a new life where indigenous authority, social structures, clan identity and kinship networks were weak, and ideologies of work, progress, individual autonomy and national development were paramount.

The pursuit of happiness through work in the logging concessions of the Western Province, PNG.

Author: Michael Wood (James Cook University)

Short Abstract

This paper outlines the different experiences of single and married female migrants in the logging camps of the Western Province , PNG .


Lots of people, including many who reside there, think Kamusi - the headquarters for operations in the Wawoi Gauvi concession - is not a good place to work or live. Despite this consensus many people continue to migrate there. In this paper I review ideas about Kamusi held by single female migrants and by married women who have moved to Kamusi with their families. These migrants, and existing residents, encounter divisions of labour that create new and complex relationships between the kinds of 'good' produced by men's and women's work. Some of these relationships are defined and negotiated by reference to family, church and the home village. Often the production of the good life in Kamusi requires women to enact continuity with what may surround or would otherwise be excluded from the Kamusi enclave (for example, the peaceful rural village home ). However migrant single women reveal a quite intensive concern with discontinuity and present freedom from tradition and the village as constituting, if not exactly a 'good life', then one more associated with a radical disjuncture with the past. I outline the very different understandings of gender relations that underlie these quite different experiences of women's work at Kamusi.

Ideal Homes and Dashed Hopes on Misima 1985-2006.

Author: Martha Macintyre (The University of Melbourne)

Short Abstract

An exploration of the aspirations for new ways of life on Misima linked to mining operations and wage labour as manifest in the ways that mine workers constructed new housing during the years of production.


The gold mining project on Misima has now finished. The mine has been decommissioned and the various commitments made in respect of closure are almost all completed. While there were some relocated villages, the housing that grew up around the mine was mainly self-built and the people who lived there were mostly mine employees. The new houses required that the owners earned money or received cash benefits from the mine in order to buy or have access to new materials. People invested their newfound cash, hopes and dreams of the future in these structures. They were symbols of new aspirations and achievements. This paper will explore the design and construction of these houses, comparing it with conventional village housing and examine the changes in everyday life that these new houses represented. The paper will examine the forms of sociality that are both presumed and excluded in the new Misiman 'ideal home' and the ways that these reveal tensions about the nature of 'the good life' as it is manifest in the accumulation of material goods and 'the virtuous life' expressed through sharing work and wealth.