Politics, tradition and structural change: Fijian fertility in the twentieth century

Type Thesis or Dissertation - PhD Thesis
Title Politics, tradition and structural change: Fijian fertility in the twentieth century
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2013
URL https://digitalcollections.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/10272/5/Chung M Thesis 1991.pdf
The model of demographic transition maintains the currency of ideas of social evolution in demographic theory, with tradition and modernity considered to be inversely related. Together with local values regarding tradition, this construction of explanation portrays Fijian women as traditional people clinging for socio-economic and political reasons to a culturally-patterned pronatalism. Yet, in Fiji, there is little knowledge of how social changes encountered by people of any ethnic community are related to fertility behaviour. This thesis engages a range of scales and a time depth of three generations to examine links between social, economic and political changes in Fiji over the twentieth century and fertility changes in the indigenous Fijian population. It traces the development of wider opportunities for women and their access to resources over the twentieth century, examines the nature of gender relations and kinship, and considers the impact of these changes upon the lives of women and their fertility behaviour.

A central theme concerns the role of the state in demographic change. The argument is that the demographic behaviour of people is powerfully influenced by institutional incentives or constraints which encourage or inhibit certain actions, often without intention. Just as there may be explicit policies to influence demographic behaviour, so there are 'hidden' policies set in motion by existing state activities and, more broadly, the general style of local development. Structures of opportunity often originate in state policies and operate indirectly on fertility behaviour through their impact on individual life-courses. As the opportunity structure becomes more diverse, so too does the fertility behaviour of a community. The variance in life experiences that increases through this century demonstrates the selective effects of social institutions upon individual lives.

Here, history is recounted on two levels: that of the Fiji state, with particular reference to the pattern of governance and the formation of neotraditiona1 society; and that of the lives of ordinary people. Behind these histories lies a consideration of the mental constructs of social science which pattern our interpretation of events. Internationally, understanding of the politico-economic nature of community reproduction and the politicized nature of demographic processes has been promoted by more detailed histories of local communities. Integral to such research has been the identification of new information sources and the formulation of methods to exploit these. To reconstruct the history of this community and of individuals in it, I drew upon and amalgamated two rich but unreliable sources of information: the memories of community members and a genealogical register of communal land-owners, the Vola ni Kawa Bula.

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