Pocket calculator: A humdrum 'obviator' In Papua New Guinea?

A.J. Pickles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines the significance of pockets for controlling money in Highland Papua New Guinea. Contextualizing elaborate 'systems' for compartmentalizing monies in separate pockets, I draw upon the connection Highlanders make between transaction and skin. Pockets, I argue, offer opportunities to hide one's wealth reserves while gifting, keeping intentions opaque and leaving interlocutors guessing at the meaning of donors' speech, and forcing recipients to perceive their gift as ample. The article suggests that expectations are deliberately conventionalized in order to be exceeded, drawing parallels with Roy Wagner's notion of obviation. After characterizing Gorokan pockets and their gifting 'logic', I analyse how pocket-users are themselves conventionalized as forthright or selfish in local discourse, based upon the pockets they display and where their clothes come from. Giving people clothing that includes pockets is therefore a way to regain control over their capacity to reveal wealth from their pockets. © Royal Anthropological Institute 2013.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-526
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2013

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