To Excel at bridewealth, or ceremonies of Office

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Abstract

At a bridewealth payment made at the start of a wedding in Papua New Guinea, the groom diligently kept a note of contributions from relatives and co-workers. The next day, he used one of his employer's computers to compile an Excel spreadsheet that detailed all the guests, what each one brought, and, in a separate column, its value in money. Turning people's gifts into nominal amounts of money helped register these into an enduring electronic form. The spreadsheet – an all too familiar tool of enumeration – gave the groom a record of transactions going forward. Papua New Guinea is most often known for the widespread emphasis placed on gift-giving, especially the large prestations that are particularly important in the making of ‘Big Men’ and which are based on the belief in the high status of the giver and the onus of reciprocity. Today, spreadsheets permit transactions to be analyzed in a very different way – namely, in terms of currency-like properties – allowing Papua New Guineans to understand, tap into and ultimately control the powers of money that echo current debates about the manipulation of big data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-22
Number of pages4
JournalAnthropology Today
Volume33
Issue number1
Early online date2 Feb 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017

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