‘Yams Have No Ears!’: Tekhne, Life and Images in Oceania

Research paper by Ludovic Coupaye

Indexed on: 28 Feb '18Published on: 25 Feb '18Published in: Oceania


This paper explores the imbrications between vital processes and technical processes in Oceania, from the angle of technical activities. Grounded in the ethnography of yam cultivation among the Abulës-Speakers (‘Abelam’) of Papua New Guinea, it builds on previous critiques of the modernist bias sustaining concepts of ‘technology’ and ‘production’ to revaluate the analytical potential of the study of material activities and their ontogenetic properties as suggested by Gilbert Simondon. By paying attention to the temporality and the scale of practices, it suggests that the ethnography of techniques allows the unveiling of both emic dimensions of practices (or indigenous underlying theories of actions), and emic properties of entities in the world, be they living beings or artefacts. These dimensions and properties, to be tapped into and controlled, are thus made visible or elicited both within and through technical practices, via the work of imagination. Thus, processes, vital, and/or technical, made visible through their performance or through their results, can take the shape of images, be they living beings or artefacts, presenting to society the possibility of reproduction and stability, without excluding their ontogenetic capacities.