The Goal of the Good House: Seasonal Work and Seeking a Good Life in Lamen and Lamen Bay, Epi, Vanuatu

  • Rachel Smith

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis is an ethnographic study of a rural community in central Vanuatu, many of whom have been engaged as seasonal workers in New Zealand and Australia's horticultural industries since 2008. Based on sixteen months' ethnographic fieldwork divided between Lamen Island and Lamen Bay, Epi, I examine why people choose to leave their home to engage in often-difficult work and seasonal absences, in order to build a 'good house' and 'good life' at home. I suggest that 'the good house' is an icon of the Li-Lamenu vision for improved moral and material 'standards of living'. I reveal how seasonal work engagements emerge in the context of mutually dependent and moralised but often-ambivalent employer-employee relations. Time away is often experienced as the subordination of one's life and work to the demands of a labour regime, but is submitted to as opening opportunities, or 'roads' for value conversions of time into money, and money in into the future of the household, and community development. However, the quest for a good life in the shape of the good house raises tensions and contradictions that householders must negotiate in order to 'live together well' with kin and community. The rise of the 'good house' is associated with a concomitant decline in 'respect' for kin and Chiefs, and the proliferation of 'broken homes', and land disputes. Throughout this thesis, I will suggest that the good house concretises the increasing direction of money, time and resources into household-oriented goals. This process of household nucleation is also evident in tensions over changes in ritual performance and expenditure and land tenure patterns. I conclude that these insights contribute to the anthropology of kinship and ritual, as well as wider understandings of temporary migration and development theory and policy.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKaren Sykes (Supervisor) & Madeleine Reeves (Supervisor)


  • Ritual
  • Kinship
  • Development
  • Melanesia
  • Vanuatu
  • Labour migration

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