Urban Vakavanua: reconciling tradition and urban development

Watt, L 2019, Urban Vakavanua: reconciling tradition and urban development, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Media and Communication, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Urban Vakavanua: reconciling tradition and urban development
Author(s) Watt, L
Year 2019
Abstract Oceania is undergoing a period of rapid urbanisation. For many Oceanic nations, cities already hold more than 50% of their populations. This is only projected to increase as urban population growth rates are outpacing national growth rates (Keen & Barbara, 2015). Fiji is no exception with 51% of its national population living in urban centres (427,008); 57% of this urban population lives in the nation's capital Suva (244,000) (Fiji: Greater Suva Urban Profile, 2012). Across Oceania and Fiji, urban population growth is propelled by rural-urban migration. Faced with limited formal housing options, these rural-urban migrants are forced to live in informal settlements (Thornton, 2009; Walsh, 1978). These informal settlements, however, are not merely places of residence. They are urban villages that provide a place for the reproduction of traditional lifestyles and morality in the urban environment (Jones, 2016a, 2016b). With continued urban population growth, along with urban land development pressure, these forms of tradition produced in urban villages are continually being challenged (Bryant & Tokalau, 2014). Yet, they are far from being extinguished. Residents of urban villages are moulding place and sociality in response to these pressures of urbanisation. They are producing dynamic forms of urban tradition in which the two are reconciled. In the Fijian context, I define this reconciliation as urban vakavanua.

To investigate this form of urban social change in Suva Fiji, I conducted ten months of ethnographic fieldwork in an urban village called Veitiri between October 2016 and July 2017. During my fieldwork, Veitiri was being developed by a residential co-operative that re-arranged the settlement spatially and socially. Following Postill (2011), I argue that there is a 'field of residential affairs' in Veitiri where local authorities, residents, firms and other social agents compete and co-operate over residential matters. In this field of residential affairs, residents collectively responded to pressures of urbanisation and development by integrating new forms urban of land tenure, spatiality, and infrastructure imposed onto them into an urban vakavanua.

This production of urban vakavanua was also pursued through a more extensive communicative ecology that extended beyond the urban village of Veitiri. Urban village residents are part of extensive inter-city, inter-island, and trans-national relationships. To connect to these other peoples and places, urban village residents combine various forms of technical devises, communication and transportation infrastructures, and cultural institutions (H. Horst & Miller, 2006; Slater, 2014). I argue that personhood and tradition were transferred to the urban village through these communicative ecologies, imbuing the settlement with personal and traditional significance.

Overall, this thesis explores how urbanism and tradition are reconciled in the rapidly urbanising Oceanic context. Through this exploration I ask, is this reconciliation sustainable? Will urban forms of tradition continue to adapt to the pressures of urbanisation? Alternatively, will tradition be purged from the city as the processes of Oceanic urbanisation continue to propel forward?
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Media and Communication
Subjects Communication Technology and Digital Media Studies
Keyword(s) Fiji
informal settlements
land tenure
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Created: Wed, 06 Feb 2019, 12:36:10 EST by Keely Chapman
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