Land and lineage : the articulation of social and physical space in an atoll village : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology at Massey University
This thesis examines relationships between the social and physical environments of a village on Butaritari atoll in Kiribati. The system of ambilineal descent and land inheritance obtaining there results in complex networks of genealogical relationships which affect most aspects of social life, including land rights. While previous studies conducted in Kiribati have recognised the intimate connection between genealogy and land rights, none has investigated its ramifications for the distribution of land rights within a community. In contrast, this study engages that question as a central concern using a framework which integrates Bourdieu's concepts of social space, field and habitus with post-neo-Darwinian ideas about the relationship between organism and environment. The social space was found to be primarily structured by relationships based upon genealogy and secondarily by age and gender, each of which constituted a field within the wider social space. The genealogical field was defined by a network of positions, each representing a particular descent group. In accordance with the prevailing system of ambilineal descent, residents could belong to more than one descent group and it was upon the resulting networks of relationships between descent groups that the disposition of those groups within the genealogical field was defined. Because land-use rights were associated with genealogical connections the reconstruction of the genealogical field encompassing all of the village residents was a necessary precursor to discovering the distribution of those rights and the genealogical field was a central point of articulation between the social and physical spaces. The fields of age and gender relations provided further points of articulation between the social and physical spaces, the natures of which are examined through discussion of the material culture of the village and village and island politics. Despite a contemporary ideology of egalitarianism there were vestiges of a former hierarchy of social status groups. While the inter-group obligations, rights and responsibilities associated with this hierarchy were no longer practised, the association of contemporary residents with those social status groups bore a relationship to their position within the genealogical field and the amounts of land to which they shared rights.