Susanne Kühling "Cruising the Kula 'ring': contemporary issues of reciprocity from the participants perspective"

Welcome to the lecture: "Cruising the Kula 'ring': contemporary issues of reciprocity from the participants perspective", by Susanne Kühling, University of Regina, Canada.

After the seminar, coffee and snacks are served in our lunch room. The event is open to all, no registration required.


In early 2016, a team of kula masters and chiefs went on a journey around the ‘kula ring’ of southeastern Papua New Guinea. I sponsored the journey and participated in these meetings as a sociocultural anthropologist interested in the creation and negotiation of value. A visual anthropologist (Dr. Knapp, Berlin) documented the expedition. In 30+ meetings on 20+ islands, the leaders discussed ways to revitalize and strengthen the exchange of valuables famously described by Malinowski (1922) and theorized by Marcel Mauss and many others. They documented over 1200 valuables in circulation and took photographs and videos.

Kula is still alive but the global economy has reached the islands, increasingly undermining the principles of reciprocity and redistribution that are at the heart of island life. In this talk, I will focus on problematic kula practices and “medicines” to cure them. Based on the 10 Kula Rules, a document that was created and developed during the expedition, I will show how the shift to a cash economy threatens ancient networks, subsistence agriculture, sea faring skills, law and order, and well-being by promoting a different set of moral values and economic Choices.


Social anthropologist Susanne Kühling taught for five years at Heidelberg University before moving to Canada. Her fields of interest are gender, language, exchange, landscape, the history of anthropology, and the regions of Melanesia and Micronesia.

Much of her work to date has focused on matrilineal small-scale societies who express a preference for matrilocal residence. For her field work (1992-1994, 1997, 2004), she has lived on the small islands of Dobu (Papua New Guinea) and Woleai (Micronesia). While her monograph about Dobu island exchange discusses the underlying ethics that motivate sharing and hiding practice, her more recent research focussed on the relations between islanders and their land in Micronesia and included migrant communities in urban settings of Micronesia (Guam and Saipan).

"Kuehling's analysis of Dobu gift exchange is powerful and worthwhile”, Will Rollason review on "Dobu: Ethics of Exchange on a Massim Island, Papua New Guinea" (University of Hawaii Press (December 1, 2004).

Published Feb. 20, 2017 1:50 PM - Last modified Oct. 27, 2017 1:07 PM