Jamon Halvaksz, PhD

Environmental and Cultural Anthropologist

Academic CV

            My research combines attention to resource management, environmental change, and questions of inequality in global resource development practices. As the son of a coal miner’s daughter and a state Conservation Officer, I am very interested in how extractive industries impact the environment, while increasing inequalities. At the same time, my father’s work instilled in me the importance of protecting our relationships with the environment. In my work, I follow these pursuits in Papua New Guinea where I have conducted research since 1998 alongside Biangai communities around the historical gold mining town of Wau. This work has been supported by a variety of national (NSF DDIG), international (Wenner-Gren Doctoral Fieldwork and Post-PhD Research grants, Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies Post-Doctoral Fellowship) and local sources (University of Minnesota and University of Texas at San Antonio). Based upon this research I have published a number of articles on mining, conservation, agriculture, history, photographic methodology, illicit drugs and national media, tourism, taste, music, and climate change, in addition to the broader issues of resource management. 

My recent book, Gardens of Gold: Place Making in Papua New Guinea (2020), reflects multiple years of this research, using mixed methods including GIS and detailed agricultural surveys alongside conventional ethnographic techniques. In this, I examined local conceptualization of place in mining and conservation projects.

Mining &
& Ecological
Anthopocene &
Climate Change

In this research project, I continue to explore the relationship between mining and local agriculture.  I’m interested in understanding how mining and mining labor opportunities shape local resource practices, especially with respect to cash crops and subsistence gardens.  In addition to interviews, participant observation and garden surveys, I am trying to get a sense for land use through GIS mapping techniques. With funding from the Wenner Gren Foundation, three academics summers (2014-2016) were spent examining the impact that mining labor and training opportunities are having on community agriculture and sociality. These suplmented collected in 2001 and 2011.

The project takes place in two Biangai communities: Winima, adjacent to a large-scale gold mine that started production in 2009, and Elauru, which is outside the ambit of mining development. After many years of exploration, Harmony (South Africa) and Newcrest (Australia) built the Hidden Valley Gold mine on land controlled partially by Winima landowners, who gain income from royalties and are given priority access to employment and community education programs in business, health, etc.. Neighboring Elauru villagers, however, are largely excluded from these benefits and receive only limited opportunities to work for the mine. For both communities, swidden agriculture is of central importance: yam (Dioscorea spp.) gardens are critical for depicting enduring social relations between ancestors and their descendants; sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) gardens are the subsistence base produced throughout the year; while coffee, grown as a cash crop, provides money for purchasing store-bought items, paying school fees, etc.

Slide image above between 2011 and 2016 garden surveys.
Images illustrate some important changes over time, noting the impact of the 2015-2016 El Nino event on garden selection. In 2016, household moved their gardens further away to avoid dry conditions and fires at lower altitudes.
Illustrations made using ARC GIS, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop

However, at its core, Biangai agriculture centers on the yam garden. Planting a yam is a process of claiming land in the present and for one’s descendants. These gardens are managed by cognatic kinship groups which ensure that both men and women inherit land and resource rights from male and female parents and grandparents. Preferred marriages reunite parcels of land (and families) giving the couple rights in conjoined garden areas. The practices associated with yam gardens can likewise be seen in the practices of tending to other crops, where an emphasis on sociocentric subjectivities is expressed through a continued reliance on kin groups. Thus, the intersection of neoliberal economics and garden practices has significant implications for community identity, gender, and social relations. Combining geospatial and ethnographic approaches, this project develops our understanding of experiences and processes of agricultural change by comparing villages with different levels of participation in the mining economy.

My book, Gardens of Gold: Placemaking in Papua New Guinea offers an detailed account of this research to date.