The Quest for the Good Life in Precarious Times

The Quest for the Good Life in Precarious Times

Ethnographic Perspectives on the Domestic Moral Economy

Edited by: Chris Gregory, Jon Altman

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The study of the quest for the good life and the morality and value it presupposes is not new. To the contrary, this is an ancient issue; its intellectual history can be traced back to Aristotle. In anthropology, the study of morality and value has always been a central concern, despite the claim of some scholars that the recent upsurge of interest in these issues is new. What is novel is how scholars in many disciplines are posing the value question in new ways. The global economic alignments of the present pose many political, moral and theoretical questions, but the central issue the essays in this collection address is: how do relatively poor people of the Australia–Pacific region survive in current precarious times? In looking to answer this question, contributors directly engage the values and concepts of their interlocutors. At a time when understanding local implications of global processes is taking on new urgency, these essays bring finely honed anthropological perspectives to matters of universal human concern—they offer radical empirical critique based on intensive fieldwork that will be of great interest to those seeking to comprehend the bigger picture.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Apr 2018
ANU Press
Monographs in Anthropology
Arts & Humanities: Cultural Studies; Science: Agriculture & Forestry; Social Sciences: Anthropology

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The Quest for the Good Life in Precarious Times »

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  1. Introduction (PDF, 0.1MB)Chris Gregory doi
  2. The Good Death? Paying Equal Respects in Fijian Funerals (PDF, 0.2MB)Matti Eräsaari doi
  3. Changing Standards of Living: The Paradoxes of Building a Good Life in Rural Vanuatu (PDF, 0.6MB)Rachel E. Smith doi
  4. ‘According to Kastom and According to Law’: ‘Good Life’ and ‘Good Death’ in Gilbert Camp, Solomon Islands (PDF, 0.6MB)Rodolfo Maggio doi
  5. ‘This Custom from the Past Is No Good’: Grassroots, ‘Big Shots’ and a Contested Moral Economy in East New Britain (PDF, 0.7MB)Keir Martin doi
  6. A Moral Economy of the Transnational Papua New Guinean Household: Solidarity and Estrangement While ‘Working Other Gardens’ (PDF, 0.2MB)Karen Sykes doi
  7. Cycles of Integration and Fragmentation: Changing Yolngu–Balanda Sentiments of the ‘Good Life’ in Northern Australia (PDF, 0.2MB)Fiona Magowan doi
  8. ‘The Main Thing Is to Have Enough Food’: Kuninjku Precarity and Neoliberal Reason (PDF, 0.5MB)Jon Altman doi
  9. The Rise of the Poverty-Stricken Millionaire: The Quest for the Good Life in Sargipalpara (PDF, 0.5MB)Chris Gregory doi


Taken as a whole, this set of papers portrays the things that people desire in their lives, the factors that make it easier or harder to achieve them and the contradictory nature of some of them. As this may suggest, the strength of the volume lies in its ethnography of particular places where money relations and market logic bump up against the other things and relations that people desire.
—James G. Carrier, A Journal of Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology, Vol 28(4)
The full review can be read on the Taylor and Francis website

The book unpacks important understandings of ‘relationality’, ‘complementarity’ and ‘hierarchy’, demonstrating how social relations are fundamental to people’s capabilities to choose the lives they have reason to value. The richness that emerges through these ethnographic case studies provides insights into how individuals strive to rise above their circumstances. Sometimes the good life can be attained, although, more often, it is an elusive but important ideal in precarious times.
—Melania Calestani, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Vol 20(1) 2019
The full review can be read on the Taylor and Francis website

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