Economic, Political and Cultural Brokers at a Resource Frontier in Papua New Guinea

How local brokers emerge, mediate flows of resources and manage (or exacerbate) contradictions, conflict and inequities.

Man presenting to people sitting around outside


This research project examines the role of brokers in shaping flows of knowledge, wealth and status at a resource frontier in Papua New Guinea, and how that role is changing as technologies such as mobile phones and associated social media platforms introduce new modes of engagement between local, national and global worlds.

As an extractive industry consolidates in a green field, particular individuals may emerge as brokers, acting to negotiate relations between members of their own community and representatives of the state, the companies and neighbouring communities. To the extent that such people are recognised and feted by outsiders, so they are vulnerable to becoming complicit in, or submerged by, an ethos of inequality that, initially, they sought to manage on behalf of their constituents. In contexts of these kinds, brokers may contribute both to differentiating the domains that they purport to bridge and to enhancing inequalities in their home communities.

By following the trajectories that key individuals from one community follow, and how these are fostered and interpreted by the audiences to whom they play, we are investigating the demands that brokers service, their positioning, and the tensions they seek to mediate.


We aim to:

  • Analyse the socio-political dynamics at resource frontiers, which will be of real value to policymakers grappling with how to manage competition over the benefits of development and resentment over frustrated expectations, as energy futures are negotiated;
  • document the challenges that people at the margins of resource projects face in seeking brokers to negotiate development in their communities;
  • provide a resource to local communities to assist them in negotiating their futures, by clarifying the different forms of brokerage in which people are engaged;
  • contribute to anthropological theories of brokerage and its role in shaping trajectories of social change;
  • build collaboration in research and research training between anthropologists at The University of Melbourne and those at the University of Papua New Guinea.


More information


Australian Research Council (DP DP220101633); The University of Melbourne, The University of Papua New Guinea.

Research partners

Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Archaeology, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Papua New Guinea.