Department of Social Anthropology

Dr Tony Crook

Senior Lecturer

Dr Tony Crook

Phone: (01334 46) 2818

Office: 2nd Floor, 71 North Street

Availability: Friday 2 - 4pm


Research on Knowledge practices, ritual, gardening, mining, property rights. Papua New Guinea. Anthropology of Melanesia, knowledge-practices, 'secrecy', male initiation ritual, taro horticulture, anthropological epistemology, impacts of and responses to the Ok Tedi mine (see here for a detailed description) , machine-thinking, perpetual motion, genetic engineering, climate change.


My interest in the wider Ok Tedi area began in 1990 with a three-month undergraduate study of the ritual response to failed wild pig hunts near Telefomin in 1990.

From 1994 to 1996, I lived in Bolivip village, studying Angkaiyakmin knowledge-practices and kinship relations in the context of taro gardening and male initiation ritual, and received my PhD from Cambridge University in 1997. Shortly afterwards, I returned to PNG for three-months as a Visiting Fellow at the National Research Institute to research 'dispute resolution' in the context of two plane crashes in 1994, by researching points of view on all sides so as to understand the reasons for Ok Tedi's brief closure in the aftermath.

From 1999-2002 I was involved in a large UK government sponsored team research project 'Property, Transactions and Creations: New Economic Relations in the Pacific', at a time when PNG was formulating legislation and policy for property rights, copyright and patent, and at a time when Ok Tedi was under-going changes to its ownership and 'social licence' to operate. The project involved two phases of fieldwork: an ethno-botany collection during three-months in 1999 provided the context for studying ownership practices, and seven months from September 2000 to April 2001 spent in Tabubil which focused on several issues: the compensation claim by the West Ningerum Pressure Association alleging mine damages to two rivers, the background to understanding this claim, and attempts to resolve the dispute; BHP's withdrawl from Ok Tedi, and negotiations (in Tabubil and Kiunga) towards the Mine Continuation Agreement; Ok Tedi worker's descriptions of the knowledge-practices and relationships involved in their work; domestic monetary flows in Angkaiyakmin households in Wangbin and C-houses to explore the ability to maintain kinship obligations.

During this time I collaborated with ten PNG graduates on a project: 'Case Studies from the Ok Tedi Area', a series of short ethnographic studies focused on how people responded to a range of social issues and practices in the wider area. I returned briefly in 2004 and for two months in 2006-7 to revisit some of these studies.

See also the PURE research profile.

Academic qualifications

MA Hons [Aberdeen, 1991], PhD [Cambridge, 1997]

Previous appointments

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh, (1998-2002; intermitted 2000-01).

Research Associate, PTC project, 'Property, Transactions and Creations: New Economic Relations in the Pacific', Cambridge and Brunel Universities project funded by the ESRC (R000237838), (1999-2002, full-time 2000-01).

Visiting Research Fellow, PNG National Research Institute, (3 months, 1997).

Selected publications


"Exchanging Skin: Making a Science of the Relation between Bolivip and Barth'. In: Social Analysis. 52, 2, p. 94-107.



''If you don't believe our story, at least give us half of the money': Claiming Ownership of the Ok Tedi Mine, PNG', Journal de la Société des Océaniste, 125. pp221-228.


Anthropological Knowledge, Secrecy and Bolivip, Papua New Guinea: Exchanging Skin, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monograph series.


'Figures Twice Seen: Riles, the Modern Knower and Forms of Knowledge', in Harris, M. (ed.) Ways of Knowing: New Approaches in the Anthropology of Learning and Experience, Oxford: Berghahn Books. pp245-265.


'Echolocation in Bolivip', in Wade, P., Harvey, P. and Edwards, J. (eds.) Science and Anthropology: Epistemologies in Practice,Oxford: Berg. Association of Social Anthropologists Monograph series. (Principal volume arising from ASA Decennial Conference, 2003).


'Machine-Thinking: Changing Social and Bodily Divisions around the Ok Tedi Mine', in S. Bamford ed., Embodying Modernity and PostModernity: Ritual, Praxis and Social Change in Melanesia, Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.



'Transactions in Perpetual Motion', Transaction and Creation: Property Debates and the Stimulus of Melanesia, Hirsch, E. & M. Strathern eds., Oxford: Berghahn Books.


'Combining Rationales from Bolivip: the Person and Property-Rights Legislation in Papua New Guinea', in L. Kalinoe and J. Leach (eds.), Rationales of Ownership, 2nd edition, Oxford: Sean Kingston Publishing.



'Observer's notes on the Lower Ok Tedi consultation meeting, Kiunga, 20th February 2001'. Briefing paper produced for Ok Tedi Mining Limited.



'Briefing paper on the West Ningerum Pressure Association Petition: issues for the consultation process', paper produced for PNG Government and Ok Tedi Mining Limited, 27th December 2000, under auspices of PNG, National Research Institute.


'Disputing Resolution: Differing Responses to Two Plane Crashes', in Cyndi Banks, ed. Developing Cultural Criminology: Theory and Practice in Papua New Guinea, Sydney: Sydney Institute of Criminology Monograph Series No 13.


'Length Matters: A Note on the GM Debate', Anthropology Today, 16:1. pp8-11.


'Combining Rationales from Bolivip: the Person and Property-Rights Legislation in Papua New Guinea', in L. Kalinoe and J. Leach (eds.), Rationales of Ownership, New Delhi: UBS Pub. Distr.



'Growing Knowledge in Bolivip, Papua New Guinea', Oceania, 65:4. pp225-242.



'Indigenous Human Rights' Anthropology Today, 14:1. pp18-19.


'Growing knowledge in Bolivip, Papua New Guinea', Cambridge Anthropology,20:3.


'First contact: what kind of body?' Cambridge Anthropology, 20:1-2. pp22-30.

with Reed, Adam. 'Foreword', 'Innovation and Creativity in Melanesia - Proceedings of a Research Colloquium, Cambridge, October 1997', Cambridge Anthropology 20:1-2.



'Disputing resolution: comparing responses to two plane crash incidents in Western Province, Papua New Guinea in 1994', Preliminary Paper 25, National Research Institute of Papua New Guinea.





Research interests

I first visited the Min area of Papua New Guinea in 1990, and have undertaken over three years of fieldwork study with the Ankaiyakmin, Ningerum and Telefolmin peoples, focusing on knowledge-practices, gardening, ancestor cult ritual and the impacts of the Ok Tedi mine. Crook's monograph Anthropological Knowledge, Secrecy and Bolivip, Papua New Guinea: Exchanging Skin (British Academy/OUP 2007) takes up and analyses the 'Min problem'—the Min peoples are renowned for their secret male initiation rituals and have proven to be one of the most enigmatic cultures in anthropological experience.

This study, however, argues that all-along the root of this long-standing interpretative impasse has been in Anthropology's view of secrecy and knowledge. More recently, this insight into Min knowledge-practices—by which 'knowledge' is a water-like substance that circulates between people, plants and the land—has been the basis for understanding Ningerum claims over the damaging effects of the Ok Tedi mine which are, however, unmeasurable by science. This focus pursues a research interest in the social relations produced by different knowledges, and uses Melanesian practices to critically analyse the epistemological premises of Anthropology and the extractive resource industry.

This section is intended to illustrate some characteristics of Min area social relations, knowledge practices and landscape perceptions that could well feature in the closure of Ok Tedi, and how the prospect of closure is being managed.

People undoubtedly have their own ideas about the closure of Ok Tedi, but speaking for others carries particular difficulties in this area. Rather than well-defined and pre-existing social groups with a political leader or religious spokesman, the remit to represent or speak for others is limited and contingent upon a particular issue or situation. To different extents, kinship involves shared substance, residence, exchange or simply fondness, and extends through both parents—such that people in Bolivip have clan kin amongst apparently other tribes in other villages such as Bultem, Eliptaman, Golgobip and Feranmin. Within Angkaiyakmin there are six villages, several hamlets and divisions due to migration paths. People have many ways of imagining themselves as held together as one, and move easily from one consensus to another. These dynamics can give the appearance of 'social groups' with little or no stability.

'Straight talk' (weng turon) indicates good and close relations, but is hardly straightforward and not just a matter of language. Etiquette often requires a respectful indirectness to talk—leaving other people to realize for themselves what is being said—and male initiates are taught in 'broken talk' and by deliberately giving them only 'half'. Anticipating that some part of an event or an intention always remains 'hidden' means that talk is no less full of contingency than the relations that enable it. Access to a position in which to verify information is as important as it is elusive. To share in knowledge implies ownership, but equally people do not 'own' decisions in which they did not share. These dynamics can give the appearance of 'truth' with little or no stability.

The capacities of the landscape depend upon maintaining good relations with ancestral and Christian spirits, such that people are careful to follow kinship and cult protocols when deciding where to garden, hunt, fish and gather. The ground is respected as a moral and malleable agent which gives as good as it gets. A fertile water (wok) is released to plants through gardening and cult practices, and yet also circulates between people as 'knowledge'—people, plants, animals, birds and the ground are connected by the 'water' that circulates through them. Consequently, what people do and say, how they behave and interact with others may influence the appearance, consistency and fruitfulness of the ground—claims about such deficiencies may accrue to other people. These dynamics can give the appearance of 'man-land' relations with little or no stability.

By means of 'straight talk', people acknowledge others in their thoughts, make good relations possible, verify, share and own decisions, follow the paths of kastam that will please the spirits and bring fecundity. As one might expect of something capable of finding a good path for future action, 'straight talking' involves hard work, investing in relations with people who know.


Research students

Priscila Santos da Costa and A. Rowan Gard


SA2002: Ethnographic Encounters

SA3062: Anthropology, Indigenous Peoples and Resource Management

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