New Actors, Historic Landscapes examines how the Mengen living in the rural Pomio District in Papua New Guinea reproduce their society and their lived environment by engaging in swidden horticulture, logging, wage labor on plantations and community conservation. These four practices have created and continue to create different kinds of places and social relations that involve the Mengen, like other inhabitants of Pomio, within larger political and economic structures. These have also produced, reproduced and at times significantly changed the environment of the Mengen. By examining the four complex modes of engaging with the environment, this study seeks to answer two questions. First, how the Mengen produce their livelihood, a socially meaningful environment and valued social relations in the process. Second, how the Mengen take part in natural resource extraction, the expansion of industrial agriculture and state territorialization on a resource frontier—a spatialized process in which resources, practices and their values are defined. This often involves struggle, which reflects the notion that the greatest political struggles are not only over who gets to appropriate value, but who gets to define it.
The study is aimed as a contribution to the understandings of human-environmental relations and natural resource extraction. It suggests that political ecology combined with anthropological theories of value help us understand how people who have intimate relations with their lived environment engage in a globalized resource economy.