Places like rural Papua New Guinea, where public utilities such as electricity networks or public infrastructure such as health centres and medicines do not reach, have become archetypal ‘off grid’ spaces. Here people are imagined to live in persistent poverty, cut off from the basic infrastructures necessary for improving standards of living. In the popular imagination Papua New Guinea has come to exemplify ‘off the grid’ living as the continuation of traditional cultural lifestyles that have escaped the influence of modernity and capitalism (see for example Jared Diamond’s 2013 book, The World Until Yesterday: What We Can Learn From Traditional Societies).

Social scientists, meanwhile, have shown the everyday experience of being ‘off the grid’ in rural Papua New Guinea to have arisen from postcolonial politics, state neglect and the failure of colonial importation of modern grids for electricity or health.

In Begasin, a place that is no more than 20 miles from the provincial centre of Madang, but which has no roads, no electricity network and a barely functioning rural health centre, life off the grid describes both a historic condition and a future predicament.

We are interested in the ways in which village based kinship networks and exchange relationships with government workers become the basis for access to energy and health services.

Our project focuses on the exchanges through which this rural community seeks access to batteries, lamps, and pharmaceuticals. We will explore the ways in which these village based exchanges might actively sustain local institutions (e.g. local health centres) that otherwise fail and provide the basis for new ways of fusing grid-like and off-the-grid infrastructures (for example the installation of solar panels on the roof of the health centre).

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Who cuts the grass?

The grass went up to my knees. As I walked towards the health centre, little thorns that would irritate me for days attached themselves to my socks and trousers. When I reached the bleached brown verandah, the health worker who greeted me turned to sweep his hand across the flat green landscape. “You see, no…

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Energising Wakaisor

Like most of Papua New Guinea, the Waikaisor hamlet in the Girawa speaking part of the Begasin Hills, Madang Province, has never been electrified. On a map the area lies just 45 miles south-west of the coastal town of Madang where the state owned power company, PNG Power, distributes electricity through the Ramu regional power…

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Cool chain

Without a road or airstrip, the only way for medicines to get to the health centre are for them to be carried from the Ramu Highway. Jakob goes to town and collects the medicines from the provincial health office transit store. He uses the user fees from the health centre to pay for a PMV…

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