Coffee, Market Economy and Informality in Late Colonial Goroka, Papua New Guinea

77 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2016

See all articles by John D. Conroy

John D. Conroy

Australian National University (ANU) - Crawford School of Public Policy

Date Written: November 1, 2016


Set in Goroka in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) where coffee became the staple export crop after the Second World War, this paper explores how a variant of Keith Hart's informal economy emerged among indigenous Gorokans. Colonial administration was established in the region -- quickly recognized as an almost uniquely well-favoured ('lucky') place -- only during the 1930s. The attempt, bound to create friction with an Australian government intent on honouring its 'trusteeship' obligations, was made by a small group of settlers and local colonial officials to establish an 'anachronistic' white planter community. Most observers agree that, from the mid-1940s when Gorokans were introduced to monetized economic activity, and to the establishment soon after of 'European' commercial plantations and Gorokan coffee smallholdings, indigenous people moved with remarkable speed to accommodate themselves to market norms. Against this consensus it is argued here that, together with the phenomenon of widespread informality, the occurrence of hybridity in Gorokan market dealings suggests an alternative conclusion. This is that the triumph of capitalism by the time of Independence in 1975 may have been exaggerated, due to the operation of an uneasy trio of formality, informality and hybridity.

Keywords: coffee, informal economy, subsistence economy, monetization, smallholders, economic hybridity, colonial bureaucracy, entrepreneurship, class formation, exchange, Marcel Mauss, Adam Smith, Keith Hart, Chris Gregory, Antonio Gramsci, Paul Hasluck, EK Fisk, Hla Myint, Ben Finney, Papua New Guinea

JEL Classification: B12, B31, E26, F54, F63, N57, O13, O17, Z13

Suggested Citation

Conroy, John David, Coffee, Market Economy and Informality in Late Colonial Goroka, Papua New Guinea (November 1, 2016). Development Policy Centre Discussion Paper No. 49, Available at SSRN: or

John David Conroy (Contact Author)

Australian National University (ANU) - Crawford School of Public Policy ( email )

ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
J.G. Crawford Building, #132, Lennox Crossing
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

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