Edited by Léo-Paul Dana and Robert B. Anderson
Chapter 37: Doing ‘Business’ in Papua New Guinea: The Social Embeddedness of Small Business Enterprises
George N. Curry Introduction In the late 1980s, when I ﬁrst began working in rural villages in Papua New Guinea (PNG) I was struck by the very small quantities of store goods purchased by rural villagers. Laundry detergents, for example, were commonly bought in small sachets rather than in 750g or 1kg cartons. I assumed that the purchase of small quantities of store goods reﬂected the poverty of rural villagers. I also believed these buyers were paying a higher price than necessary for their consumption of these goods (more frequent trips to stores and no discount beneﬁt from bulk buying). I was wrong on both counts because I did not reckon on the inﬂuence of the indigenous exchange economy on purchasing decisions. A villager returning home with a 1kg carton of laundry detergent is likely to use only a very small proportion of the detergent himself before his1 supply is exhausted, because he would feel obliged to acquiesce to the demands of relatives for the remaining detergent after washing his own clothes. However, if he were to buy a small sachet of detergent each time he needed to do his laundry, he would use a much higher proportion of that detergent. This same principle applies to cigarettes, newspapers for rolling cigarettes, sugar, tea, kerosene and many other store-bought goods. As any smoker visiting rural communities in PNG knows, factory-made cigarettes are an expensive habit when one consumes only two or three cigarettes from a packet of 20....
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