As Papua New Guinea's well-publicized "law and order" problem continues unabated, calls are often made for the destruction of squatter settlements and the dispersal of their inhabitants as a solution to urban crime. This article examines the popular imagery of urban "squatter settlements" in Papua New Guinea, which represents them as criminogenic habitats of unemployed and impoverished migrants. The imagery is generally as misleading as that of squatter and shanty environments elsewhere in the third world--a topic that is familiar in critical academic literature. But it is argued here that the shared imagery cannot be submitted to an analysis that simply draws on political-economic generalizations about housing and marginalization in "developing" nations. The notion of squatter settlements in the independent nation of Papua New Guinea has a specific origin in the imagination and attitudes of Europeans in the preceding colonial period. The historical transformations through which the imagery has been perpetuated are examined to understand how present-day urban Papua New Guineans can continue to demonize settlements in the face of lived experience that contradicts this censorious discourse.
The Contemporary Pacific: a Journal of Island Affairs Vol. 13, Issue 1, p. 1-32