Charisma Work, Microstates, and the Production of Authoritative Marine Space in Oceania
Keywords:charisma, microstates, authority, marine management
I draw on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Oceania to formulate the concept of ‘charisma work’, a type of labour in which the extraordinariness of individuals and their visions for the world are (re)produced and promoted to help legitimise rational-legal power. I focus on how two Pacific Island microstates, the Cook Islands and the Republic of Kiribati, work with Conservation International, an international environmental NGO, to build networks of charismatic people in support of the world’s largest marine protected areas. I argue that an aim of charisma work in this case is to attract support and resources to meet the objectives of Pacific Island microstates caught in a double bind of balancing the right to internal sovereignty and the demands of extra-national partners and interests. Building on the work of Paul Ricoeur, I propose that rational-legal systems utilise charismatic processes to support authoritative claims while, at the same time, obscuring the egalitarian origins of institutional legitimacy.