Minority status as a contested terrain: Defining the parameters of subordinate status in post-independent Fiji discourse

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The Fiji case illustrates the potential within a system of 'unranked' ethnic relations for groups to develop conflicting perspectives on the definition of subordinate and superordinate status. In Fiji, these conflicting perspectives are revealed in discursive blind spots that were most pronounced in post-coup Fiji. Both the 'backward' group and the 'advanced' group perceive deprivation relative to the other group. This begins as each group makes the elites of the other group the basis for comparison with their own ethnic group. Both groups, then, seek entitlements that redress this sense of subordination and disenfranchisement. However, each group defines entitlements in ways that cancel out the claims of the other, since these entitlements are mutually exclusive. For the 'advanced' group, claims of subordination are claims of entitlements denied. For the 'backward' group, entitlements are already in place, some of which are intended to help them 'catch up' with the 'advanced group'; but they must defend these entitlements against charges that they represent the very source of disenfranchisement for the 'advanced' group. Both groups articulate distinct sources of legitimacy; the 'advanced' group defines its legitimacy to stake claims to entitlements, while the 'backward' group evokes notions of legitimacy to defend its entitlements. We began with the premise that group relations in unranked societies with so-called 'backward' and 'advanced' groups bear a greater resemblance to ranked societies than the model would suggest. Yet, the critical difference between ethnic relations in ranked and unranked societies is that in the unranked system, neither group has directly contributed to the subordination of the other. The ratification of the 1997 Constitution, modifying provisions for Fijian political dominance, and paving the way for the election to power of an Indian-dominated political party in May 1999, has heralded a new juncture in Fiji's history. The colonial experience is recent enough for recognition of its impact in mediating group relations in contemporary Fiji. Ranked and unranked systems are subject to transformation. The future implications for group relations in Fiji remain to be seen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-43
Number of pages33
JournalSocial Identities
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


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