Sedentary / Mobile

Sedentary                -                      Mobile
State                        -                      Process
Permanence            -                      Change

A sense of looseness, negotiatedness, or temporariness is prominent in Pintupi social action. Very little ever seems "settled."

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.275

When individuals have the capacity to choose which social relations to sustain, such relations tend to be fragile.

On the other hand, Pintupi personal autonomy depends upon sustaining relations with others. Thus, the temporary polity must be continually renegotiated among the autonomous actors who are involved with each other. Aurarky is not by any means the goal of Pintupi action. On the contrary, they prefer to live with others. 

The question is whether any particular aggregation of persons can endure.

Thus, the relief with which older Pintupi describe the traditional movements out from the large, fixed gatherings at summer water holes to small, autonomous family groups is paralleled by contemporary events. Since establishing the early outstations in 1973, Pintupi continue to move centrifugally outward from the large settlements, where conflict and tension have been marked, to smaller and relatively more peaceful outstations.

The Pintupi system of organization places little emphasis on maintaining the structure of any residential community, finding its duration in other social forms. The relations that endure, objectified in the reproduction of "country," are those of the broader translocal social structure.

What it preserves, rather than community integrity, is individual autonomy. But the structure assumes the possibility of mobility among people who live in small and changing local groups. These have not been the conditions of the large, sedentary Aboriginal settlements of the past fifty years.

The critical feature of Pintupi politics is the continuing emphasis on individual autonomy, that sociality is reproduced without an individual's subordination to a higher-order social unit such as a “community.”

The Pintupi, in other words, are not communal. Society is not accomplished through an individual's duty to a corporation of which he or she is a part, but by obligations individuals have to each other.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.256-7

The Pintupi case illustrates that the relations enduring through time are those of the broader translocal social structure. Thus, the production of social persons is concerned specifically with the reproduction of the condition of widespread relatedness among people.

However much actual bands may coalesce and disperse, an underlying nexus of relations must be sustained.

On the one hand, individuals do not identify entirely with or subordinate their autonomy to the band they are currently living with; on the other hand, they must sustain the possibility of entering into productive relations with others not included in the current residential group. With the ironies so characteristic of history, the enduring dimension of Pintupi structure reflects regional organization as the condition on which any concrete residential community can exist.

Broader ties, in turn, limit the continuity of any residential group.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.291

Pintupi "trouble" is resolved less often by collective action and subordination of individual autonomy than it is by a reaggregation of people in space.

Pintupi remember the large aggregate communities that once formed around the few available water sources in summer months as exciting and socially intense. However, their descriptions also testify to mounting tension and conflict when coresidence had to be sustained for a long time.

During these larger gatherings, ceremony was the effective means of integrating coresidents into a more comprehensive community by coordinating autonomy and relatedness. Insofar as ritual requires large numbers of people, this correspondence was obviously more than a felicitous coincidence.

The large and semipermanent quality of contemporary Pintupi communities makes them similar to the temporary aggregations of Western Desert summers. Indeed, throughout the Northern Territory, observers have commented on the tension, conflict, and strain that settlement life imposes on Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal people who came to live at Papunya attempted to integrate themselves as "one countrymen" by traditional means, through marriage exchange and shared ritual. But the problems presented by the increased social scale and the permanence of sedentary life proved too great to surmount except by fission.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.259

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