Making women in the city: notes from a Port Moresby boarding house

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21 Citations (Scopus)


This article takes up the postcolonial feminization of Papua New Guinea’s capital city, Port Moresby, through an analysis of a City Mission boarding house. Haus Ruth is a place designed to resolve the “problem” of two types of women living in Port Moresby: unmarried professional women and married women fleeing domestic violence. The “problem” of Port Moresby’s female population stems from the colonial history of the city, a city that was not originally meant to have either Papua New Guineans or women living in it. Following decolonization, the city’s burgeoning female population created pressure on existing housing arrangements and also gave rise to rapidly changing and contested notions of what it means to be an urban Papua New Guinean woman. As such, Haus Ruth offers a complicating case study to theories of urban space and of the “right to the city.” While the future that Haus Ruth offers to its residents is a hopeful one, it is also one constrained by the enclaved and fragmentary nature of the city around them and by the aspirational discourses of class mobility and Christian companionate marriage espoused by Haus Ruth as an evangelical institution. The colonial and mission histories of Port Moresby serve to elucidate how the unusual arrangement of Haus Ruth emerged and how it has accidentally become the site of an almost unprecedented social form for Papua New Guinea: single-sex female consociation. Although this consociation is mediated by the institutional space of the house, it also opens up the possibility of future spaces in which this city of the postcolony not only contains but is shaped by the women who inhabit it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-425
Number of pages22
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


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