“Everybody knows everybody”: practising politics in the Pacific Islands

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In contrast to the disadvantage that economists and international donors often see as stemming from smallness, political scientists have a relatively equivocal view of the normative implications of size on democratic performance. Largely, studies interested in the correlation between size and democratization focus on the persistence and quality (or depth) of democratic norms and claim either that small is beautiful or that it is despotic. In this article I take a different approach. Rather than attempting to measure the impact of size on democratic outcomes, I provide a nuanced description of how it shapes political life by drawing on the views, experiences, and reflections of politicians in the Pacific Islands. Based on this “insider view” of politics, I highlight the centrality of family and kin to political dynamics and discuss their relevance to ideas like consensus and oversight, and persistent critiques about ostracism and corruption. I conclude by arguing that smallness provides mixed blessings – it is neither entirely beautiful nor endemically despotic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-72
Number of pages22
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • democratization
  • microstates
  • Pacific Islands
  • small island developing states
  • small island states

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