‘To be one of the...’, (Re-) Imagining the ‘Native’ in Ethnotainment Programmes of Pacific ‘Tribes’

Purcell-Sjolund, Anita. 2021. ‘To be one of the...’, (Re-) Imagining the ‘Native’ in Ethnotainment Programmes of Pacific ‘Tribes’. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

‘Going tribal’ programmes are hybrids of documentary and reality television. I call these programmes ethnotainment which is a product of primitivism reality television. As a hybrid product, ethnotainment works in the liminal spaces of media. Within the post-colonial theoretical context, liminal spaces are ideological spaces in between designated identities, and processes of identity and self-hood are negotiated within these spaces. Post-colonial Pacific discourse often de-create and subvert coloniality through subaltern narratives, and they can be in liminal spaces. However, as already noted, ‘going tribal’ programmes are also in liminal spaces. Since some programmes feature colonised and post-colonial Pacific peoples, they can also be in the same liminal space as post-colonial Pacific discourse. In my research, I examine programmes of Euro-American adventurers travelling to remote locations to contact endangered peoples. Their aim is to live as ‘one of the tribe’. These programmes are what I call transnational ethnotainment. I also discuss what I refer to as Pasifika ethnotainment. These are programmes produced by New Zealanders with Pacific Island backgrounds in former colonial centres in the Pacific such as New Zealand. The main theme is the journey to a cultural homeland. This dissertation considers issues regarding 1) What happens when an ethnotainment product participates in liminal spaces of post-colonial discourse? (2) How does this affect discourse subversion from the filmed indigenous groups? Edgewalking is a concept contesting liminality and hybridity and, as this dissertation shows, the filmed indigenous groups can be seen to edgewalk the borders of their cultural and social contexts. As edgewalkers, these groups, as subjects and objects of the camera’s lens, create subversive methods, despite not controlling the camera. The filmed groups control the presenter’s perception of himself and of them by controlling access to their cultural cosmologies. This creates moments of ambiguity and ambivalence, despite minimalisation, through explicit editing. In this conceptual framework, analyses of a selection of ethnotainment programmes are done using an adaptation of a methodology from Linguistics called Segmented Film Discourse Representation Structure Theory. This adapted methodology is used to unpack how, in the final programme cut, these representations of Pacific peoples demonstrate a (re-)imagining of Pacific cultures. This process can be seen to be repeated in this ethnotainment genre, regardless of who the main protagonist is, or the documentary production values’ claim to represent the indigenous voice.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Additional Information:

This is a redacted version of the thesis, with third-party copyright material removed.


Transnational media, Pacific post-colonialism, Ethnotainment, Reality television, Documentary

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


31 August 2021

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Sep 2021 14:42

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:19



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