Sister Communities: Rejecting Labels of Informality and Peripherality in Vanuatu


Some labels have dire consequences. This article takes issue with the labels commonly used to describe the physical and social location of communities living on the edge of Port Vila, Vanuatu—labels that position communities for eviction by entrenching tropes of informality and peripherality into how they are seen and represented. Such terms include informal, settlement, informal settlement, squatter and peri‐urban. Based on interviews with around 100 people and two years of ethnographic engagement with urban communities in Port Vila, Vanuatu, I critique the language of policy against the lived experience of those at the urban edge. I use Bourdieu’s articulation of power as an accumulation of symbolic capital that enables one to speak the world into being. I conclude that the language of policies and plans is reflective of a dominant discourse in urban studies and international aid, and non‐reflective of the experience and identities of people living at the urban edge. My interviewees and interlocutors maintain their identities as sister communities—as places grounded in the formality of customary tenure, and as part of the city rather than outside it.