Undisciplining Oceania: Anthropology, Literature, and Robert Louis Stevenson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the interplay between nineteenth-century anthropology and literary writing through a case study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Oceanic oeuvre, penned between 1888 and 1894. When Stevenson left the West for the Pacific in 1888, anthropology was just being formally institutionalised in Britain as an academic discipline. His representations of Pacific Islanders broadly reflect anthropology’s methodological and theoretical shifts towards establishing itself as a ‘science’ at the fin de siècle. Yet, as this research demonstrates, Stevenson’s participation in anthropology’s history testifies to the paradoxes of anthropological and historical narratives of linear development. The entanglement of stadial notions of culture and psychology with romantic themes of Pacific Otherhood inflect both Stevenson’s Pacific fiction and his non-fiction, notably his history of Samoa A Footnote to History and the South Sea letters. By attending to these overlaps, this research unravels the architecture of colonial methodologies that underscore Stevenson’s representations to reveal his significance to the wider history of Western disciplinary formations.

Drawing on recent calls to ‘undiscipline’ nineteenth century research, the second half of this project deploys a contrapuntal reading method inspired by Edward Said to explore how Stevenson-in-Oceania continues beyond the historical event of his residence there. Specifically, it asks how Stevenson’s presence in and writing on Polynesia and Micronesia in the late-nineteenth century continues to manifest in repercussions for indigenous people into the present century. Focusing on two moments of Stevenson’s life and writing, one in modern-day Kiribati and one in Samoa, it argues that it is possible to centre elided indigenous perspectives by ‘undisciplining’ the site of historical research beyond traditional temporal boundaries. In doing so, this thesis ultimately advances a novel, extended contrapuntal method in an effort to formulate a decolonial approach to the field of Stevenson studies.
Original languageEnglish
  • Livesey, Ruth, Supervisor
Award date15 Jul 2024
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2024


  • Oceania, Robert Louis Stevenson, Victorian Evolutionism, Contemporary Pacific Writing, Indigenous Studies, Ethnography

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