Dr John Cox

PhD, University of Melbourne, 2012; M Soc Sci (International Urban and Environmental Mgt), RMIT, 2006; MA, LaTrobe University 1996; Grad Dip Hum Latrobe 1990; BA (Hons) University of Melbourne, 1990
Research Fellow
ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

Areas of expertise

  • Social And Cultural Anthropology 160104
  • Anthropology Of Development 160101
  • Citizenship 160602
  • Religion And Religious Studies 2204
  • Race And Ethnic Relations 160803
  • Urban And Regional Studies (Excl. Planning) 160404

Research interests

  • Anthropology of finance
  • Ponzi schemes and other types of financial fraud
  • Anthropology of Christianity
  • Urbanisation and the middle class of Melanesia (PNG and Solomon Is)
  • Local representations of the development project
  • Discourses of nation and citizenship
  • Local understandings of and responses to climate change in Kiribati



John Cox has nearly twenty years of experience working in the Pacific Region, initially as a volunteer English Lecturer in Kiribati and subsequently as an NGO program manager and consultant in Solomon Islands and an academic researcher in Papua New Guinea.

John completed his PhD in anthropology at the University of Melbourne in 2012 and was awarded the Australian Anthropological Society's 2012 Prize for Best PhD Thesis. John's thesis was an anthropological study of Papua New Guinea's biggest and longest lived Ponzi scheme. His study brought an innovative ethnographic approach to the study of middle class Papua New Guineans and their changing attitudes to money, Christianity and national development. He is currently reworking the PhD material for publication as a book with Indiana University Press in the Tracking Globalization series.

Researcher's projects

Fast Money Schemes in Papua New Guinea.

This project is the continuation of my PhD research, which explored changing attitudes to money, Christianity and national development among middle-class Papua New Guineans. I am currently rewriting the thesis as a scholarly monograph to be published by Indiana University Press in their series, Tracking Globalization. 

In other related publications I have also used fast money schemes as a vantage point from which to observe shifts in gender relations (Cox and Macintyre 2014), gambling (Cox forthcoming) and the state and nationhood (Cox 2013). 

Since the completion of my doctoral research, the principal scam that I studied appears to have linked up with international networks of fraudsters and has taken money from unwitting investors in the United States and Australia. Along with my colleague Anthony Regan, I continue to monitor these developments as a Bougainvillean scam goes global.  


Capacity Building: the Twilight of a Buzzword.

This new project adopts an innovative ethnographic approach to the study of development in the Pacific Region. The project will explore local practices and perceptions of development assistance as it is experienced through the rhetoric of 'capacity building'. The project will gather data from development workers in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Kiribati across various sectors, including health and community development. The focus will be on the middle class workers for development agencies, NGOs and other organisations who are key translators of global development discourses into local and national contexts.


The Moral Middle Class of Melanesia

This is a new collaborative project with other SSGM researchers. We aim to produce new research on the middle classes within the Pacific Region and to interrogate assumptions that the growth of a middle class produces democratic reform and economic growth.

Where middle-class people in Melanesia are often rendered as self-evidently 'elite', we aim to explore their lived experiences of precarity that derive from rising costs of living and shrinking government services.

We are also interested in the urban middle classes of Melanesia as a political constituency. We therefore seek to explore the ways in which middle-class actors identify their interests and values and how they mobilise (or fail to mobilise) politically as members of civil society or as clients within patronage networks.


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Updated:  10 April 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers