Searching for Middle Grounds

For my book I have been reviewing the literature on the concept of ‘middle ground.’ Although notions of ‘frontiers’ and contact zones have been around for a while, the particular image of the ‘the middle ground’ first really came together in Richard White’s “The Middle Ground” in 1991, which grew out of the literature on history, anthropology, and colonialism that was popular in the eighties. Since then I haven’t found a lot of work in anthropology that takes the image up — but perhaps I just don’t know where to look. I do remember Conklin and Graham’s excellent paper “The Shifting Middle Ground” in American Anthropologist in 1995, and Paul Sabin has a good article entitled “Searching for the Middle Ground” on oil extraction in Ecuador that is actually quite close to the gold mining frontier in Papua New Guinea that I am discussing. I wonder if anyone else has run across this concept, particularly as applied to resource frontiers in the contemporary world?


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

4 thoughts on “Searching for Middle Grounds

  1. not talking about ‘middle ground’ in the same terms as you describe, but interesting in terms of conflict resolution (alternative to ‘middle ground’?) is johan galtung’s peace by peaceful means.

    also, i think it’s hard to talk about ‘middle ground’ without acknowledging the Western legacies of the concept – i can intuitively think of commonalities with Eastern philosophies, but it would be interesting to see how holistic worldviews approach the matter.

  2. Creek Country, by Robbie Ethridge is a must read on the idea of ‘middle ground’ because of the way that she beautifully complicates it.

  3. Thank you, MTBradley. The William and Mary Quarterly 63:1 was most helpful. I didn’t bother with Duval.

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