Dissertation Acknowledgement

The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” could not be more true. In the process of producing this dissertation, I have relied on so many people and accumulated a lot of debt from their generous help. The next couple of pages are therefore dedicated to thanking their tremendous contribution. As usual, naming names risks missing some people. In that case, the error of omission is all mine.

First and foremost, as a field researcher, I have to thank my primary local interlocutors in the field – the ordinary peasants and villagers, who kindly welcomed, chatted with, provided shelter for, and most importantly, embraced this clueless city boy as one of their own. They opened up their homes to me and shared their rich life stories. I learned a lot from them not only about my dissertation topic but also about life in general. For that, I would be forever grateful. A luta continua.

The gruelling dissertation writing process was greatly helped by guidance from my dissertation committee and some other mentors. Kheang Un is the model dissertation adviser that anyone could hope. My time working with him at Northern Illinois University (NIU) has been pleasant and fulfilling both professionally and personally. I really appreciate his commitment to and support for this dissertation project, even when I did not have yet a clear idea of what it would look like. The help of other committee members is also significant. Scot Schraufnagel guides my thinking to be more “PoliSci-y” and methodologically-sounding and is always ready to help with administrative matters. Eric Jones infects me with the historical way of inquiry and convinced me to learn Dutch. Michael Buehler sets a high standard for the study of Indonesian local politics and his willingness to work with me even after his departure to SOAS is highly appreciated. Michele Ford from the University of Sydney did not sit at the dissertation committee, but for me she effectively served as the unofficial fifth member. She took me under her wing and encouraged me to publish and participate in the Southeast Asianist tribe. Her support is always motivating. This dissertation also bears the mark of the late Danny Unger, who read early drafts of the dissertation proposal and gave some important suggestions. Ajarn Danny, you will be missed. Needless to say, the contribution of these mentors has been immense.

Writing this dissertation requires long fieldwork, which in turn requires a lot of logistical support. Thanks to the generous funding from the NIU Political Science Department Russell Smith Scholarship, the Transparency for Development (T4D) Predoctoral Fellowship from the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School and Results for Development Institute, the Visiting PhD Scholar Fund from the University of Sydney’s Southeast Asia Center, and the ENITAS Scholarship from the Institute of Thai Studies at Chulalongkorn University, I was able to conduct two-years of fieldwork in Indonesia. In particular, I would like to thank Steve Kosack, Courtney Tolmie, and Jessica Creighton from the T4D Project for their trust in my work and invitation to collaborate with them. My time in Sydney was also a fruitful one, since I was able to connect with Australia’s Southeast Asian Studies community. My research also benefits from the institutional support of the Institute for Economic and Social Research, Education, and Information (LP3ES) in Jakarta, which warmly welcomed me as a Visiting Research Fellow and provided office space throughout my fieldwork period. I thank my colleagues at LP3ES, especially the Institute’s Deputy Director, Triyaka Lisdiyanta, for their support.

The role of my home institution, NIU, is also equally significant. Both the Department of Political Science and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) on campus have been  lively and supportive intellectual homes in the middle of DeKalb’s flatland and its bone-crushing winter, not to mention their financial support and excellent training. I would like to thank the following faculty members in the Department for their professional advice in assisting me to enter Academia Obscura: Michael Clark, Colin Kuehl, Aarie Glas, and Ches Thurber. At the Center, the support of Judy Ledgerwood during her tenure as the Center’s director is very appreciated. Besides intellectual guidance, institutional and collegial support is also crucial. Without the administrative support of April Davis and Jackie Joiner in the Department as well as Kim Wilson and Angie Dybas before their departure, I would be lost in navigating the University’s paperwork. The Center also gave me the opportunity to interact with wonderful Southeast Asianists across campus and take “weird” courses on Southeast Asia’s pre-colonial history and ghosts for instance. The Center’s staffs are also lovely people. Special thanks to Liz Denius for her help in editing my funny English.

Different parts of this dissertation have been presented at the Department and CSEAS on campus, LP3ES, Kyoto University’s Southeast Asian Studies in Asia Conference, workshops at the University of Sydney, Chulalongkorn University’s ENITAS Awardee Presentation, Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta at the invitation of the American Institute for Indonesian Studies (AIFIS), Akatiga Center for Social Analysis in Bandung, the worker-owned Diskaz Labor House Coffee shop in Jakarta, and Akar Foundation in Bengkulu. I thank the participants of these forums who gave me the opportunity to test my hunches and hypotheses, corroborate my empirical findings, and correct me when I was wrong. Additionally, conversations with Jeffrey Neilson, Edward Aspinall, Hanny Wijaya, and Muhammad Yunus Rafiq helped me to sharpen my arguments.

Additional support throughout my PhD is also appreciated. Kristen Borre from the Department of Anthropology on campus gave a good grounding on anthropological methods and was a key supporter for my fellowship and job applications. Gail Jacky at the University Writing Center saved me from any formatting errors. Scholarships from the American-Indonesian Cultural and Educational Foundation and a travel grant from the Rajawali Foundation helped me to stay afloat during my studies. The Dissertation Completion Fellowship from NIU Graduate School allowed me to focus on my dissertation writing and job hunting without teaching duties. I also thank Mas Nico Harjanto for his continuous support, Bang Umar Abdullah for his help with several grant applications, Bang Djayadi Hanan for convincing me to go to the United States for graduate training, and Thushara Dibley at the University of Sydney for her help with my job search documents. Special thanks also to coffeehouses in DeKalb and elsewhere –places at which I did a significant portion of my writing throughout my Ph.D. program and injected myself with an unhealthy amount of caffeine on a regular basis – without which, I would never have survived grad school.

This logistics-heavy research would not be possible without the support of so many people on the field. In Serang, my entry to the villages was facilitated by the T4D Project and its local NGO partner, PATTIRO. I would like to thank Jenna Juwono from the T4D Project and the PATTIRO staffs – Panji, Subhan, Angga, Ari, and Anty – for their help. I would also like thank activists at Rekonvasi Bhumi, particularly Nana Rahadian and Nuril who shared their experience and facilitated my entry to the Cidanau peasant communities. But above all, I would like to thank the community members in the villages in which I conducted my research. They must be wondering why on earth this random city boy became interested in their lives, but nonetheless they invited me for late-night talks over coffee and cigarettes and all sorts of community events. In particular, I should mention the great contribution of Kang Rohili, one of my best friends in the field. Kang Rohili’s family kindly hosted me during my fieldwork period. Thank you, Bu Haji, kakangs, and teteh. Kang Rohili’s willingness to share his rich life and collaborate with me for our ongoing research project – his life history – is very much appreciated. I promise that we will get it done! Conversations with Uday Suhada, Oom Dipo, Utang A. Madjid, and several officials helped me to better understand their views and the local context and dynamics. Mas Abdul Hamid, a veteran Banten researcher, connected me with some key informants and shared his insights on all things Bantenese. Any researcher interested in the study of Banten Province should consult him and will certainly benefit from doing that. I would also like to recognize the help of my research assistant, Abdul Haris “Djarot” Djiwandono, and his willingness to share his perspectives as a student activist.

In Makassar and Bulukumba, tons of individuals also helped me. Thanks to Bang Taslim, Bang Asfar, Kak Asrul, and Kak Amran, for facilitating my entry to Bulukumba and opening so many doors. Kak Yani and Bung Rahmat in Makassar convinced me to share my research experience and engage with key activists and scholarly communities in the town. Mustaqim helped to locate some key articles at Fajar daily. Comrades at the Bulukumba branch of the Alliance for Agrarian Reform Movement (AGRA) – Bung Njet, Bung Gatot, Bung Purna, Bung Edi, Kak Lolo, Che’ Konang, and many others – kindly shared their experience and welcomed me in their activities – including impromptu dinners with all sorts of fresh seafood, including grilled stingray (boy it was really good – your generosity knows no limit, Che’ Konang!). To the peasant communities in both upland and lowland Bulukumba, I also express my gratitude. Special thanks to Pak Sukardi and Pak Amiruddin as well as their families for hosting me and sharing their advocacy experience. I also appreciate the help of other activists, journalists, and members of the peasant community and the indigenous people of Kajang. In particular, I must name Kak Armin, Kak Iwan, Pak Salassa, Anto, Amrul, Bu Sunarti Sain, Bung Adam, and Bung Ari. To these people, let me say it out loud once more: panjang umur perlawanan! Insights from several local officials, particularly Tomy Satria, Andi Bau Amal, and Misbawati A Wawo, also helped me gain a more comprehensive understanding of agrarian politics in the district.

In North Bengkulu, my last district case study, I thank the following individuals: Bang Erwin, Bang Yogi, Bang Andom, Bang Warman, Mba Dinar, and Bung Oky at Akar Foundation. Bang Giran, Bang Wawan, Bang Marhen, Bang Dedi, Pak Parno, Pak Hari, and other members of the Bengkulu Peasant Union (STaB). Pak Parno and Pak Hari as well as their families also kindly hosted me during my field research in their communities. Muspani, for sharing his insights. Bang Karjiyo and Pak Warsiman at North Bengkulu’s local daily, Radar Utara. Pihan Pino and Zaky Antoni at Rakyat Bengkulu. Bang Rheeno and Bang Mardhian, who kept me company in Arga Makmur. These people have shared their experience, helped in locating key data and archives, and encouraged me to share my research experience with the broader activist and peasant communities in North Bengkulu. Equally important, I would also like to thank Rahmi Hartarti’s family in Arga Makmur and Kota Bengkulu, who convinced me to take the needed occasional breaks from research to enjoy the good things in life, such as devouring grilled fish, taking a long walk at the traditional markets, or simply chilling around over a glass of fresh pineapple juice. Thank you, Oom, Tante, Pakde, and Bude.

Sadly, over the course of my PhD studies, I lost a number of friends and mentors who passed away. The passing of Utomo Dananjaya, a long-time progressive Muslim activist; Dede Farokhah, a young female worker and a community activist in Serang; and Syahrir Abu Rahmat, a preacher-turned-movement organizer in Bulukumba, is surely a blow for Indonesia’s social movement landscape and a great personal loss for me. Mas Tom was a great supporter for my intellectual development. Teh Ojong and Ustadz Bucek went beyond their “call of duty” as local interlocutors and became my close friends in the field.

I also thank the following people’s organizations for their help with my fieldwork and continuing collaboration in research and movement organizing activities: AGRA, STaB, the Confederation of Indonesian People’s Movements (KPRI), the Working People’s Party (PRP), the Progressive Islam Forum (FIP), the Nahdliyyin Front for Natural Resource Sovereignty (FNKSDA), Purusha Research Cooperative, Pusaka Foundation, the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), the Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA), Sajogyo Institute, and the Church of Grace Community – Reformed Baptist Salemba (GKA). The help of the following individuals during my research also deserves to be mentioned: Aip Saifullah, Anwar “Sastro” Ma’ruf, Gunawan, Hizkia Yosie Polimpung, Iwan Nurdin, Muhammad Zaki Hussein, Parid Ridwanuddin, and Roy Murtadho. Support from IndoProgress comrades, especially Coen Pontoh – the Chief Editor, keeps my effort to bridge activism and scholarly endeavors on track. I would also like to recognize the help of several other activists. Although we had a fair share of disagreements and parted ways, it is only fair that I acknowledge their help for my research.

Without the help and inspiration of mentors at my previous institutions – Edgar Porter, A Mani, and Joseph Progler at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University and Elizabeth Collins at Ohio University – I would not have been convinced and/or able to undertake a Ph.D. in the United States. So thank you, Porter-Sensei, Mani-Sensei, Progler-Sensei, and Ibu Collins.

My stay in DeKalb would be much less enjoyable without the cheerful support from the Indonesian community and my fellow graduate school colleagues. For that, I thank my DeKalb Mafia Housemates – Afrimadona, Azriansyah Agoes, and Eunji Won – as well as others, in alphabetical and household order – Ali Akrom and Lily Akrom, Dani Muhtada and Hikmi Zain, Lensi Handayani and Elvi Gogo, Sirojuddin Arif and Iim Halimatussadiyah, Ronnie Nataatmadja and Gantina Setiawati, Rahmi Hartarti Aoyama, Riza Alen, Sinta Febrina, Silvia Ginting, Sura Ginting, Testriono and Nurseha, Titik Firawati, the kids, and obviously, Srie Ramli and Tunru Lambogo, the chief elders and godparents of Indonesians in the town. The support of my departmental colleagues, especially the 2012 cohort and fellow international students in the department, has been crucial in every step of the arduous Ph.D. training: the long coursework phase, the painful rite of initiation called the Ph.D. candidacies, the adventurous field research, and the never-ending dissertation writing. I also thank the Indonesian community in Athens, Ohio, who welcomed me during my nine-month stay at Ohio University before transitioning to NIU. In particular, I have to thank Airlangga Dermawan, Lina Himawan, and Yazid Sururi for their help.

And this leads me to the more personal part. For the newfound and sustained friendship, I thank, in alphabetical order – Achmad Ramadhan, Aini Wilinsen, Azhar Irfansyah, Azka Fahriza, Fajar Arrizque, Fildzah Izzati, Henny Meilina, Prita Rifianti, Rilla Qalbi, Rio Apinino, and Yogie Permana. Folks, thank you for helping me keep my sanity during my stay in Jakarta. I also thank my fellow comrades at FIP and other social movement collectives. Gilang Andi Pradana is one of my best friends and a fellow racer in this hell of a ride called the Ph.D. training. Sony Karsono and Yusran Darmawan are my gurus. They convinced me not to quit during my most pessimistic moments. In brief, I owe these guys a lot.

Of course, the last paragraph should be dedicated for my family – my parents and my siblings. They wait patiently and continue to be my biggest supporters. They encourage life exploration and tolerate my unusual life choices. My apologies for my absence. I cannot thank them enough. I hope I can continue on a less traveled path and take care of them. My biggest thanks go to my mom – thank you for showing me through example to be a stubborn, critical, and committed life fighter. I will continue to fight the good fight.

May God bless all of them. Victoria acerta!

DEDICATION

For peasants and other working people in Indonesia and elsewhere

Come, join in the only battle wherein no man can fail,

Where whoso fadeth and dieth, yet his deed shall still prevail.”

(William Morris, “The Day is Coming”)

Call for Paper: Land Rights Movements in Asia, ASAA 2018, Sydney, July 3-5, 2018

I’m organizing a panel on land rights movements in Asia for the Asian Studies Association in Australia next year in Sydney. Proposals are welcome!

Call for Papers

Land Rights Movements in Asia

Looking for contributors to join this panel for the Asian Studies Association of Australia

Conference, Sydney, July 3-5, 2018. 

Throughout Asia, land-grabbing and other forms of agrarian dispossession have intensified

in recent decades. As a result, various social movements, such as peasant, environmental, indigenous people’s, and urban poor movements, have sprung up and mobilized to advocate for land rights and influence state land policies. Plenty have been written on local and national case studies, but multi-country and region-wide analyses of this phenomenon are still relatively underexplored. This panel, therefore, seeks to comparatively discuss Asian land rights movements. We welcome paper proposals on any aspects of movements for land rights (and other related topics) in the region

Abstracts are due on 31 October 2017. Please send your abstract to convenor, Iqra Anugrah (ianugrah1[at]niu.edu)

For further information about the conference, please visit:

https://sydney.edu.au/sydney-southeast-asia-centre/events/Asian-Studies-Association-of-Australia-Conference-2018.html

It’s a Wrap!

Finally, after spending two years in Indonesia for dissertation research I have an announcement: my fieldwork has come to an end!

What was expected to be a year-long research ended up as two-years stay in the country – in fact, my longest stay after high school. Over the course of my fieldwork, I – rather unsurprisingly I’d say – ended up doing or getting involved in things outside of my research activities too. Essentially, it is a re-engagement with the Indonesian social movement landscape. I have to emphasize that this is not a bad thing. In fact, it helps a lot with my research.

Now, my days in Indonesia are numbered. I got my visa already and booked my flight back to my home institution, NIU. On August 21 I’ll be heading back to the US. Time indeed flies.

I will still go back for sure, but for now, let me say thank you very much for the many people, informants and good samaritans, comrades and colleagues, friends and families, who’ve helped me along the way. I can never repay your kindness – but let it be known that your contribution will always be remembered and acknowledged.

So au revoir! On to the writing phase!

Ramadhan’s To-Read-List

The last week of my fieldwork in Bengkulu coincides with the first week of Ramadhan – the Muslim fasting month. Given that I have more time for reading (for pleasure) in the last one month or so, I somehow managed to come up with this reading list:

On Political Islam

On Labor Politics

Having something to read on the side while working on your dissertation project is fun. It keeps your sanity too.

For the Late Ajarn Danny

Ajarn DannyThis was literally my last picture with the late Professor Danny Unger. Taken last year when I attended a conference in Bangkok, it was also my last time to meet him in person. Great minds oftentimes gone too soon.
A specialist on Comparative Politics and Southeast Asian Studies particularly Thailand, his vast knowledge on politics and stuff never failed to fascinate me (though I figured he had more collections of novels and other literary works than books on politics at his house). This is the guy whom I referred to as, just like the way I introduced him to my students, “the guy who knows (almost) everything.” Like, seriously he can talk about stuff – Chinese rural politics in revolutionary transition, early modern state formation processes in Western Europe, debates in philosophy of science, you name it. I had the privilege to work with him as a teaching assistant, a graduate student, and a junior colleague. I also enjoyed every class that I took with him.I will remember many things about him – his intelligence, warmth, and supportive attitude toward young scholars in training. His hilarious expressions and clumsiness (once he asked me to google search and put some pictures for his class presentations, oh and don’t even start asking me about those unfoldered files flooding his desktop). Oh, mustn’t forget his peculiar hobby of woodworking.

My colleagues and I will certainly cherish our memories of him. He set the example for many of us in the field.

Goodbye, Ajarn Danny Unger. May you rest in peace. You will be greatly missed.

*For another beautiful obituary by T.F. Rhoden, see this link.