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.
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:
This 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.
It’s been a while since I write a blog post on this website! The last couple of months have been very busy for me – I wasn’t only doing my research but also, inevitably, involved in some activist work. So I ended up staying in Jakarta longer than I expected, but eventually I was able to spare some time for my last round of fieldwork. I made it, so here I am, in Bengkulu. To be more exact, I will spend the next two months in North Bengkulu District, looking at the evolving relationship between the Bengkulu Peasant Union (Serikat Tani Bengkulu, STaB) and the local elites in post-authoritarian era. Some elaboration on this dynamics have been written here (especially in this chapter), but the data only cover up until 2007. More still needs to be written about STaB and the North Bengkulu peasants, which is why I am here.
So far it’s been a productive fieldwork – I finished conducting several interviews and got hold of some key documents on the land conflict between local peasants and plantation companies. Overall, it’s a good start. I’m gonna be busy, and expect more to come in the next couple of weeks.
I had the pleasure to moderate the very first panel on the theoretical debates surrounding social protection, exemplary practices of social protection “from below”, and the politics of social protection in Indonesian context, with my comrades Muhammad Ridha from Inkrispena and Anwar Sastro Ma’ruf from the Confederation of Indonesian People’s Movements (KPRI) as the speakers.
It was a rather short panel – we only had around 1 hour and 15 minutes for the whole package. But nonetheless we had a very enlightening and engaging discussion. Unfortunately I cannot attend the whole conference since I have other events to attend, but I’m sure the conference will be a great learning opportunity for all participants!
One of the things that I look at in my dissertation research is the current landscape of agrarian and peasant movements in Indonesia at the national level in the post-authoritarian period. To the best of my knowledge the picture is pretty complicated, given that the movement is ridden with fragmentation.
Nonetheless, as a new person in this field I found it rather difficult to draw the map by myself. So I asked a good friend and comrade of mine, Andre Barahamin, to help me out with that. Andre is a fellow editor at IndoProgress and a researcher at Pusaka Foundation, an NGO focusing on indigenous people’s rights. So I went to his office, had a chat with him, and with the help of other Pusaka researchers, especially the executive director Y.L. Franky and April Parlindungan, I was able to come up with an organizational mapping of agrarian and peasant movements in Indonesia. Voila.
(Please do not cite this without my permission!)
It’s a work in progress but nonetheless a good start. Credit goes to Andre and the Pusaka team for helping me out to come up with the map.
Yesterday I just had my first Dutch class – it was an intense 3.5 hours!
Yup, that’s right. Starting from this month I will be learning Dutch for reading archives. It is an intensive course – a private tutoring session with the instructor.
So what got me thinking into learning Dutch? This is because of a conversation I once had with Eric Jones, who is also a member of my dissertation committee. A social historian of the female underclass in the Dutch East Indies, Dr. Jones managed to inspire me to learn Indonesian history seriously and learn one of the key methodological tools for that – surprise, surprise, the Dutch language.
It’s certainly challenging to juggle this with other activities – especially writing and research – but it’s certainly worth doing. Also, it’s good to have something else other than my own dissertation project to make life more productive and balanced.
I’ve been in Jakarta for quite a while and visited Bangkok very recently. There are some post-fieldwork updates for you, dear readers:
First, I’m back to the LP3ES office, working and catching up on several writings before going to my third field site.Also, we’re moving to a new office (finally!). But unfortunately it’s rather far from where I live, so I might only come to the office once in a while.
Right after the symposium, I flew to Bangkok to give a talk for the 2016 ENIT/ENITAS Awardee Presentation. I was required to do so since I got the ENITAS grant from the Institute of Thai Studies at Chulalongkorn University for my fieldwork research. Overall it was a great event – I enjoyed hearing so many interesting research projects from the other awardees, but I also have some suggestions for the event.
In between I managed to catch up with colleagues, friends, and advisors. The best one was in Bangkok, where I was able to have a drink (or two) with a grad school friend, Tom, who is also on the field and a professor who now teachers at Thammasat. Tom also kept me company for the whole event, since he also got the grant (the ENIT one).
Now, the comments: I think both Indonesian and Thai academia are trying really hard to – forgive my somewhat politically incorrect usage of the term here – “catch up”with the academic standards in the developed world, which is a good thing. More money are being poured in into this endeavor, but what is also, if not more, important is to push for institutional reforms in academia – including the whole “rituals” of conferences and the like. The fact that things like academic conferences can be organized on a regular basis is quite an achievement, but I think we can do more – we can, for example, improve the quality of the debate within conference panels, and the like.
That sounds like a pretty feasible proposal, I believe.