Rubber plantation

Rubber plantation in Lembah Duri, North Bengkulu, Bengkulu (personal collection)

Elite-Peasant Relations in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia: Decentralization, Dispossession, and Countermovement (Doctoral Dissertation)

This study investigates why elites accommodate peasant interests concerning land rights and natural resource management at the local rather than national level and variations of local accommodation of peasant interests across districts in post-authoritarian Indonesia, a young middle-income democracy with a substantial agricultural population. Utilizing ethnographic, interview, and archival/document materials from 24 months of fieldwork with a focus on three case studies – national dynamics of agrarian politics in, land rights struggle led by the Bengkulu Peasant Union (STaB) in North Bengkulu District, and advocacy efforts for water resource sustainability and peasant livelihood promoted by local farmers’ groups and environmental activists in Serang District – I analyze factors shaping the occurrence and variation of accommodation of peasant interests by the elites.

This study found that the presence of a unified organizational platform representing peasant communities and the convergence of interests between elites and peasants influence the occurrence of accommodation of peasant interests by the elites. This explains why there is a lack of accommodation of peasant interests at the national level, where peasant organizations are fragmented and there is a lack of interest convergence between elites and peasants. Conversely, in North Bengkulu and Serang, the local peasants are organizationally unified and there is a convergence of interests between the local elites and the peasants, leading to the accommodation of peasant interests at the local level.

Moreover, this study also found that variations in local accommodation types are shaped by the degree of salience of local agrarian issues and the strength of local civil society. In North Bengkulu, the main local agrarian issue – land rights – is politically salient. Furthermore, its civil society landscape is vibrant. This led to the occurrence of accommodation through mobilization, in which peasant interests are accommodated after sustained peasant mobilization by STaB. In contrast, in Serang, the local agrarian issues – environmental degradation and the declining quality of peasant livelihodd – are less politically salient. Additionally, the local civil society landscape is less vibrant. This led to the emergence of accommodation through corporatism, in which peasant interests are accommodated under a corporatist natural resource governance framework.

Echoing Karl Polanyi, this rise of societal efforts to protect peasant livelihood and influence agrarian politics in contemporary Indonesia can be seen as an example of countermovement against the excessive marketization and elite expropriation of the social life. Relatedly, this research also highlights several important theoretical and practical implications, namely: 1) the persistence of “the peasant question” in the Global South, 2) the intersecting dynamics between agrarian changes and democratic politics, 3) the extent to which rural social movements and community organizations can contribute to democratic deepening, and 4) the extent to which political democracy can contribute to the empowerment of the marginalized population and a more equitable development outcome – in other words, the democratization of development and class relations.

This research is financially supported by NIU Political Science Department’s Russell Smith Scholarship, Transparency for Development Predoctoral Fellowship from Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School and Results from Development Institute, The University of Sydney’s Southeast Asia Centre Visiting PhD Fund, and ENITAS Scholarship from The Institute of Thai Studies at Chulalongkorn University. This research also benefits from the institutional support of LP3ES’s Visiting Research Fellowship and financial support from the Graduate School Dissertation Completion Fellowship at NIU. A book chapter deriving from this research, “Movements for Land Rights in Democratic Indonesia,” in Activists in Transition: Contentious Politics in the New Indonesia (edited by Thushara Dibley and Michele Ford) is forthcoming at Cornell University Press. Additional research will be taken to turn this project into a book manuscript.

Published Works
My works on social movements, political Islam, people’s history, Indonesian politics, and theoretical reflection on Southeast Asian Studies have been published in venues such as Indonesia, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, Asian Labour Review, Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, and Jurnal Kajian Wilayah. For a complete list of my work please click over to my page.

Working Papers and Ongoing Projects
“Local Elite Turnover in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia” (with Michael Buehler)
“Community Intervention in Healthcare in Indonesia and Tanzania” (with the T4D team)
Low-quality Local Democracy in Indonesia and Mexico”
“Village Intermediaries in Public Service Provision in Serang District”
“Rokib: A Portrait of a Rural Modernizer” (A life history project)


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