Photo: Andre Vltchek – Unbridled logging on Mahakam River.
The history of Indonesian economic development in the 20th and 21st century is frequently portrayed as a relative ‘success.’ This purported success is attributed to wise policymaking and institutions, and even mildly critical voices only question whether economic development might have been better. By contrast, this presentation offers a theoretical argument for considering Indonesia’s economic history through a critical lens as a history of resource extraction and nationalism based in the semiperiphery of the world-system. Indonesia’s semi-peripheral position – as both exploited and exploiting – creates the appearance of ‘development.’ This developmental appearance, however, is supported by decades and cycles of overlapping extractive activities. Extraction purportedly benefits the ‘nation’ while relying on socionatural transformation of extractive frontiers. As these frontiers are increasingly ‘exhausted’, prospects for the present and future include heightened inequality and environmental degradation. The argument is supported and illustrated with data from East Kalimantan and fieldwork undertaken in Indonesia since the 1990’s.
Paul K. Gellert is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tennessee and is spending 2017-2018 as an Affiliated Fellow at KITLV working on a book manuscript on the theme of this talk. He is co-editor of Ecologically Unequal Exchange in Comparative and Historical Perspective (Palgrave, in press, 2018).
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