In search of Middle Indonesia


A Netherlands-Indonesia research program
'In search of Middle Indonesia' is a wide-ranging attempt to relocate the focus of the social science research agenda on Indonesia, away from the 'commanding heights' of society, the state and the economy, to the underestimated middle reaches.

For a long time neglected, Middle Indonesia represents the geographical space between village and metropolitan city, the social space between the established upper-middle classes and the urban poor, the economic and political twilight zone between formal institutions and markets (and between informal and illegal arrangements), the cultural meeting ground of global fashions and localized practices, and the generational space between child and adult. Nearly a quarter of the population lives in provincial urbanizing areas, but despite their growing size and increasing importance our knowledge about these groups and the spaces they inhabit remains limited.

The political and administrative changes since 1998 (democratization and decentralization) have brought into view this neglected social zone. In light of these fundamental changes we expect this zone to become even more significant in coming years. The intermediate classes who inhabit Middle Indonesia have become important social actors. Seizing in dramatic ways on the successful development of electoral democracy in the last five years, it is they, and particularly the youth among them, who have taken to the streets. Defying their prior assignment under the New Order regime to the depoliticized ‘floating mass’, they have become the new constituencies of political parties.

A considerable number of studies exist on elites in Indonesia's big cities, and there is a long scholarly tradition of study on the urban and rural poor. Now it is time to study the middle ground, because of its renewed significance. Middle Indonesia challenges the heuristic assumption that the middle is a merely transitional battle zone between the upper and the lower. We view Middle Indonesia as an ambivalent zone, in between different worlds, but it is not transitional or merely a transfer point. Middle Indonesia has a reality of its own that deserves careful scrutiny. In important senses, Indonesia's future is decided here.

The groundwork for a study of Middle Indonesia has been laid in the KNAW-funded research programs 'Indonesia in Transition' and the KITLV program 'Renegotiating Boundaries'. We now need to know what Middle Indonesia is - beyond its 'in-between' character as intimated above - and how it works. We do this by focusing on the intermediate classes. In between better off middle class executives and officials on the one hand, and wage laborers and the rural poor on the other, they consist of the self-employed and the lower echelons of officialdom. To see where the intermediate classes are going, we focus on youth as the dynamic element. In other words, youth and the intermediate classes should not be seen as two separate categories. Instead, youth constitute a motor of change within the intermediate classes.

We look at the intermediate classes not merely as an income category, but are interested in their social and political potential: How are their aspirations formed? What is their political makeup? How do they express their identities? What can this tell us about the role of Middle Indonesia in coming years?

The setting for our study on the intermediate classes is the provincial town. Over the last decades Indonesia has experienced a rapid process of de-agrarianization, as a result of which about a quarter of the population lives in such intermediate towns. While some studies have been conducted on metropoles and provincial capitals, these medium sized towns have been neglected. Especially since regional autonomy has been set in motion, these places have become more important as administrative and economic nodes in the post-Suharto Indonesian landscape. The program comprises a number of inter-related projects.

'In Search of Middle Indonesia' is a joint Netherlands-Indonesia research consortium, funded through a grant from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW) under its SPIN program (Indonesia-Netherlands Cooperation Program). The KITLV acts as secretary and is also making a substantial contribution in the form of postdoctoral fellowships. The main institutional participant in Indonesia is the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at Gadjah Mada University, Jogjakarta, through Prof. dr. Mohtar Mas’oed and Dr. Pratikno. Dutch participating institutions are the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague (ISS), the Amsterdam School for Social Science Research at the University of Amsterdam (ASSR-UvA), the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Leiden University, and KITLV. The program runs from 2006 to 2010 and will result in a significant number of publications.

PhD project summaries

Project 1: Business, local politics and ethnicity among the intermediate classes in Pekalongan (Central Java)
Researcher: Amalinda Savirani; Main supervisor: Prof. dr. Mario Rutten (UvA)
The aim of this research is to examine the changing relationship between the intermediate classes and the local state within the context of decentralization in the Central Javanese town of Pekalongan. It provides insight into the effects of decentralization on the socio-political behaviour of the intermediate classes at the local level, as regards their participation in local politics and the bureaucracy, and their emphasis on ethnicity.
The economic crisis of the late 1990s often seriously affected local small and medium business enterprises, typically owned by members of the intermediate classes. At the same time, decentralization opened up more opportunities for local participation. As a result the local state has increasingly become an arena for struggle over economic benefits, social status and political power at the local level. Pekalongan has a large number of local business enterprises in the textile sector and can be characterized as a market driven economy.

Project 2: Intermediate classes, ethnic segmentation, and the local state in Kupang (East Indonesia).
Researcher: Sylvia Tidey; Main Supervisor: Prof. dr. Henk Schulte Nordholt (UvA)
This research aims to investigate the relationship between intermediate classes, ethnic segmentation and the local state in the provincial capital of East Nusa Tenggara, Kupang, on the island of Timor. Kupang is a small provincial town of approximately 220,000 inhabitants with a poor agrarian hinterland. It is an administrative and migrant town and these two features structure social relationships. The stagnant economy of West Timor is dominated by the state. Consequently, employment in state institutions and access to state resources are important factors that give shape to social relationships. The competition among the intermediate classes for access to economic and political resources is thus framed in a dynamic set of ethnic divisions and through religious institutions, which have gained strength after decentralization and regional autonomy as been set in motion.

Project 3: Youth solidarities in Ternate (East Indonesia)
Researcher: Basri Amin; Main supervisor: Prof. dr. Patricia Spyer (Leiden U)
This PhD project focuses on how “youth” of the intermediate classes creatively construct solidarities, affiliations, and aspirations with respect to several important sociological dimensions, notably religion, gender, and ethnicity in the provincial capital of Ternate, North Maluku. A crucial aspect of the project is to identify and investigate the range of contexts where gendered youth solidarities are constructed from the more institutionalized contexts of religious and ethnic organizations to recreational forms of association like sports or “competitions” that test everything from marching to Koran recitation. Besides institionalized settings, the project explores non-institutionalized settings where young people informally gather and “hang out.” The project homes in on the sociological dimensions of religion, gender, and ethnicity across a selection of different youth settings from the more formal and institutional to the less regulated and ad hoc with the aim of ascertaining which among these have priority and how they figure within the construction of youth solidarities.

Project 4: Youth and social renewal in an Indonesian industrial town (West Java)
Researcher: Suzanne Naafs; Main supervisor: Prof. dr. Ben White (ISS)
The PhD project uses multi-sited ethnographic techniques and a broad, inter-disciplinary political-economy approach to explore the role of young people as actors in urban social, economic and political change processes. Research is focusing on ways in which young people confront and negotiate the processes, relationships and constraints which influence their access to /exclusion from continuing education; employment and careers, global and local cultural communities and political processes. The coastal town of Cilegon (population about 250,000) experienced rapid growth during the Suharto period, based initially on its combination of deep-sea port facilities and heavy industry (PT Krakatau Steel). Cilegon’s economy is both vibrant and state-dependent. Interlinked with Cilegon’s relatively large and dynamic formal-sector industrial and port sector is a large informal sector of transport, construction, trade, petty manufacture and repairs and service activities.

Affiliated PhD project (funded by Nuffic): Youth, identity and work in Pontianak (West Kalimantan)
Researcher: Wenty Marina Minza; Main supervisor: Prof. dr. Mario Rutten (UvA)
Among the ‘youth paradoxes’ commonly observed in Indonesia are the following:

- youth as heroes vs youth as potential traitors to the nation;
- early maturation vs prolongation of entry into marriage;
- increase in consumption vs decrease in ‘productivity’;
- investment in education vs unemployment/ underemployment (e.g. the (un)limited perception of opportunities)
- global (opening of borders) vs local (ethnic sentiments);

Do these paradoxes also exist in Pontianak, West Kalimantan? How do the youth themselves see these paradoxes? How do adults see them? The study examines these questions by means of a local literature study, interviews with youth at places of work, learning, and leisure, and interviews with adults.

Postdoctoral fellowship projects

Project 5: The makings of Middle Indonesia
Researcher: Dr. Gerry van Klinken, KITLV
The 'in-betweenness' of Indonesia's modernization - neither fully globalized nor wholly parochial - has been explained in terms of resilient patrimonial culture or the small size of modernizing elites. This research proposes to situate the social history of Indonesian modernization since decolonization more concretely as well as more broadly in provincial towns. The approach is to combine insights from urban geography and historical sociology. Nearly all of Indonesia's 200 substantial provincial towns grew up in step with the expanding colonial state from the mid-nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century. The urban society that emerged in them was created by this process of state formation, and it in turn shaped the kind of state that developed, most decisively after the decolonization of 1945-49. Today the bureaucracy, under-resourced and therefore bound up with urban society in numerous particularistic ways, but highly desirable in an economy lacking industry, remains the central political fact in provincial towns notably outside Java.

Project 6: Youth, religiosity, and aspirations in Middle Indonesia
Researcher: Dr. Noorhaidi Hasan, Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University, Ciputat, Jakarta
This postdoc project analyzes how the so-called “Islamic revival” informs the construction of youth identities and shapes their political aspirations and activism in provincial Indonesian towns. The current Islamization in Indonesia has, among other things, meant an accentuation of religious symbols in public, a rise in forms of personal religiosity, the proliferation of Islamic institutions, and the spread of new life-styles. Beyond this general context, the postdoc focuses comparatively on how the Islamic revival contributes to the political aspirations and activism of youth as evidenced, for instance, in the success of the largest Islamist party in Indonesia today (the Justice and Prosperity Party, PKS) or the appeal some young people of the radical Islamist organizations whose “street” actions have been a constant feature of the post-New Order politics.

Short-term postdoctoral fellowship projects

Scouting to the Future. Youth and state in Indonesia, 1960s – 2000s.
Researcher: Dr. Pujo Semedi, Gadjah Mada University
Under the pretext of preventing the further political fractionalization of Indonesian youth, in August 1961 President Sukarno established a centralized, state-sponsored boy scout organization called Praja Muda Karana (Youth Cadre of the Country), Pramuka. From then on, Indonesian boy scout movements, which used to be affiliated either to certain political party or mass organizations, were lumped together into a single body under direct government control. Although individual participation is not compulsory, every school, private or public, of any level, from primary to university, is obliged to form a boy scout unit for extra-curriculum activities for students. Up to the present Pramuka is the biggest youth organization in Indonesia with millions of active members, and perhaps one out of thirty or so middle-aged Indonesians was once a Pramuka. The Indonesian boy scout might be perceived rather negatively as a state-controlled youth organization, but the fact that millions voluntarily participate in the organization is certainly telling us that there must be something the youth gain from Pramuka, and very likely it is not just the fun of walking along mountain track or of any other scouting games. This study aims to reveal Indonesian youth as active agents in their own life. They deal with state intervention in their domain and utilize their participation in youth organizations as an investment for their future. Data for this study has been collected through participant observation among youth in a middle size, typical Indonesian town, interviews and library studies on the development of the Indonesian boy scout.

From Lombok with Affection: Ethnic Harmony in Lombok
Researcher: Dr. Tamrin Amal Tomagola, University of Indonesia
Lombok, especially since the launching of decentralization reforms in 1999, has been the site of violence in recent years. There are, however, grass-root signs of the potential for peaceful ethnic coexistence in Mataram city, and to some extent, on the island as whole. This research project describes how different layers of affection based on kinship, gender, religion and ethnicity are played-out, negotiated, constructed and experienced by a contemporary urban lower middle class Sasak community in the city of Mataram, Lombok. It further argues that despite on-going challenges, the community has managed not only to keep inter-ethnic violence under-control, but also to survive intact as a community.

Local understandings of communal violence and its aftermath in eastern Indonesia Dr. Chris Duncan, Arizona State University, visited KITLV as a Middle Indonesia fellow September-December 2008. He worked on a book manuscript concerning the discursive and religious aspects of communal violence in small-town Maluku. He addressed a seminar on 3 December 2008 at KITLV on the topic:“Moving beyond the elite: Local understandings of communal violence and its aftermath in eastern Indonesia”.   Eluding the law: innovative bureaucratic practices to evade anti-corruption rules in provincial towns Dr. Erwan Purwanto, Gadjah Mada University, visited KITLV as a Middle Indonesia fellow in April-June 2009 and wrote on evolving techniques of corruption in provincial towns.   Local Elites in Middle Indonesia Dr. Nankyung Choi, City University of Hong Kong, is a Middle Indonesia fellow July-December 2009. She is writing about the life histories of local elites in a Middle Indonesian town (Pontianak).   Flat and Frictionless: transnational governance and early childhood in Jogjakarta Dr. Janice Newberry, University of Lethbridge (Canada), visited KITLV as a Middle Indonesia fellow May-July 2009 and wrote on new modes of governance over childhood in a Middle Indonesian town (Jogjakarta).
Sighting Middle Indonesia, a photo exhibition Dr Chris Brown, photographer and anthropologist, University of Washington Seattle, visited KITLV as a Middle Indonesia fellow in 2010 - 2011. He writes on “Being young in a provincial town in Indonesia”.  He is preparing a book on urban street life in Java, called Streets and Children in Surabaya, based on five years of experience and research in Indonesia's second largest city.
Among his activities is a visual project on youth in several Middle Indonesian towns in which other Middle Indonesia researchers are active. 'Sighting Middle Indonesia' is an exhibit of colour photographs from three Indonesian cities. More than just reportage, it also looks to expose local remakings of the global image-scape. For an increasing number of Indonesians, there is an as-yet inchoate intermediate ground—between rural communities and the Jakarta megalopolis, between the wealthy and privileged and the impoverished and desperate—where making a living is as much a matter of imagining new possibilities as taking advantage of them. Expectations about "middle class" life seep in through global media, but need to be actively constructed locally. In doing so, middle Indonesians rely as much on creative re-imagining and on cultural habits of vision as they do on copying global images. This exhibit was designed as an accessible and illuminating companion for the conference ‘In Search of Middle Indonesia’ at KITLV in Leiden, 27–29 September 2010. This event assembled an international group of scholars at the culmination of a five-year research project focusing on provincial cities and middle-class lives in Indonesia. A preview of the exhibit can be viewed here:

    Others Dr Michael Buehler, London School of Economics, and Dr Marcus Mietzner, Australian National University, both previously announced as forthcoming Middle Indonesia fellows, did come in 2008 but under the KITLV Modern Indonesia program.   Dr Nicolaas Warouw, Gadjah Mada University, Jogjakarta, writes on “Defining the class boundaries of urban workers: notes for research agenda”. Dr Joseph Errington, Yale University, writes on “The languages of Middle Indonesia”, an empirical study into local variations on Malay languages in Kupang, Ternate, and Pontianak. Dr. Cornelis Lay, Gadjah Mada University, writes on “growing up in Kupang”.

Dr. Gerry van Klinken
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Selected Publications

For publications by KITLV staff members Gerry van Klinken and Henk Schulte Nordholt, see KITLV researcher profiles.

Chris Brown, 'Sighting Middle Indonesia' [ a photo exhibition]. Leiden: KITLV, 2010. For an overview of the photos, click here...>>

Noorhaidi Hasan, ‘Ideologi, Identitas dan Ekonomi-Politik Kekerasan: Mencari Model Solusi Mengatasi Ancaman Radikalisme dan Terorisme di Indonesia’, Prisma 29-4:3-24, 2010.

Noorhaidi Hasan, ‘The Failure of the Wahhabi Campaign: Transnational Islam and the Salafi Madrasa in Post 9/11 Indonesia’, South East Asia Research 18-4: 675-705, 2010.

Sylvia Tidey, 'Problematizing ethnicity in informal preferencing in civil service: cases from Kupang, Eastern Indonesia', Journal of Asia Pacific Studies 1-3: 545-569, 2010.

Noorhaidi Hasan, ‘The Drama of Jihad: The Emergence of Salafi Youth in Indonesia’, in: Linda Herrera and Asef Bayat (eds.), Being Young and Muslim: New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North, pp. 49-62. Oxford etc.: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Noorhaidi Hasan, ‘Saudi expansion, Wahhabi campaign and Arabised Islam in Indonesia’, in: Madawi al-Rasheed (ed.), Kingdom without Borders, Saudi Political, Religious and Media.

Noorhaidi Hasan, 'Islamist Party, Electoral Politics, and Da’wa Mobilization among Youth: the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in Indonesia', RSIS Working Paper 184. Singapore: Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 2009.

Noorhaidi Hasan, 'Islamizing Formal Education: Integrated Islamic School and a New Trend in Formal Education Institution in Indonesia', RSIS Working Paper 172. Singapore: Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 2009.

Noorhaidi Hasan, 'Transnational Islam, Salafi Madrasas and the Political Dynamics of Post-Suharto Indonesia', in: Imtiyaz Yusuf (ed.), Religion, Politics and Globalization: Implications for Thailand and Asia. Bangkok: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2009.

Noorhaidi Hasan, 'The Making of Public Islam: Piety, Agency and Commodification on the Landscape of the Indonesian Public Sphere',  Contemporary Islam (Springer) 3-3: 229-250, 2009.

Noorhaidi Hasan, 'Transnational Islam in Indonesia', in: Peter Mandaville (ed.), Transnational Islam in South and Southeast Asia: Movements, Networks, and Conflict Dynamics, pp. 121-140. Seattle, Washington: The National Bureau of Asian Research,  2009.

Noorhaidi Hasan, 'Is There Any Room for Reconciliation: Dutch-Indonesian Relationship in Contemporary School Textbooks', in:  Han Do Hyun (ed.), Colonial Memory and Reconciliation in Asia (in Korean), pp. 28-43. Seoul: Academy of Korean Studies, 2009.

Noorhaidi Hasan, 'The Salafi Movement in Indonesia: Transnational Dynamics and Local Development',  in: Joseph C. Liow and N. Hosen (eds), Islam in Southeast Asia: Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies (reprint), pp. 301-317. London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

Noorhaidi Hasan, 'Multikulturalisme dan Tantangan Radikalisme', in: Elza Peldi Taher (ed.), Merayakan Kebebasan Beragama, Bunga Rampai 70 Tahun Djohan Effendi, pp. 198-217. Jakarta: ICRP and Penerbit Kompas, 2009.

Christopher Duncan, ‘Where do we go from here? The politics of ending displacement in post-conflict North-Maluku’, in: Eva-Lotta E. Hedman (ed), Conflict, violence, and displacement in Indonesia, pp. 207-230. Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2008.

Noorhaidi Hasan, Laskar Jihad: Islam, militansi dan pencarian identitas di Indonesia Pasca-Orde Baru. Jakarta: LP3ES dan KITLV-Jakarta, xi+363 pp, 2008.

Noorhaidi Hasan and Moch. Nur Ichwan, Moving with the times, the dynamics of contemporary Islam in a changing Indonesia. Yogyakarta: Cisform Press, 355 pp, 2008.

Noorhaidi Hasan, ‘State, religion and the dynamics of transition: Repertoire of violence in post-Suharto Indonesia’, in: Bryan S. Turner (ed.) Religious diversity and civil society; A comparative analysis, pp. 105-122. London: The Bardwell Press, 2008.

Noorhaidi Hasan, ‘Salafi Madrasas of Indonesia’, in: Farish Noor, Yoginder Sikand and Martin van Bruinessen (eds), The Madrasa in Asia, Political Activism and Transnational Linkages, pp. 247-70. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2008.

Noorhaidi Hasan, ‘Shari’a, Militancy, and Democratic Consolidation in Indonesia’, Working Paper 43. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2007.

Noorhaidi Hasan,’The Tuhfat al-Raghibin, The Work of Abdul Samad al-Palimbani or of Muhammad Arsyad al-Banjari?’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 163-1: 67-85, 2007.

Noorhaidi Hasan, ‘The Salafi Movement in Indonesia: Transnational Dynamics and Local Development’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 21-1: 83-94, 2007.

Noorhaidi Hasan, ‘Islam Politik, Teori Gerakan Sosial, dan Pencarian Model Pengkajian Islam Baru Lintas-Disiplin’, Book Review, Al-Jami’ah 44-1: 241-250, 2006.