AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 690

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Session 690: Narrating Power and the Machine: Technology and State-Society Relations in Indoneisa

Organizer: Sulfikar Amir, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Studies on how power is materialized through technological construction constitute a novel exploration in social sciences that remains less explored in the field of Asian studies. Seeing technology as a source of power, this panel seeks to bring into attention the intercourse between technology and politics and illuminates the role technology plays in structuring political economy and in driving social changes. Departing from the notion of co-production of technology and politics, this panel presents several cases all situated in Indonesia that demonstrate the possibilities for technology to contain political forces mediating power relations between the state and society. To understand how technology and politics are inextricably intertwined at multiple levels and through different channels, the main theme of this panel revolves around technological politics, a concept meant to explicate how political goals are achieved through technological means. Here, technology is broadly defined as integrated technical systems that run on scientific knowledge and gets institutionalized in such a way by the state or non-state actors to serve certain purposes. A chief argument of the panel states that in modernized Indonesia characterized by massive production and utilization of technology, particular configurations of technical system become the basis for political actors to exert power. Consequently, access to technological resources defines one’s power. This is highly significant to understand the extent to which the logic and rationality of technology transforms what constitutes politics in which technology emerges as a field of contestation for interested actors who engage in the struggle for control and domination.

Fighting poverty with technology: exploring a sociotechnical imaginary in post-colonial Indonesia
Suzanne Moon, University of Oklahoma, USA

The Indonesian state has long sought to address the problem of poverty in Indonesia, employing a wide range of policies: fiscal, regulatory, and technological. This paper explores technologically-oriented anti-poverty policies in post-independence Indonesia as a form of technopolitics, the use of technological means to achieve political ends. I will focus on the underpinnings of technopolitics by exploring the ways that policymakers collectively imagined desirable social, technical, and political relationships, and how these imaginings provided an impetus for technopolitical action. These sociotechnical imaginaries speak to shared beliefs that affect the decision to use technological means, and the nature of the technological intervention chosen. This talk focuses on anti-poverty programs designed to employ small, relatively inexpensive technologies to reach family- or small businesses which typically had little capital. These projects, although seemingly simple in conception, were driven nevertheless by notable imaginings of desirable social, technical, and moral relations in Indonesian society. This paper will compare two examples of state-led anti-poverty work in Indonesia in which technology played a meaningful role: Muhammad Hatta’s cooperative movement, and the anti-poverty programs of the Suharto regime c. 1980. Rather than repeat simplistic failure narratives, I will instead probe more deeply into the technopolitical aims and sociotechnical imaginaries at work in these programs. Should we see the Suharto-era projects as nothing more than empty technocratic propaganda and Hatta’s as misguided idealism? I will suggest that these stories offer more profound conclusions about the political uses and meanings of technology in post-independence Indonesia.

Revisiting power and technological construction in Indonesia: The problem of disembeddedness
Yanuar Nugroho, University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Moving forward from Science and Technology Studies (STS), two concepts emerged to explain the dynamics of science, technology and innovation: ‘national systems of innovation’ which has been widely used to describe the institutions and procedures considered relevant for innovation in particular nation-state, and ‘national research system’ to explain the dynamics of science policy. These two concepts have contributed to explaining economic growth and development, particularly in developed economies. However, they seem to be less promising when discussing the politics of science, technology and innovation (STI) in developing countries, especially with the development issues and agenda being put at the forefront of the discussion. The advancement of STI has often been seen as problematic (or ambiguous at least) in developing economies. Not only are STI policies and practises incoherent, they are disembedded from the real societal context. In Indonesia, this disembeddedness is blatant – especially over the past decade. Many technology policies and practices are just cut-and-pasted from developed economies, creating technological hype as the exponential growth of technological advancement imported from developed countries quickly surpassing linear societal development. As results, various social, economic and even cultural and political problems are associated with this disembeddedness: from irrelevant technology and development policies, consumptive economics, to ‘image politics.’ Further observation shows that private sector, whose primary motive is to accumulate profit, is the dominant player in the shaping of Indonesian STI agenda –in the sense that any developments in STI, as long as they bring about quick and high-yield turnover, are favoured by the sector. On the other hand, the state is left weak, particularly after the regime change in the end of 1990s, and civil society at large remains agnostic to STI issue. In such situation, expecting STI to be the genuine driver of development has no ground. This is the argument of this paper, which is brought forward by showcasing empirical works in the following sectors: green technologies, creative industry, consumer goods and corporate governance. We explore how STI is constructed in the sectors; we analyse the interactions and power relation among stakeholders of the sectors; and we map contradictions and contestations which eventually shape the sectors. In particular, we look at the problem of disembeddedness in each sectors and how it is being addressed. We expect this exploratory study to enrich literatures on STS in general, and STI in particular.

Band and Bandwidth: Community Media and the Contest of Power in Rural Indonesia
Merlyna Lim, Carleton University, Canada

A little more than a decade since the end of Suharto's centralized media regime, the media sector not only has undergone ‘democratization’ process, it has tremendously expanded and also given way to increasing corporatization of the media sector. ‘Democratization’ of the media in Indonesia, signaled by media reform laws that enshrined ‘diversity of ownership’ and ‘diversity of content’ and the establishment of independent institutions such as the Press Council and Broadcasting Commission struggle to maintain their independence and a fair playing field needed to ensure the public interest is upheld. Meanwhile, digital technologies and converged platforms, not only are making media more ubiquitous, but also offer tremendous opportunities to re-construct the mediascape in 21st century Indonesia. Looking closely at the socio-political dynamics of the rise of community media in rural Indonesia, this paper focuses on the changing landscape of power in the post-authoritarian era embedded in the media technology as it is being embraced by society. A radical change of political climate followed by an alteration of media regime brings about not only new space for civil society to contest state’s power but also new challenges and obstacles to position itself vis-à-vis market and other groups within itself. In the light of democratic milieu, marked by the emergence of various not-for-profit initiatives, at this juncture, where access and control are shoring up each other, rural community media continues to fiddle with socio-political and technical landscapes of Indonesian media that is rapidly changing.

Indonesia’s Rural Electrification Project: Development and Political Control in the Countryside.
Yulianto Mohsin, Cornell University, USA

When it comes to electrifying the country, Indonesian technocrats early on realized that since many of its people live in rural areas, a strong emphasis to bring electricity to the villages must be a vital component of the country's electrification effort. Even though there was a modest program rural electrification program during the 1950s, it was not until 1972, that a specific Government Decree spelled out explicitly the role of the state-owned utility company, PLN, to undertake rural electrification along with urban electrification. The New Order government’s plans to bring electricity to the villages (Listrik Masuk Desa, LMD) were materialized in early 1980s. The LMD project was initiated and carried out during the New Order period along with similar programs that bring 'something' to the village, such as "Television Comes to the Village" (TV Masuk Desa), "The Military Comes to the Village" (ABRI Masuk Desa), and "Student Service in the Community" (Kuliah Kerja Nyata). It has been shown that these programs were implemented to serve two main purposes: to tie developmental works and economic progress to the New Order regime enforcing the legitimacy of President Suharto's rule and to establish political order in the countryside. This paper explores the process in which the LMD project was conceived and defined as a technopolitical project of a post-colonial nation-state. It looks at the legal basis in which this program was drawn up, the relevant institutions created to implement it, and the resulting established relationship between the state technocrats and the villagers.