Marginal Centers the Politics of Local Culture in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia

Harr, Adam Patrick, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
McKinnon, Susan, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the constitution of some of the local political voices that emerged in the decade after Indonesia's democratizing and decentralizing reforms. Since the collapse of Suharto's authoritarian "New Order" regime (1965-1998), the Indonesian state has been rapidly and radically restructured, with most governmental authorities devolving from a centralized national bureaucracy to over 380 district and municipal governments. These reforms make additional provisions for the popular election of a chief executive in each regional government. Against this political backdrop, this dissertation examines the concrete events - the stump speeches, spectacular feasts, and off-stage politicking - that translate national policies into an on-the-ground reality. I focus on the first-ever election of chief executive in Ende district in central Flores. Candidates in this election were faced with the problem of communicating with a newly constituted voting public. In the absence ofviable mass media outlets, several candidates chose to punctuate key moments in their campaigns with largescale ritual performances ostensibly aimed at venerating ancestral figures. In the chapters of this dissertation, I show how these aspects of "local custom" (adat), including ritual language, exchange, and ritual performance, were mobilized to establish a candidate's legitimacy. Drawing on linguistic and ethnographic data collected over a three-year period leading up to the election, I argue that the production and circulation of political voice in a decentralized Indonesia is crucially mediated by culturally specific understandings and practices of place. This research contributes a fine-grained ethnographic perspective to scholarship on Indonesia's iii ongoing political transformation, showing that aspects of Indonesia's "revival of tradition" are intimately linked to the newly localized conduct of electoral politics. More broadly, this dissertation speaks to recent discussions on the continuing relevance of ritual as a medium for communication in modern societies.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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