Agustus 07, 2014

The Impact of Global Categories on Local Conflicts in Indonesia


IN INDONESIA more than 1500 unsettled partly violent conflicts over land rights are documented. Many of these conflicts can be traced back to the politics of president Suharto’s New Order regime (1966-1998): Centralised control and access to natural resources and politics of uniformity ignored local claims on land and threatened local identity.

In Jambi province, Sumatra, land use conflicts between local groups and private or stately companies were turned down by military force. The fall of Suharto and following politics of regional autonomy had major consequences for the social political and economic conditions in conflict areas and facilitated the outbreak of conflicts.

In this case study, I will focus on the recent strategic use of the global category “indigenous” as means of empowerment in conflicts over land rights and land use in Jambi. I will show how a group´s (or single person’s) self- identification as “indigenous” becomes a positioning that realigns the ways groups connect to the nation, the government, and the “non-indigenous” population. I will discuss how the introduction and use of “indigeneity” changes power relations and social structures at and between the local and national level.

These changes do not only refer to the dynamics of conflict and their resolution but to the wider social structures of the Indonesian society. The (self-) identification as “indigenous” may also lead to disintegration at the local and/or national level but offers the opportunity for affiliation and integration in the globally acting group of “indigenous people” and their allies.[]


Stefanie Steinebach, “The Impact of Global Categories on Local Conflicts in Indonesia”, Paper presented at the 7th EuroSEAS Conference 2013, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, July 2-5, 2013.

Program of the conference is available here.

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