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Towards a Cosmopolitan Indonesia

Makassar as a Paradigm for Organising Cultural Diversity?

Christoph Antweiler


Historically, Indonesia had a colonial experience of pluralist polities where cultures were divided but met in the marketplace. What we find less often in Indonesian history are truly pluralistic polities, that is polities either explicitly valuing diversity or emphasising trans-ethnic commonalities. In current Indonesia, behind cultural diversity issues as such, the more fundamental political issue looms large of how to organise multifaceted cultural diversity socially. I will argue that the answer lies not in playing diversity against unity, nor in emphasising secularism. Rather, my argument is based on cosmopolitan theories and the transdifference approach to cultural plurality and, thus, takes a stand against a mere focus on national and ethnic issues. In order to contribute to discussions about an explicitly diversity-honouring version of Indonesianess in everyday interactions, we can learn from revisiting historical experiences. Indonesia has a deep tradition of fruitful cultural exchanges and un-dogmatic religious syncretism. This is especially developed in Indonesia’s multicultural harbour cities. Based on my experience in Makassar (South Sulawesi) over a period of 30 years, this article provides a glance on a politically marginal but culturally cosmopolitan city, which has also been a centre of Islam since the 17th Century. Its specific form of localised cosmopolitanism might open some avenues for conceiving a pluralistic unity in Indonesia.

M. Omar Faruque


How do disparate grievances join to form an agenda for collective action? This article analyses the articulation of movement demands and solidarity building during the formative phase of a popular mobilisation against a multinational mining company in Bangladesh. Drawing on a conceptual framework derived from Laclauian discourse theory, I explain how local community resistance inspired various social groups to support an anti-corporate social movement, ultimately defeating the mining company. I explain how the construction of an empty signifier had the capacity to connect disparate groups to oppose a common enemy. This analysis is based on a set of interviews with activists and a close reading of organisational documents. The examination of how movement demands are articulated emphasises the role of movement intellectuals and enriches the theorising of social movements in the Global South.

John Murphy


Indonesia’s National Social Security System (SJSN) aspires to universal coverage of insurance for health, retirement, and occupational benefits, such as employment injury. This article surveys the successive layers of policy development since the 1960s, in pensions and health benefits for some, and in social assistance programmes for the poor in the Reformasi era. Clarifying the nature of prior developments helps to understand the challenges facing the SJSN. These initiatives are assessed in terms of the literature on welfare regimes, applied as an interpretative tool, rather than in the expectation Indonesia fits the often-rigid categories of welfare typologies.

Insects as Food in Laos and Thailand

A Case of “Westernisation”?

Andrew Müller


Laos and Thailand show a decline of their diverse insect-eating traditions. Despite an urban “entomophagy” revival, respective rural practices are disappearing. In the context of a growing global interest in insects as food, this trend is being problematised as “Westernisation,” supposedly leading to food culture homogenisation. In this paper, I criticise that narrative as being over-simplified and eurocentric. In reporting qualitative empirical data, I argue that the current decline of insect-eating is rooted in local forms of “modernity,” rather than Western-dominated globalisation. In interpreting undeniable homogenisation tendencies, I also highlight the relevance of economically-driven processes, concluding that food culture transformation cannot be explained by one aspect or theory alone.