What holds Indonesia together? 'A strong leader' is the answer most often given. This book looks instead at a middle level of society. Middle classes in provincial towns around the vast archipelago mediate between the state and society and help to constitute state power. 'Middle Indonesia' is a social zone connecting extremes.
The Making of Middle Indonesia examines the rise of an indigenous middle class in one provincial town far removed from the capital city. Spanning the late colonial to early New Order periods, it develops an unusual, associational notion of political power. 'Soft' modalities of power included non-elite provincial people in the emerging Indonesian state. At the same time, growing inequalities produced class tensions that exploded in violence in 1965-1966.
'Caste' is today almost universally perceived as an ancient and unchanging Hindu institution preserved solely by a deep-seated religious ideology. Yet the word itself is an importation from sixteenth-century Europe. This book tracks the long history of the practices amalgamated under this label and shows their connection to changing patterns of social and political power down to the present. It frames caste as an involuted and complex form of ethnicity and explains why it persisted under non-Hindu rulers and in non-Hindu communities across South Asia.