The Politicization of Psychology: The Role of Psychologists in Indonesia’s Detention Camps during the New Order Era

Dyah Ayu Kartika

Pusat Studi Agama and Democracy (PUSAD) Paramadina University, Indonesia

The study aims to investigate the rationalities and implications of the use of psychology in politics. The role of experts in development practices often taken for granted while their role is pivotal to drive the development discourse. As the holder of power/knowledge, the experts bring stronger legitimation with a scientific justification that was perceived as ‘the truth.’ Such power has been targeted by the government to accelerate the achievement of their goals. It applies Foucault’s concept of governmentality to look at how experts’ power/knowledge is critical in the implementation of development practices. The data was obtained through three data collection methods; archival information, oral history, and interviews. The research is situated after the 1965 atrocity in Indonesia, which entailed the mass arrest of people allegedly accused as communists. The evidence shows that Indonesian psychologists, with the help of Dutch psychologists, were involved in the design of indoctrination programs and the development of psycho-tests for the political prisoners and later were used as screening tests for particular groups in the society. Their involvement was used to control the prisoners’ and the population’s mentality, as explained in Foucault’s concept of the panopticon. Psychologists’ involvement gave a scientific legitimation for the government’s action, both internationally and domestically, and proved the politicization of science in executing the practice of government. However, both the government and psychologists hitherto denied their engagement to the case.

Keywords: Psychology, detention camps, 1965


Dyah Ayu Kartika graduated her bachelor’s degree from Faculty of Psychology, Universitas Indonesia, and master’s degree from the ISS Amsterdam. She is now a researcher at Pusat Studi Agama and Democracy (PUSAD) Paramadina University, Indonesia.


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