Subaltern Agency and the Political Economy of Rural Social Change

Ms Rebecca Meckelburg1

1Murdoch University, Perth, Australia

Current explanations of social and political change in Indonesia since Reformasi largely focus on the mixed outcomes of decentralisation and democratisation of state power for elite actors. These explanations provide little or no framework for conceptualising popular political action in the context of this institutional restructuring. Based on a longiterm ethnographic study, this paper examines some of the diverse outcomes of political decentralisation in Indonesia since Reformasi focusing on the actions, ideas and experiences of subaltern actors. These outcomes are examined at the level of local and regional political economies which demonstrate a strong correlation with the historical development of class struggle politics within different regions and more local village societies. This examination considers how highly varied local experiences of mass violence and repression in 1965-66 strongly influenced subsequent expressions of social and political ideas under the New Order regime which continue to impact on the formation of local political claims, cultural identities and society-state relations until today.


Rebecca Meckelburg is a Doctoral candidate at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University. Her dissertation examines the persistent, often fragmented, popular struggles of rural subaltern groups to secure control of resources and shift social relations of power in favour of subaltern and other non-elite classes in Indonesia since Reformasi.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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