University of Sydney
The motorbike-taxi drivers of today and the public minibus drivers of the past in Indonesia reveal how an improvised public transport infrastructure funded by the household can overlay, and even substitute, an inadequate transport infrastructure funded by the state. I argue below that improvised infrastructure is only possible when its repair and maintenance are handled by the underemployed majority through their survival strategy of crowding – or bringing the city together in one place. Crowding makes improvised infrastructure possible. Unlike the fixed infrastructure of planners that controls possibilities, the improvised infrastructure of the underemployed opens possibilities. In particular, it opens the possibility of redistributing social goods to redress the injustices caused by the maldistribution and malfunctioning of fixed infrastructure. Through the lens of improvised public transport and the people who bring it about in the large port city of Surabaya, I elaborate these ideas to show how redistribution is a subversive political project that challenges and reworks state projects of distribution. I argue that this redistributive project is only possible, however, through strategies of tinkering and unaccountability that enable the underemployed to put infrastructure on their terms and profit from it.
Robbie Peters is an anthropologist whose current work tackles such issues as the cultural politics of death and its commemoration in the Indonesian city; the on-demand motorbike taxi economy in Indonesia and Vietnam; and the effect of new cash transfers programs on Indonesia’s urban poor.