A Mortal Peace: Death and Community in the Pursuit of a Good Life in Timor-Leste

Damian Grenfell

2RMIT, Melbourne, Australia

As has been commonly documented, it is necessary in Timor-Leste for the living to maintain the good-will of deceased ancestors so as to avoid spiritual retribution. In order to achieve a ‘good life’, the living must demonstrate care and respect for the spirits, and placate their anger if need be. The idea of a ‘good life’ has different dimensions—material and immaterial well-being, as forms of social status as well providing possible pathways for resolution—and is significantly dependent on the reproduction of what is referred to here as a form of ‘cognate community’. A cognate community is formed around affinal and consanguineal social relations that include both the living and the dead. The process of nation-formation, as a different order of community, both disrupts and enables the potential reproduction of cognate communities in profound ways; the war for national independence caused the unnatural death of tens-of-thousands of people while national independence has resulted in new systems of regulation and social hierarchies that effect if and how veneration can even occur. In both war and peace then, the process of nation-formation shapes, alters, enables and undermines the reproduction of cognate communities and the ability to pursue a good life.



Peacebuilding and the Dead in Independent Timor-Leste

Dr Lia Kent1, Dr Damian Grenfell2, Bronwyn  Winch2, Emily Toome2

1Australian National University, , Australia, 2RMIT, Melbourne, Australia

Chair: Dr Lia Kent


In Timor-Leste, as in other post-conflict societies, the dead have been treated as peripheral in peacebuilding and transitional justice processes. This panel underscores the degree to which the dead – in particular those who died during the Indonesian occupation – must be understood as central in the processes through which families and communities make sense of the violence of the past. It examines some of the myriad ways in which the dead matter to the living, and what the recovery, reburial, and honouring of the conflict-dead accomplishes politically, socially, culturally and in terms of wellbeing.

The Micro-Politics of Community-Driven Development: Ethnographic Insights from a Slum in the Megacity of Dhaka

Mr Kazi Nazrul Fattah1

1University Of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Literature on community development interventions in urban slums often highlight the patron-client relationships among non-government organisations (NGO), politically-connected local elites, and corrupt local government officials, in which they serve each other’s mutual interests by influencing such interventions in their favour. This paper argues that the micro-politics revolving around community development interventions are considerably more complex than documented in existing research and requires a nuanced understanding of interests and contestations of power among a range of actors, including grassroots community-based organisation (CBO) members, local political leaders, NGO fieldworkers, and municipal officials. Drawing on empirical data from an ethnographic study in Korail slum in the megacity Dhaka, this paper demonstrates that in their attempt to gain greater negotiating power over the NGOs and ensure control over resources, CBOs adopt a range of strategies such as, among others, direct recruitment of political leaders in the organisation. NGOs attempt to maintain control over leaders by manipulating the very processes that they established for empowering the CBOs. Such contestations alter the configurations of local power in the slum in a manner where the previously noted patron-client relationships transmute into complex negotiations of power, control and resistance among various actors with vested interests.


Kazi Nazrul Fattah is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia. His research interests include socio-political dynamics of urbanization in the Global South, urban governance, public policy, and civic engagement. His current research explores the circulations of power and modes of governance in urban informal settlements in Bangladesh.

Intergenerational Transmission of Memories and Narratives of May 1998 Among Chinese Indonesians in Jakarta

Dr Stefani Nugroho1, Dr. Dhevy Setya Wibawa1

1Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta, Indonesia

The presentation examines the memories and narratives of the May 1998 violence that are transmitted from the first to the second generation of Chinese Indonesians in Jakarta. We consider the first generation to be those who were exposed to the anti-Chinese violence, and the second generation to be their descendants who were either at a very young age (e.g. toddler) or were not born yet in 1998. Based on in-depth interviews with both generations, we compare and contrast the way May 1998 is being remembered by both generations, and discuss not only the narratives that are being explicitly told and received about the violent episode, but also the silences, the implicit Otherings, and the various ways in which the memories continue to structure the lived experiences of being Chinese Indonesians in the contemporary society.


Stefani Nugroho is an assistant professor at the faculty of psychology, Atma Jaya university. She is mainly interested in the way nations are constructed discursively, including by the exclusionary strategies implemented towards certain groups.

Beyond the Cross-Cultural Border: Returned Migrants’ Lives from Japan to Bangladesh

Prof. Tetsuo Mizukami1

1College Of Sociology, Rikkyo University, , Japan

The objective of this paper is to clarify the characteristics of the Bangladeshi returnees from Japan. Since the arrival of ‘newcomers’ from foreign lands to Japan since the mid-1980s, the study of urban ethnicity has flourished, but the Bangladesh community was not a group of particular interest in Japan’s migration studies. However, they have steadily established their own community, though many returned from Japan. This paper is based on data gathered from interviews with Bangladeshis who had lived in Japan for long periods, and have returned to their homeland. The research findings confirm that migration from Bangladesh to Japan has significantly developed the character of personal relationships between Bangladeshis and Japanese, and some returnees have still kept their personal ties. Although the current debate about migration policies in Japan has tended to centre upon some serious domestic problems such as shortages in the labour force, and the ongoing trend for a greater proportion of elderly people, these returnee experiences suggest that there is more to human settlement than merely migration labour issues.


Tetsuo Mizukami is Professor of Sociology at Rikkyo University, Japan.

Islamic Civil Society Responses to Rohingya Refugees in Indonesia and Bangladesh

Dr Heru Susetyo

3University of Indonesia, Depok, Indonesia

While Islam-based Indonesian civil society organisations have been largely ambivalent about refugees historically, the Andaman Sea crisis of 2015 saw an outpouring of sympathy for refugees in Indonesia. In the wake of this event, many CSOs emerged to address the needs of Rohingya refugees both in Indonesia itself and in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. This paper will analyse their activities and effectiveness in the context of notions of Islamic solidarity.

Improving Refugee Protection in Asia-Pacific: How Civil Society and the Australian Government Can Make a Practical Difference

Asher Hirsch and Dr Daniel Ghezelbash

2Monash University, Clayton, Australia

For several years, governments, civil society representatives and academics have been discussing the need for Asia-Pacific regional cooperation to improve the protection of refugees. It is most often raised as a longer term alternative to address the factors which push people seeking asylum on to dangerous boat journeys. How realistic is this idea? What would it involve and what is the role of civil society and governments in address this issue? In this paper, based on interviews and surveys with civil society members in Asia-Pacific, we discuss the options for countries in Asia-Pacific to adopt a more humane and protection focused refugee policies. We also discuss Australia’s role in the region – a role that has focused on deterrence and responsibility shifting rather than genuine regional cooperation. However, we argue that Australia can, and should, play a more positive role in promoting practical solutions to refugee protection in the region. One key area for such development is increasing support for civil society organisations working with refugees in Asia-Pacific. Rather than an abstract ideal, regional cooperation can be a realistic and practical solution to supporting refugees in Asia-Pacific.


Local Communities, Emotions, and the Everyday Construction of Protection Space for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Indonesia

Atin Prabandari

5University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

This study is an inquiry to comprehend how protection space for refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia is constructed through practices. While most scholars and practitioners emphasise statist, legal, macro and institutionalist approach in conceptualising protection space, this view might not able to capture complex reality on the ground. This study intends to take different route in understanding the concept and practice of protection and protection space through the lens of the micro and the everyday. It does so by examining (1) the role of non-state, non-traditional and ‘non-system’ actors in the construction of protection space and (2) the role of emotions in shaping their motivation and sense of moral obligation to assist refugees. Studying practices and emotions is a complex endeavor that it requires assemble of tools. As such, this study will utilise a combination of case studies, multi-sited fieldwork techniques, narrative and discourse analysis. By doing so, this study contributes to the alternative understanding of protection space are constructed and function in non-Western context and non-signatory state of 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol. It opens new moral and political possibilities for humanitarian actions by making visible ‘non-system’ actors’ agency and the role of emotion in the construction of protection space.

Civil Society and Refugee Care in Indonesia: Creating Protection Space? (2/2)

Mr Max Walden1, Dr Antje Missbach2, Professor Susan Kneebone1, Dr Heru Susetyo3, Ms Atin Prabandari5, Dr Daniel Ghezelbash4, Mr Asher Hirsch2

1University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, 2Monash University, Clayton, Australia, 3University of Indonesia, Depok, Indonesia, 4Macquarie University, Macquarie, Australia, 5University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia


This panel will examine the role of civil society in refugee protection in Indonesia to determine its capacity to provide ‘protection space’ for asylum seekers. Protection space is defined by UNHCR as the extent to which a conducive environment exists for refugee rights to be respected and their needs met. Until recently the Indonesian state had delegated its protection role to UNHCR, IOM and their partner organisations. More recently, through the creation of Presidential Regulation 125 of 2016 protection obligations have been handed to local government (the so-called ‘local turn’), which struggles to satisfy the needs of refugees. This local turn has spurred the rise of new civil society organisations (CSOs) which support refugees, such as refugee self-help groups, Muslim and Buddhist charities as well as more rights oriented lobbying groups.  Additionally, well-established CSOs continue to operate in a space which is sometimes described as competing with that of UNHCR. In this panel we examine the notion and understanding of protection and protection space amongst CSOs in Indonesia.


The Politics of Civil Society In Indonesia: Where Do Refugees Fit?

Max Walden

1University Of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Indonesia’s transition to democracy began with the fall of military-backed dictator Suharto in 1998. Political scientists have emphasised the essential nature of a vibrant civil society and human rights protection as the basis of a healthily functioning democracy. Indeed, Indonesia has a diverse and influential civil society sector, segments of which continue to defend human rights. The influential Indonesian social scientist Bob Hadiwinata presents a useful spectrum of civil society work in Indonesia: from ‘welfare’, to ‘development’, to ‘empowerment’.  While organisations that work with refugees and asylum seekers are only a small part of broader civil society in Indonesia, they arguably play an even more important role for their beneficiaries – who are non-citizens with limited rights. This paper will adopt Hadiwinata’s framework and present a typology of the organisations working with forced migrants in Indonesia, analysing what this reveals about contemporary political space and human rights in that national context.



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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