Accepted paper:

On having achieved appropriation: the anak berprestasi of Kepulauan Riau, Indonesia


Nick Long (Cambridge University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper critically examines the experiences of young Indonesians appropriated as emblems of their newly seceded province, with particular attention to their changing understandings of self, body, state and region.

Paper long abstract:

Anak berprestasi is the Indonesian term used to describe a young person who has accrued many victories in competitive 'achievement-oriented' events, in sectors as wide-ranging as English debating, Qur'an recitation, and beauty pageants.

In the newly seceded province of Kepulauan Riau, many such youngsters are publicly appropriated as emblematic of policy-makers' hopes for a post-secession utopia. They are cast as role models to inspire future achievement, and also touted as concrete evidence of what Kepulauan Riau can achieve. With a 'human resources crisis' a prime factor spurring political secession, anak berprestasi are crucial confirmation that the province's devolution is having the desired effects.

This paper explores the lives and experiences of a number of anak berprestasi following their appropriation as emblems of their province. Their stories point to complex and fraught relationships between their own subjectivity and their understanding of the region they are supposedly emblematic of. Drawing on theoretical interventions in the study of identity, such as Sartre's model of 'bad faith', and Tarde's notion of 'mutual possession', the paper traces the vacillating relationships between province and emblem. In doing so, it moves beyond conventional approaches that examine appropriated persons as 'texts' of state discourse, foregrounding the complex and even devastating consequences of the appropriations for which they once so enthusiastically strove.

panel P14
Appropriating the (in)appropriate: rethinking pageants, contests and the anthropology of emblems