Author:Aurora Donzelli (SLC)
Paper short abstract:
Based on a long-term research on Toraja political discourse during the first decade of post-Suharto Indonesia, this paper analyzes debates on regional autonomy and it explores how the interests of local, national, and global actors are positioned in a complex web of intersections and disjunctures.
Paper long abstract:
Analyzing debates on good governance video-recorded between 1999 and 2007 in the Toraja highlands of Sulawesi, this paper provides an ethnographic reflection on the multiple meanings of "cultural politics". A notion that refers both to the political uses of "culture" by different interest groups and to the cultural dimension of politics. In Toraja, the process of decentralization, which marked the first years of the post-Soeharto era, coincided with a call for a system of administrative divisions, which took into account "cultural difference". The first phase (1999-2003) of the regional autonomy reform was imbued with a 'new politics of tradition' (Bubandt 2002). The "desa", an administrative unit introduced during the New Order to achieve uniformity and enhance control at the local level, was replaced by the "lembang". A "pre-colonial" unit, whose boundaries, it was argued, rather than being the outcome of arbitrary political decisions, reflected longstanding cultural divisions. In more recent years (2004-present), the initial appeal to tradition and to the involvement of 'traditional civil society' into the local politics was replaced by a new emphasis on bureaucratic effectiveness and on the need to increase the number of government provisions at the grass-root level. Looking at how discourses on good governance have shifted from participation and tradition to efficiency and accessibility, the paper not only reveals the interplay between local actors and (inter-)national agencies in the unfolding of the decentralization process, but it also highlights the complicities and clashes between new global concepts and traditional political styles in Toraja public discourse.
Challenges of local and regional cultural politics in Southeast Asia