Accepted Paper:

Dealing with Legal Uncertainty in Times of Transition: An Ethnographic Example from East Kalimantan, Indonesia  


Michaela Haug (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

My Paper will explore how local actors used the legal uncertainty that followed decentralisation in Indonesia to expand their control over natural resources by interpreting, using and circumventing existing rules in their favour and discuss the negative and positive impacts this had on local livelihoods.

Paper long abstract:

When Indonesia implemented one of the most rigorous decentralisation reforms throughout Asia in 1999, local governments gained the full responsibility for such important areas as education, health, labour, public works, the environment and natural resource management. However, unclear task sharing and overlapping authorities of central and local instances also created a situation of great legal uncertainty.

In the forest rich districts of East Kalimantan this led to a logging boom which generated mainly short-lived economic benefits for local communities, an increase of inter- and intra-village conflicts, increasing inequalities and further deforestation. In my paper I will take the district of Kutai Barat, where I conducted 22 month of field research as an ethnographical example to explore how different local actors used this situation of legal uncertainty to interpret, use, and circumvent existing rules in their favour as well as to create their own ones. I will explore how the power relations between the different actors influenced the distribution of benefits and discuss the resulting positive and negative impacts for local livelihoods. The proposed paper will thus contribute to a better understand the potential and actual social benefits and costs of legal indeterminacy and uncertainty.

Panel W041
Regulating uncertainty: anthropological approaches to spaces of uncertainty in and of law [EN & FR]