(P36AB) Making and Un-making Resource Frontiers in Southeast Asia: State Formation and the Commodification of Nature
Part 1Session 5
Thu 09:00-10:30 K12 | 2.03
Part 2Session 6
Thu 11:00-12:30 K12 | 2.03
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Mass-mediated frontiers. Discursive production of commodities in Central Kalimantan
Heikki Wilenius University of Helsinki
This paper examines state-making and extractivist policies and their contestations in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, from the perspectice of mass-mediated communication. Two kinds of publics are analyzed and compared: regional news media, and discussions in social media. The data analyzed consists of three volumes (2018–2020) of a Central Kalimantan newspaper, a selection of news pieces from internet-based media (2017–2020), and conversations under various keywords that have taken place on Twitter in 2020.
The paper argues that discourses of frontierization and de-frontierization are fragmented in the mediascape of Central Kalimantan: the established media outlets represent various state interests fairly explicitly, while claiming to represent the public (cf. Wilenius 2020; Aspinall and Berenschot 2019), while Twitter discussions more often resemble “subaltern counterpublics” (Fraser 1992), functioning as a venue for the mobilization and expression of the interests of citizens (cf. Beukes 2017). While the citizens get to express their agency, for example, in social media protests, and
might even contribute to the frontierization and de-frontierization processes, they remain largely absent from the discourses of state-making that claim to represent the public opinion, the paper contends.
Protection or/and Exploitation? Conflicted and Contradictory Resources Governance in the Making of an Indonesia Frontier
Darmanto Darmanto Leiden University
Siberut (West Sumatra) is a biodiversity-rich small island located in the margin of Indonesia territory. Over 50 years, it has always been ambiguously constructed and characterized and simultaneously source of conflicted and contradicted resources governance for various Indonesian state agencies. It starts with the whole island’s designation as a state forest and the landscape’s partition into the
protected and production areas. The division obscures the complex relations of humans and the environment and the role of indigenous inhabitants in producing nature. It exposes the fault lines between different and often contrastive interests and agendas. The proposed models of resource governance (national park, logging concession, forest estate, plantation, tourist destination, and recently hutan adat) in the island ecosystem have unsurprisingly overlapped, incoherent, and often contradictory. This paper argues that conflicted resources governance on Siberut is simultaneously produced by the dual processes of frontier-making and state-making. The island is a continually coveted place, envisaged by various state authorities as a potential protected area or a site of exploitation. Siberut case offers insights into how the frontier-making produces ambiguous zones and conflicted state resource control forms. The contradictory resource governance and the competing state agencies are, then, the necessary frameworks of rule within a frontier zone.
State land and Shifting frontiers in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia
Anu Lounela University of Helsinki
Central Kalimantan is experiencing rapid environmental change in connection with the contested, overlapping, and messy legal and administrative regimes and rules that govern access and ownership to land. In Central Kalimantan majority of the province is categorized as “state land” which gives the state a legal right to control and distribute access to land. In this context, the state land category contributes to the making of the frontier through the commodification of nature since large areas of the province have been licensed to the corporations that expand their extractive activities on the state land. At the same time, conservation efforts and peatland restoration projects “fix” the environmental damage. Local Dayak groups have engaged with both subsistence and market-based environmental activities in these areas for a long time. The paper explores shifting territorial strategies of the local groups on the “state land” frontiers in the course of the commodification of nature that dissolves and rebuilds authorities.
The resource frontier and Future-Making practices in the Mahakam Ulu regency in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.
David Meschede University of Cologne
The Mahakam Ulu regency in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan is an interesting case for the obseration of Indonesia’s resource extraction plans. Situated in the far inland of the province and covering the upriver stretches of the mighty Mahakam river, the regency was only formed in late 2012. Due to its remote, upriver location, it has so far been spared some of the depredations of the logging industry that have haunted other parts of Indonesia and Kalimantan. Subsistence methods such as hillrice farming and the gathering of forest produce are still being practiced on a significant scale by the local Dayak citizenry. Comparatively large tracts of tropical rainforest remain intact and are fiercely contested between those proposing a commodification of the remaining forest resources and those favouring a conservation approach. At the same time, resource extraction has already long been visible within the regency, where coal is being mined in several locations and oil palm plantations are expanding. It has also been especially prevalent in the neighbouring regency of Kutai Barat, of which Mahakam Ulu was part until 2012. There, vast coal mining enterprises as well as deforestation hav long since dramatically, and permanently, changed parts of the landscape and the local economy alike. Resource extraction in general is therefore by no means a new phenomenon for the people of Mahakam Ulu. It is met with both positive and negative reactions, as its potential expansion induces hopes of prosperity and aspirations for a better future on the one hand while also bringing out fears of ecological devastation and economic marginalisation on the other, with all of these issues being debated with increasing urgency in recent years. The aim of this paper is to explore Mahakam Ulu’s status as a resource frontier from the perspective of the local (Dayak) population and to sketch their responses to the ever-changing circumstances of resource commodification and utilization within their home regency. A focus will be put on the role of the state as a driver of an increasing commodification of nature as well as the interplay between the state’s and the people’s own plans and ideas about the future of the Mahakam Ulu regency. This concerns both their internal response, such as emotions of hope versus fear, as well as the observable future-making practices taking place in the present-day life.
Commodification of nature and the production of indigeneity in Enrekang, South Sulawesi
Timo Duile Bonn University
Enrekang is a regency in South Sulawesi, situated between the Bugis-dominated lowlands and the highlands in the northern part of the province. It was often a frontier region, first between the lowlands with its kingdoms and the highlands, as the lowland kingdoms intruded the latter in search for resources (mainly agriculture products and slaves), and in order to spread Islam and political influence. Eventually Enrekang has become a frontier of the commodification of nature as the state claimed that customary forests are state forests. This was done in order to make nature more productive by introducing timber and raisin plantations - yet with limited impact and very limited success. In 2016, Enrekang was among the first regencies in Indonesia which issued a local regulation (peraturan dearah) on the acknowledgment of indigenous communities and has since then recognized several indigenous communities. Some of them also gained land rights of their customary forests from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. As the recognition of indigeneity and indigenous land rights operates through a process in which state institutions on the local and national scale are involved, the production indigeneity does not so much emerge against the state but with the state and its institutions.
This contribution sheds light on the process of indigenous acknowledgment of Duri communities in the northern (upland) part of Enrekang. It is argued that indigenous recognition came into existence because the state largely failed to achieve its own goals, namely, to make nature productive. As indigenous activists have appropriated the narrative of making nature productive, they achieved recognition, but find themselves now between neoliberal notions of indigenous entrepreneurship and concepts of a local economy based on solidarity.
Frontiers and the Politicisation of Wilderness in Thailand
Alisa Santikarn University of Cambridge
The Cold War period marked a significant shift in the Thai State’s use of the natural environment. Distance from Thailand’s central region has, for a long time, been seen as analogous to distance from ‘Thainess’; demarcating an archetypal frontier dividing the ‘civilised’ from the ‘savage’. In the Cold War period, these border land communities were considered threats to national security, potentially susceptible to the communist ideology pervading the region. As a result, once-wild spaces were transformed and politicised in an attempt to control communities through controlling their land. The resultant‘ political forests’ (as per Peluso and Vandergeest 2001)resulted in the denaturalisation of these areas. The State hid their political agenda behind the guise of Western environmentalism. Through the formalisation of control over the country’s wild spaces, the government also served to position themselves as the rightful ‘guardians of the environment’. In doing so, the State recharacterized the previous occupants of this land as villains, whose traditional custodianship practices were now viewed as environmentally destructive. Previously accepted ways of interacting with nature were criminalised. Environmental policies instilled new values into society and changed perceptions of acceptable behaviour relating to the natural world. Thai environmental policy adopted a Western model that saw people and nature as incompatible and therefore in need of separation. Such an approach benefitted the State in justifying the removal of (the predominantly indigenous) previous inhabitants of this land, under the guise of creating what Acciaioli and Sabharwal (2017:34) term a “frontier of conservation”. This paper seeks to examine the development of Thailand’s approaches to the environment and explore the impact the frontierization of nature has had on indigenous communities who are being forced to (unsuccessfully) compete for their rights to this land. Specific case studies draw upon my own fieldwork with the indigenous Kui community in the Northeast of Thailand. The frontierization of the natural environment in this area has caused the critical endangerment of many Kui traditions (related to the live capture of wild elephants) tied to access to wild spaces that no longer exist, following what they describe as the government “closing the forest”.
Local livelihoods on the (closing?) oil palm frontier of Pomio, Papua New Guinea
Tuomas Tammisto University of Helsinki
The Pomio district of East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea, can be characterized as a frontier area: it is the largest, but most sparsely populated district of the province, where state presence and services are few, and which various actors have framed as having abundant resources waiting to be extracted. In the colonial era, Pomio was a labour frontier from which cheap plantation labour was recruited. In the early 1990s Malaysian logging companies found the forests of Pomio resulting in large-scale logging operations. Around 2004, local politicians initiated large-scale combined logigng and oil palm plantation projects. These are examples of shifting frontier dynamics under which certain resources are cheaply extracted, until they are depleted, new regulation limits extraction or local people successfully assert their claims over the resources.
In this paper I examine how North Mengen speakers of Pomio have in different ways actively engaged with resource extraction under frontier conditions focusing especially on logging, plantation labour, local cash-cropping and sales of fresh food produce on oil palm plantations. The North Mengen have engaged with resource extraction in different ways, for example by actively partnering with logging companies or opposing logging altogether, or by turning to new forms of cash cropping and market sales as alternatives to plantation labour. Through these varied responses Mengen speakers have sought to assert their claims over land and forests and pursue Mengen values of establishing productive relations with each other, the land and people form elsewhere.
Under the Capitalist Frontier: Changing the Riverine Ethnic Identity in Central Kalimantan
Siti Maimunah The University of Passau
Ethnic identity has long been a contested issue in Kalimantan, the home island of the Dayak in Indonesia. This paper draws on fieldwork in a Dayak Murung village to trace the evolution of Dayak ethnic identity, understood as a process of transformation through encounter, in response to successive waves of territorialization for the purposes of resource extraction, from the Dutch colonial period to the present day. I use the concept of frontier assemblages to explore the process of transforming ‘wilderness’ into productive landscapes, while at the same time radically simplifying the meaning of space to the things valued within it. In the frontier landscape, encounters with the
globalized commodity economy, state territorialization programs, state-imposed changes to the Kaharingan religion, and changing riverine landscapes are reconfiguring Dayak Murung identities and undermining their traditional cosmology. Political decentralization, that seemed to offer a way forward for the ethnic political mobilization around the key issue of access to resources, is used by the Dayak elite to consolidate their power at the provincial level. Caught up in a complex interplay of power relations among state actors and extractive companies, the Dayak Murung are expanding the notion of ethnic politics to incorporate messy everyday resistance through which they are able to contest and subvert the dominance of the state and the extractive companies.
The hinterlands and uplands of Southeast Asia have been repeatedly imagined, described and analysed as a frontier. Their alleged untamed wilderness and natural riches have been a powerful trope that served to legitimate population transfers, resource extraction, and the expansion of state control into remote regions, which are inhabited by local groups and where different land tenure rights overlap, producing questions over legitimate access to land and natural resources. Drawing on recent dynamic and processual understandings of frontiers (e.g. Geiger 2008, Acciaioli and Sabharwal 2017, Cons and Eilenberg 2019), this panel explores processes of frontierization and de-frontierization, highlighting the complex interplay between the commodification of nature and state formation. Recently, Kelly and Peluso (2015) have argued that the production of natural resources is closely linked to local processes of state formation and that the forms of resource control
and property arrangements are constitutive of state authority. At the same time, they are important drivers of frontierization and de-frontierization. Formal property rights for example form a basic prerequisite for today’s large-scale land acquisitions, pushing processes of frontierization, while the recognition of customary rights in the state legislation, may produce overlapping or competing rights to land or may lead to de-frontierization.
The panel wishes to emphasize the fluidity, complexity, and temporal dynamics of state formation in frontier areas, where competition over resources and land is high, the presence of the state is fragmented and uneven, and new property systems and legal arrangements are in the making. In order to develop a comparative perspective on such frontier dynamics, we invite contributions from different resource frontiers throughout Southeast Asia that explore how processes of resource-making are interrelated with state making projects, how particular state initiatives enable specific processes of frontierization and de-frontierization, and how the people who live in places framed as frontiers, exercise agency in these processes.