Accepted paper:

Politics at state and street levels: the 2006 Central Java earthquake


Jens Seeberg (Aarhus University)
Retna Siwi Padmawati (Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Gadjah Mada)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper explores politics from the state to the street levels in the aftermath of the earthquake in Central Java 27 May 2006.

Paper long abstract:

Understood as a totalizing event of potentially massive social disruption, disaster poses important theoretical and methodological challenges for anthropology. At the same time, anthropology may contribute important insights to the knowledge of disaster. On the backdrop of a critique of culturalist and, to a lesser degree, constructionist anthropology , this paper analyzes events following the earthquake in Central Java on 27 May 2006. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, we explore the politically contested causative explanations of the event, where the earthquake may be understood locally as questioning the legitimacy for the current Sultan of Yogyakarta. We briefly discuss the early disaster relief phase and the articulation of 'traditional' Javanese values such as gotong royong (mutual cooperation), followed by a more detailed discussion of the process of house reconstruction, where we make use of Hacking's distinction between natural and human kinds and the notion of 'looping effects'. In contrast to the notions of Javanese harmony and consensus that are key elements of Indonesian cultural politics, we find intense negotiations and contesting claims at the local level of two neighborhoods. These processes are contextualized in terms of pre- and post 1998 administrative arrangements. The analysis highlights the processes of local distribution of reconstruction resources provided by the state and NGO's.

panel W124
Politics of disasters (EN)