Accepted paper:

Invisible disorders: sorcery and misfortune among East Javanese sex-workers in Bali (Indonesia).


Matteo Carlo Alcano (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the use of sorcery and other malevolent magic in the context of antagonist gangs of East Javanese sex-workers in Bali. It explores the ideas of misfortune and illness and calls for a reconsideration of East Javanese sociality and social stability, as suggested in recent scholarship.

Paper long abstract:

Sorcery and malevolent magic have been largely unexplored in the study of Southeast Asian societies, with few notable exceptions. For instance scholarship on East Javanese societies has long instisted on positive norms of stability, sociality and mutual support rather than on interpersonal conflict and supernatural harmful attacks, as Retsikas (2010) has brilliantly underscored. This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork in Bali and examines the use of black magic among East Javanese male sex-workers. Javanese male sex-workers in Bali are grouped up in complex networks of youth gangs, who strive for the control of the sex-market. In a context of identitary uncertainty, work precarity and great competitiveness, black magic and other violent manifestations are a means to establish control over space and territory and assert supremacy over antagonistic gang members. Particularly, sorcery is much sought after to cause misfortune and illness, a perishment of another person's body. Spells and attacks can cause new HIV infections and insomnia-related symptoms and represent a significant danger for a person's bodily capital. This papers illustrates the dynamics of street warfare and malevolent practices and calls for a reconsideration of Javanese male sociality in the light of frequent - albeit less evident - episodes of social instability and social tension.

panel W065
Occult economies in Asia: malevolent magic and supernatural aggressions