The Persistence Ethic: Debts and everyday politics in a rural East Javanese village


Event details

PSC Seminar

Date & time

Tuesday 10 October 2017


PSC Reading Room 4.27, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Colum Graham


Helen McMartin

In this midterm review seminar, I will present my research that investigates the politics of persistence in a rural village in East Java. I conceive of persistence as indebtedness, explain the persistence of a village community from both macro and micro angles, and make claims about an everyday politics of debt. Indonesia’s large rural population has undergone significant change due to sustained economic growth, livelihood diversification, and increasing government support. Yet while these changes have occurred, much analysis of contemporary Indonesia overlooks the agency of villagers. To understand the persistence of agrarian communities and villagers’ agency in relation to contemporary politics requires an approach that takes into account social and economic transformations in rural society. Failing to do so allows for continued mischaracterization of villagers as passive, subsistence-oriented clients that sell their votes cheaply in transactional elections.

From June 2014 to August 2015 and from December 2016 to February 2017 I undertook ethnographic field research in a single rural East Javanese village. The objective of my fieldwork was to understand what some agrarian studies scholars refer to as the persistence of the peasantry and its politics from the perspective of villagers. I argue that the interplay between different forms of debt more underpins than undermines my rural village community, and that the negotiation of debt is the basis for villagers’ everyday politics. As increasing government redistribution to the countryside brings the status of villages to the fore, villagers’ negotiation of mounting debts brings to the fore their social status. I will discuss this argument in relation to my village community’s economy, gender relations, legitimate authority, and the challenges to servicing household debts. .

About the Speaker
Colum Graham is currently a PhD student in the Department of Political and Social Change. He holds a Masters in Environmental Management and Development from Crawford School of Public Policy. His most recent publication appeared in the Journal of Development Studies.

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