Monday, November 14, 2011

On Why There Are Few Indonesians in Indonesian Studies

"Sekarang ini 90 persen publikasi dalam jurnal akademis tentang Indonesia ditulis bukan oleh orang yang tinggal di Indonesia. Hal ini, menurut Indonesianis Anthony Reid, menjadikan Indonesia negara yang paling tidak efektif menceritakan dirinya sendiri kepada dunia. Satu ironi yang perlu diubah." (Tempo, 14-20 November 2011)

This week's Tempo was exceptional for me. The magazine mapped out foreign scholars studying Indonesia - from Kahin, Anderson, Crouch, Hill and monumental works in Indonesian studies. I share the position Tempo's taken in elaborating the phenomenon that has been going on for decades (which, unfortunately, will not change in the near future). Ariel Heryanto's article in the same magazine elaborates very articulately, as he always does, the main problems in why there is a void of Indonesians in Indonesian studies. It has been his concern for a while.

I started off as an academic with naive optimism that agency could work. That if I strategise smart enough and be persistent enough, it could work. I am beginning to realise that this is not the case. It is practically structurally impossible for Indonesian scholars based in Indonesia to be academically productive. The rule in UI, for instance, is for teaching lecturers to be in charge of 2 to 6 classes per semester. Because of a lack of competent lecturers (why would an international graduate become a state official if they could get a job at a Multinational Corporation? That was sarcasm, in case it wasn't clear enough), some of the same lecturers who teach 6 classes also hold a structural position in which they would have to manage a programme with hundreds of students.

How on earth could someone, with a 9 to 5 managerial job, prepare materials for class - let alone read and write for a national and international journal? Let alone travel to other parts of Indonesia and/or the world to present papers? To even conduct proper research.

These seemingly casuistic events are systemic. All over the country, state academics face these problems. Syllabuses don't change from year to year, the same materials are used to teach students who are better off reading Wikipedia.

It's also ideologically impossible. Some of the most intelligent Indonesian social scientists I know have openly claimed that being solely an academic, writing and researching for a living, is not enough. "You need to be part of the struggle," one said, "There are too many issues to fight for, I don't want to spend my time writing and leaving no real impact." So some of the best thinkers join activism.

Again, I do share the sentiment of being part of grassroot changes - but when it comes to 'menceritakan dirinya kepada dunia', it is clearly ineffective. Ideas are not recorded into writing and are thus untraceable historically. There are lots of scattered media articles written by Indonesian intellectuals but very few are compiled into a book that can be cited as the basis of national policy making - let alone as part of an international narrative. I'm not being a local orientalist when I say this, because I'd also like to emphasise on a lack of an Indonesian perspective in international policy making. Bilateral and multilateral agreements as well as global non-profit strategies related to Indonesia are based on US, Western European and Australian researches.

I admire foreign scholars and Indonesianists, heck my supervisor is David Hill. I also find people from other nationalities very genuine in their writing and consistent when choosing anthropological approaches. But emerging Indonesians are not Indonesian (and I mean that in the least xenophobic way possible). There needs to be a degree of subjectivity in story telling to deliver authenticity. The experiencing of everyday Indonesian and local (ethnic) culture to acknowledge real problems worth writing about.

It is not about where we were born, but where we are predominantly based - and it influences the way we write and the topics we choose.

If the state and those in positions to determine changes on a macro and meso level do not support scholars based in Indonesia - either we will eventually move to a place where we can afford to write or people who come from other nationalities will write for us. Local and national researches will continue to be scarce and our theories and frameworks will continue to be Western. Sadly, I think Reid's and Heryanto's concerns are true and seemingly unchangeable for a while.

But I cannot (yet) let go of that naive optimism that somehow, with persistent agency, something's bound to work.


Anonymous said...

Ina, kemaren gw liat di wikipedia list of world Islamic scholars abad 20-21, dan gak ada seorang pun asal Indonesia loh. padahal populasinya katanya paling besar sejagat raya, heeeuuu

Inaya Rakhmani said...

Iya, padahal pemikiran Cak Nur dan Gus Dur kan luar biasa. Tapi karena terpisah dari publikasi internasional, jadi tidak turut mempengaruhi wacana Islam dunia.

reney said...

Halo mbak Inaya.

"There are lots of scattered media articles written by Indonesian intellectuals but very few are compiled into a book that can be cited as the basis of national policy making - let alone as part of an international narrative"

Saya pikir selain jadi referensi policy making, juga perlu nulis buku spt itu sebagai bacaan populer nonfiksi yang relevan buat banyak orang. Tipikal bacaan yang bisa dibuka di kereta, taksi, mall, etc. Tipikal bacaan yang bisa dikomunikasikan dengan baik sampai bisa masuk ke budaya mainstream.

Bacaan spt itu yang jadi missing link antara "tulisan-tulisan di media" dengan "artikel jurnal".

Mungkin dengan adanya demographic surplus khususnya di wilayah urban, itu berarti ada market besar yang haus akan buku-buku populer nonfiksi (atau karya budaya apapun) yang terkait tentang Keindonesiaan.

Booming stand up comedy mungkin salah satu yang membuktikan ada satu pasar kosong yang haus akan karya yg "smart", "urban", "Indonesia".

Saya sendiri mulai gali-gali penulis lokal yang mulai memasukkan topik Keindonesiaan, entah sengaja atau tidak. Itu kenapa tiba-tiba di kepala saya Afrizal Malna jadi lebih high culture dibanding Murakami.

Inaya Rakhmani said...

Halo Reney. It's tricky, using the term 'high culture'. But that's a totally different discussion.

But anyway, ada alasannya kenapa ada absensi penulis non fiksi populer - jumlah pembaca untuk genre tersebut, meskipun ada, sedikit sekali. Kalau sempat, coba baca tesis 'Industri Budaya'-nya Adorno & Horkheimer, ya. Agar memperoleh profit, industri 'terpaksa' fokus pada produk budaya yang menjual ke sebanyak-banyaknya orang. Hence, chicklit.

Caranya supaya bisa keluar dari stagnasi itu adalah industri yang berani mengambil resiko investasi ke penulis yang beda (karena belum tentu laku, sedangkan novel chicklit pasti laku). Penulis yang berinisiatif untuk lebih kreatif itu solusi agen yang berdaya (agency). Bisa, tapi perubahannya lebih lambat. Dan kemungkinan si penulis brilian itu akan jatuh miskin, karena karyanya tidak seberapa dihargai padahal tenaga yang keluar untuknya begitu besar. Kecuali si penulis mampu secara ekonomi untuk melakukannya (Dewi Lestari, misalnya, seorang penyanyi).

Maaf ya, ngelantur. Pikirannya suka kemana-mana. :p

colson said...

You touched on a sore spot obviously.

Though is not a surprise many foreigners show up study and do research in Indonesia (Sydney, Berkeley, Leiden - academic Indonesian Studies are all over the world), it is unfortunate if Indonesian Universities are under-staffed.

Since I noticed over here the world of free floating intelligence, an academic environment and academic careers is not admired any more as much as it was in my youth, I wonder whether apart from the causes you mentioned this also is the case in Indonesia.

ign haryanto said...

Inaya, saya sangat menghargai tulisan anda ini ... menarik, dan kita rasanya bisa keluar untuk juga jadi warga global dan menyumbangkan perspektif Indonesia dalam melihat banyak hal di dunia. Salam ... ign. haryanto

Anonymous said...

I think there are more Indonesians in Indonesian studies than what we is just that they don't write in English and publish, hence giving the impression that there are so few Indonesian Indonesianists.

I believe more scholars should try to blog at least (and in English), so there are more Indonesian voices out there.

Inaya Rakhmani said...

I agree on your last comment, but blogging is a form of individual agency. It's not a structural solution, while this is a structural problem. 'There are many Indonesian thinkers' is exactly my point.

Mauricio said...

It used be said of the Balkans that its problems were due to the fact that it produced more history than it could consume. Perhaps it could be said that one of the problems here is that Indonesia produces more history than its people are interested in consuming (or absorbing). That and that the manufacture of history has been in the hands of a state-owned monopoly, with all the associated (market) distortions, corruption and inefficiencies usually associated with state-owned enterprises.

Mauricio said...

Another reason why Indonesians are bad at telling the world about themselves may be that they are not terribly interested in themselves in the first place. Read below, a repost of an actual incident in grad school.

Good luck...trying to get people [Indonesians] to engage and discuss. I am reminded of an episode during grad school. Our school dean was a seasoned diplomat who had met virtually the who's who of Southeast Asian modern history. One of the Indonesian (graduate) students asked him what he thought of Suharto. She prefaced her question by saying that she thought Suharto's regime had started well. After the talk, I approached her, and asked her how she could say that a regime that began with a coup, assassinations (Lubang Buaya, anyone?), and wholesale massacre with a backdrop of economic collapse and extreme political polarization had started well. She replied that she really didn't know the history of the period very well. I told her that all she needed to do was to go to our library. There she could find books about Indonesia by Indonesians and others that were not available or banned at one time in her country. She got flustered, and said that she wanted to know nothing of that period. End of conversation. She was on the dean's list a couple of times, and is now working in the Indonesian central bank.

True story.

Inaya Rakhmani said...

@Mauricio: Firstly, even before its independence, Indonesia's history has been a struggle between dominant groups (colonialiser, state, now, industry) and young intellectuals. From the Youth Pledge to May 1998. It has always been an elitist discourse, unfortunately, which does not include most of the population. Your comment that it might be because we don't care, falls into this context.

Secondly, the case you pasted is true in the case of some of my students. Being raised a certain way, in a specific social and economic group, they adopt a certain worldview. But I also have students who have great interest in Indonesian history and actively blog about current issues. Very few, but not hopeless. I'm not deluded enough to think that this small group of people would make any kind of change. Neither do I think with my work within the system, trying contribute (a miniscule speck of dust) to structural change, is in any way effective. It would be easier, I think, for me to get frustrated and give up. But it's a process I consciously choose to be part of.

Anonymous said...

Mba Inaya, saya appreciate sekali dengan tulisan Mba yang ini. Saya jadi berpikir serius untuk meneliti tentang Indonesia (selama ini penelitian saya hanya tentang Korea dan Amerika Serikat).

Ada website yang mungkin menarik untuk mba Inaya. Ini website Ilmu Budaya-nya UI yang isinya kompilasi tulisan-tulisan tentang manuskrip nusantara ^^


Inaya Rakhmani said...

@Nana: Thanks! (Menelusuri tautan) Lentera Timur juga mengesankan:

Merlyna said...

really appreciate what you posted here. intellectual (aka academic) discourse is very much centered around published work... unfortunately indonesian scholars (including those who got phds from abroad aka english speaking countries) aren't productive in publishing internationally. i think, indonesian higher academic system badly needs reform... research and teaching should be more integrated in some top univs. in the us, there're many (more) univs that aren't research univs, in teaching colleges faculty isn't expected to publish. but in research univs, you should publish (and teach) or get fired.
additionally, recruitment system should also be changed. univs should openly recruit new phds who show potential for research/publishing and teaching. positions at univ should be open for public. i certainly became interested in social science and devoted myself to indonesia related research mostly because i felt that as indonesian i needed to tell stories of my own country. unfortunately though, nowhere in indonesia accepted me (as a faculty) so i had to be based out of indonesia... my publications now are counted as american scholars' pubs even though i am indonesia, inside and out.

Inaya Rakhmani said...

I understand. Vedi Hadiz said the same thing. No Indonesian uni (including his almamater) was willing to take him after he finished his studies.

Not only does higher education needs policy reform (belum lagi menengah dan dasar), the limited capacity for human resource needs to be identified (can ineffective bureaucracy be addressed with ICT?), and funding needs to be allocated efficiently (many unaddressed corruption cases on the 20% of national budget for education). If these factors aren't addressed, Indonesian scholars will in no way be able to write for international readers and be part of our own country's academic discourse.

And it is also because of these factors that I relate to your own personal decision. It seems that, ironically, it is more feasible to be an Indonesian in another country.

Simulacrum said...

Bagaimana dengan China? Adakah cendikiawannya yg diakui oleh dunia? Sementara hari ini, Barat harus mengakui dominasi ekonomi China. Hal tidak mungkin tercapai tanpa kontribusi signifikan kaum cendikiawan China di semua disiplin ilmu, baik yang ada di Barat maupun tidak. Atau pencapaian ini eksklusif hasil kerja elite Partai Komunis China, yang memiliki keunikan tersendiri dalam acuan berpikirnya? Qqqq...