Introduction to the special issue
Social Movements and the Materiality of Governance: Conditions and Effects of Struggles over Land, Water and Livelihood
(Amalinda Savirani and Prathiwi W. Putri)
This special issue follows a scholar-activist workshop that was conducted back in November 2018, in Yogyakarta, with a co-operation between Research Centre for Politics and Government (PolGov), Department of Politics, Gadjah Mada University and Global Development Section, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen. The workshop benefitted from the ERC-funded project “State Formation through the Local Production of Property and Citizenship” led by Prof. Christian Lund, University of Copenhagen. Scholars and activists working on social-environmental conflicts in North Sumatera, Java, and Nusa Tenggara attended the workshop, shared their experiences and reflection on themes and sectors they have involved in. These places represent ranges of development issues, conflicts that emerge from ‘developmental’ problems from contested land ownership, destructive extractive industries, cut access to affordable housing, privatization of water and water infrastructures to marginalized community food and livelihood provision systems. They also represent variations of forms of social movement and collective action, with diverse interactions among the subjects who are promoting and struggling for betterment and the institutional settings which might support or hinder their struggles. During the workshop, it was revealed that each form of social movement stems from a specific sectoral field, specific locality/spatiality, and specific history.
Apart from some ambitions to contribute to some conceptual understandings on social movements and the materiality of governance, the workshop has also some more pragmatic aims. We seek to explore diverse mapping of social movements and linking them to each other, while initiating a collaboration between activists of social movements and academic networks. We learn about the necessity of bridging scholars and activists as it becomes a model of participatory research and action research.
The materiality of social movements
Following the fall of Suharto and his authoritarian regime, or in the so-called Reformasi Era, Indonesia has been witnessing the raise of diverse forms of social movements and significant growth of civil society organizations/activities. For more than two decades, new political arenas in various sectors emerge with issues ranging from good governance (anti-corruption and for-transparency movements), political rights protection (freedom of expression and association, and other civil rights), socio economic rights protection (housing, welfare), the rights of women, children, indigenous communities and other minority groups, environmental protection, access to land, and other resources, etc.
The social movements and CSOs that activate these political arenas pursue different goals. There are movements aiming at institutional changes (i.e. regulation), which might allow higher degree of recognition and protection, or others aiming at (public?) education and intending to increase awareness on certain issues. It is not uncommon that groups of social movements set multiple goals in parallel, ranging from advocacy and campaign to the improvement of governance mechanisms. The technical materiality (the bio-geophysical dimensions, technological systems and administrative mechanisms) of specific sectoral fields (mining, housing, water sector, etc.) matters in shaping the characters of social movements, including the aims set by the communities or organizations. Some groups of movement seek to improve the technicalities by proposing concrete alternatives for dealing with the materiality of everyday life within particular sectors.
An important character of the social movements is their spatiality. We observe in our workshop that it matters whether the movements were originated in the urban or rural contexts. Such locality embeds particular institutions and agencies, including specific models of governance and behaviours of governmental bodies. Some CSOs deal with supportive local government but mostly not. Diverse aspects related to locality-and-spatiality bring consequences on varying types of strategies to reach the movement goals. They also affect how diverse sectoral issues in place and across places relate to each other and form stronger solidarities and even help consolidate united struggles.
The above mentioned factors or the ‘materiality’ of social movement are orchestrated as continuous events and might become transformative moments that historically change the existing governance practices. An institutional change is deemed necessary political character of social movement, as some sociologists of social movement write, namely Charles Tilly, Doug McAdam and Sidney Tarrow. They define social movement as “actors and organizations seeking to alter power deficits and to affect social transformations through the state by mobilizing regular citizen for sustained political action (re: “challengers”) (Tilly 1999, Amenta et.al 2009). With a different emphasize, Tarrow (1994) suggests social movement as ”collective challanges by people with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interactions with elites, opponents and authorities”. They are all also on the opinion that social movement can emerge if there are three determinants: mobilization structure (i.e. resources and organization form), framing strategies, and political opportunities and context (McCarthy and Zald 2002). This way of thinking is part of ”resource mobilization theory” tradition.
Articles in this special edition take benefit from the newly widely discussed “new materialism” in sociology (Fox and Alldred 2017), and turn social movement to ‘socio-material movement’, but we apply it in a more flexible ways. We are in line with this new school because of these couple of reasons. First, social movement is not just about macro and structural aspect that Tarrow and other scholars have laid conceptual foundation upon. Social movement is also about identity, emotions, feeling the way New Social Movement scholars have argued (Melucci 1984). Second, social movement deals with myriads issues covering spatiality, actors they deal with, history, and these all influence the way social movement is operated. Because of that, social movement tends to operate different strategies in achieving their goals – and each of their stages matters politically. Third, theoretical traditions of resource mobilization and social movement are not sensitive enough to socio cultural aspects embedded in the Global South. Asef Bayat labelled it as “westocentric orientation” (Bayat 2005). Hence, our workshop became an important step to understand further the materiality of social movement in particular context of Indonesia, to record some actual bottom-up stories experienced in the fields that will contribute to further theorising.
In a more practical level, our publications seek to understand how far strategies of social movement manage to influence state’s policy, specifically on the issues at stake for social groups dealing with it, such as the urban poor in Jakarta, the population living in the mining areas, or residents affected by newly constructed infrastructures such as airport. The penetrations of struggles into the everyday state operation are determined by the three aspects of materiality mentioned above (locality, sector, and history). We realise, it is a two-way process between the everyday sphere of social movements and the way the agenda of the social movement can influence policy process at public institutions.
Thus, we argue that type of materiality of social movement influence the way strategies to push their demands to be accomodated in the policies. Not only materiality of social movements influences policies by state institutions and its implementing agencies, but it works the opposite too: how the conditions for everyday struggles of social movements are also shaped – facilitated or hindered – by the nature of existing statutory agencies and institutions. One factor causing positive effects of social movements to public policy is the availability of ‘linkages’ between the two. Good linkages or their absence are also related to both spatial and temporal contexts: the rural or urban and the political momentums that might strengthen or weaken social movements.
Our hypothesis is that the democratic room functions more than opening a way for normative political assurance of basic rights. The existence of democratic room might also contribute to long-term material fulfilment of everyday access to land, water and livelihoods. We observe that in Indonesia, there is a wide variety of degrees of democratic climate influenced by local governmental regimes and we are curious whether or not the local state and its institutional relations provide favourable circumstances surrounding the existence and endurance of social movements, and how such circumstances came into being.
Overview of the contributions
This special edition consists of six papers. Two mining sectors, gold and manganese, show complex scalar dimensions: international trades, varying national interests and regulatory frameworks, as well as local livelihoods and social-historical traditions. Wardhani and Dhian reveal the conflict in Banyuwangi, where gold was rather recently exploited. The stable price of gold in the world market prompted more investors, increasing the proximity of the place in the corner of East Java to the outer world. With varying new economic interests entailed to the mining sector, the civil society arenas at the national and local levels have also transformed. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a dominant Muslim group in the region plays a crucial role in supporting mining activities. Using its vast networks of mosques, it persuades inhabitants by highlighting the benefits of gold mining. The culturally embedded Muslim organization has made the struggles of those opposing the mining operation facing deeper challenges. The second mining case in Manggarai, West Timor exemplifies a different context and trajectory of social movement. In terms of value of the metal, Manganese is not too lucrative. But because the NTT Province of Manggarai is a poor region, the local government highly supports the exploration despite its low price (i.e. compared to gold). It facilitated a regulation conversion on land status from ‘conservation’ to ‘production’ areas, and this has become a legal protection to the exploration. If in Banyuwangi religious organization became the social backbones of the mining activities, in NTT where populations are predominantly Catholics, the Church has been part of the movement against mining, along with the adat groups. With their central roles in the everyday life of citizens, both the Catholic Church and the adat communities in Manggarai have been in harmony for centuries, dated back since Dutch colonial rule.
From the peripheral Indonesia – yet the frontiers of the country’s new economy, Savirani and Mohamad discuss the conflicts in the capital city, Jakarta. They pinpoint that where housing is scarce but rural-to-urban migration is steady, there is a need to exercise strategies in increasing access of the urban poor to housing that are beyond the informal survival strategies. The informal has to be political: pushing the government to provide housing for the poor. They highlight the political participation of urban poor in exercising their collective power through gubernatorial election, to claim the rights to housing. Political instrument such as election has become an alternative arena for the urban poor movement; through establishing a ‘political contract’ in the election, the urban poor voted for the candidate who committed to eliminate anti-eviction policy. The case of Jakarta is among mushrooming struggles against the backdrop of Indonesia’s problematic urban growth. At the urban heart of Sumatera, in Medan region, citizens opposed the development of Kualanamu International airport that was built on a previous plantation area. The third largest airport in the country has urbanized the surroundings and eaten up the agricultural functions in the region. In this context, Kaputra and Putri record a peri-urban resistance to defend the livelihoods after the international airport was constructed. They trace the history of the affected households, showing that the more recent land-use change helps sustain the poverty of the previously dispossessed generations because the current conflicts is a sequel of the problematic agrarian transformations in Java and Sumatera since the Dutch colonial era.
The last two papers demonstrate some issues that emerge from struggles in claiming rights at the national levels, by rescaling particular local claims and circumstances in relation to existing national regulatory frameworks. In North Sumatera in peri-urban region of Tanjung Gusta, communities have settled on plantation lands, which are deemed previously taken from their ancestors during the colonial era. Lund and Khairina reveal intense competitions between the communities and plantation companies in securing recognitions from the local and national authorities to their property claims; they persuade the authorities by creating legal facts that were facilitated by the ambiguous post-independence legal pluralism. Similarly, in their article Hadipuro and Putri discuss a discursive battle to influence the enactment of water law, between the proponents of privatization policy in the water sector and some civil society organizations advocating the human right to water. The authors record some moments of transformations of the anti-privatization movement that to a certain extent were influenced by the global discourse in the water sector.
Bayat, A. (2005). Islamism and social movement theory. Third World Quaterly, 26(6), 891-908.
Doug McAdam and Sidney Tarrow (2010), “Ballots and Barricades: On the Reciprocal Relationship between Elections and Social Movements”, Perspective on Politics, 8:2, pp. 529-542
Fox, Nick J and Alldred, Pam (2015), “New Materialist social inquiry: design, method, and the research assemblage”, in International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18:4, 399-414, DOI: 10.1080/13645579.2014.921458
Fox, Nick J and Alldred, Pam (2017), Sociology and the new materialism Theory, Research, Action. Sage Publication, Ltd.
Melucci, A. (1984). An end to social movements? Introductory paper to the sessions on “new movements and change in organizational forms. Social Science Information, 23(4-5), 819-835.
McCarthy JD, Zald MN. 2002. The enduring vitality of the resource mobilization theory of social movements. In Handbook of Sociological Theory, ed. JH Turner, pp. 533-65. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
Published: Jun 25, 2020