Margins, hubs, and peripheries in a decentralizing Indonesia

Symposium: Sociolinguistics of Globalization conference, Hong Kong, 3 - 6 June 2015.

Introduction: margins, hubs, and peripheries in a decentralizing Indonesia

Zane Goebel, La Trobe University, Melbourne

The insights offered by Bahktin (1981), Bourdieu (1991), Foucault (1978), Hobsbawm (1990), Wallerstein (2001), and others have become cornerstones for understanding valuation processes attached to language and their relationships with political economy, processes of globalization and marginalization (e.g. Agha, 2007; Blommaert, 2010; Errington, 1998; Heller, 2011; Heller & Duchene, 2012; Inoue, 2006). This panel seeks to engage with this work by focusing on how movement between centralization and decentralization in Indonesia has figured in the reconfiguration and revaluation of languages in the margins, hubs, and peripheries while also creating new margins, hubs, and peripheries. The papers will cover a diverse range of sociolinguistic practices in a broad range of domains (e.g. face-to-face talk, preaching, radio and television, education, heritage tourism, the bureaucracy, and so on).

Part 1

Localising person reference among Indonesian youth (Michael Ewing, University of Melbourne)

This paper examines first and second person reference among young Indonesian speakers in the city of Bandung. The complex multilingual nature of Indonesian society means that the rapidly changing language of youth displays features of 'hybridity' as a means of constructing intersubjective selves through the local deployment of diverse language resources. Bandung is a dynamic urban environment strongly influenced by the nearby national capital Jakarta, at the same time maintaining a discrete sense of independent identity grounded in the local indigenous Sundanese language and culture. Like Indonesian speakers across the country, young people in Bandung access a range of pronouns, kinship terms and names for referring to self and other. These include pronouns associated with formal and familiar registers of standard Indonesian, those associated with colloquial Jakarta Indonesian and Sundanese pronouns.

First I explore attitudes toward person reference expressed explicitly by speakers through informal interviews and focus groups. Young people articulate referential choice along somewhat essentialist dimensions of place, urban sophistication and gender identity. Yet at the same time, they have a keen awareness of the shifting roles speakers take vis-à-vis different interlocutors and their need to negotiate these relationships through choice of referential terms. Second, using these attitudes as a backdrop, I examine actual use of referring expressions in a corpus of spoken data comprising informal conversational interaction among young people. While the concerns explicitly described by young people do inform their choice of person reference, the data reveal that speakers' usage is in fact subtler than this. Through shifting use of person reference, speakers regularly reorient themselves in terms of local, national and supranational spheres, and this ongoing reorientation to wider social contexts is used in the service of moment-to-moment indexing of stance and intersubjectivity in interaction.

Adolescent interaction, local languages and peripherality in teen fiction (Dwi Noverini Djenar, The University of Sydney)

During the New Order, the center-periphery relations in Indonesia were fraught with problems, not least because for a long time the government systematically undermined local identities. Nearly fifteen years of decentralization following the end of that era, the relations are far more stable than ever before. The success of decentralization is due in a large part to the opportunities given to citizens for greater political participation and expression of local identities (Meitzner 2013). How is this revival of local identities signaled in other domains of social life? I address this question by examining adolescent interaction in "teenlit", a fiction genre concerned with representing youth modernity. In teenlit, adolescents are presented as individuals with awareness of the impact of globalization on local practices. Middle-class adolescents speaking in Jakartan Indonesian are juxtaposed with those from other ethnolinguistic groups to make a point about the peripheral status of ethnic languages. In this sense, teenlit has become a form of discourse on globalization through which self-conscious alignment with local identities is indexed.

My aim is to show the layered irony in this representation. In portraying adolescents as champions of ethnic languages, the authors in effect accentuate and affirm the growing linguistic and social inequality characteristic of globalization. This irony comes on top of another irony: colloquial Indonesian – the language spoken by the protagonists – had itself, until very recently, been relegated to the periphery by the state. Yet another irony, the authors' "linguistic activism" is expressed in a genre known for its global roots. This representation of peripheral languages alongside Indonesian and English is akin to Bakhtin's "stratification" of language.

Moving languages: syncretism and shift in Central Java (Lauren Zentz, University of Houston)

This analysis of students' sociolinguistic identities will be situated within a 70 year Indonesian history consisting until recently of a highly centralized power structure responsible for the diffusion of education curricula, news, and entertainment media, all in the Indonesian language and largely authored by members of Javanese culture.

I will relate this history of centralization to Central Javanese university students' written and oral commentaries during the 2009-10 academic year about their linguistic and communicative repertoires (Zentz, 2014). These students negotiate the markedness of their regional dialect of Indonesian in comparison to "the national center" dialects exemplified in the speech of university students from Java's more prestigious universities. As some of them negotiate this linguistic insecurity toward the center, they also navigate their linguistic relationship to a local center (a center within a national periphery) where a lack of fluency in high Javanese kromo earns them shaming and stress from their community elders.

Despite Indonesia's decentralization, most media remain in Indonesian only, as does schooling, except for 2 hours of local content curriculum per week which, as I have documented elsewhere, are widely known to reinforce students' identities as "non-speakers of Javanese" (Zentz, 2012). The centralization of the Indonesian nation through 1998 and its legacies thereafter, I argue, have so strongly and successfully dispersed the Indonesian language that now many local languages are largely in shift and increasingly syncretic with the national language, while dialects of Indonesian continue to expand, replete with local vocabulary, accent, and inflections.

Identity, youth and football in contemporary Malang (Meinarni Susilowati, Mualana Malik Ibrahim State Islamic University).

Youth and their language practices is an area of sustained sociolinguistic investigation (e.g. Pilkington, 1996). This paper is a preliminary investigation into how Javanese speaking youth of Malang (Central Java, Indonesia), have been drawn into global football languaging practices (Del Percio & Duchene, 2012). While some of their practices are copies of what we can find in any group of football fans, here I focus on how a group of Malang youth, locally referred to as "Arema" (Arek Malang "young people of Malang") with their walikan language, position themselves as Aremania "heroic fans of the Malang football club". Using data from the media and interviews I examine the dialectic nature of globalization and localization (Pennycook, 2010) as these youth negotiate and construct their identities as Javanese, soccer fans, Indonesians, and part of global culture. I link my analysis with ongoing changes in the job market where over three decades of a massification of higher education has produced highly educated, but mostly unemployed youth (Pilkington, 1996). 

Discussant commentary (Jan Blommaert, Tilburg University)

Part 2

Recentering the margins? The politics of local language in a decentralizing Indonesia (Adam Harr, St. Lawrence University)

One unexpected consequence of Indonesia's regional autonomy legislation has been a widespread and heterogeneous "revival of tradition" in regional politics (Davidson and Henley 2007; Vel 2008). Relatively unnoted within this revival is the emerging importance of local languages in some district level elections. People who had been accustomed during the New Order to being addressed by politicians in the Indonesian language found themselves addressed by district executive (bupati) candidates in local languages that index local ethnolinguistic identities. Drawing data from the first election of a district executive in the central Florinese district of Ende in 2008, this paper argues that in some cases the revaluation of local languages in electoral politics results from the intersection of the decentralized territoriality of the Indonesian state with local "semiotic ideologies" (Keane 2007) that are constructed in terms of "centers" and "margins" (Tambiah 1973; Fox 1997; Kuipers 1998). I close by considering whether speakers of local languages are empowered by this revaluation.

Crossover Politics: Spatiotemporal images of the nation-state and the vintage aesthetics of the margins in post-Suharto political oratory (Aurora Donzelli, Sarah Lawrence College)

Following the 1998 demise of the New Order regime, Indonesia has become the stage of a rampant ideology of transnational neoliberal democracy. Epitomized by appeals to a new lexicon of "transparency", "vision", and "mission", this new ideology emerged as the discursive leitmotiv underlying the structural implementation of a radical program of decentralization endorsed by transnational neoliberal agencies (IMF, World Bank, ADB). Drawing on audio-visual data recorded in a peripheral region of upland Sulawesi, this paper examines the re-articulation of the interplay between speech forms and forms of political rationality in contemporary Indonesia. While at first sight Post-New Order public discourse seems pervaded by a hegemonic ideology of transnational neoliberal democracy that leaves little room for local interpretations, a closer look reveals a more complex picture. This paper engages this complexity by offering an account of subversive forms of intertextuality produced through an emerging aesthetics of "the vintage" and "the peripheral". It discusses how the usage of regional language (Toraja) and the deployment of formulas of anticolonial rhetoric are used to convey enhanced oratorical agency and political radicalism. Besides undermining the authority of bureaucratic Indonesian, the deployment of linguistic "pastness" and locality allows an aesthetic re-articulation of Indonesian historical consciousness that challenges two pillars of the New Order's cultural politics of Time and Space: the imagining of time as anchored in an aesthetics of "present-ness" (Pemberton 1994) and the representation of the State as a spatial entity marked by "vertical encompassment" (Gupta & Ferguson 2002). Through framing political discourse as a site for examining the shifts in the politics of locality and temporality currently taking place in Indonesia, this case brings the focus on situated communicative interaction to bear on the study of the zones of cultural friction (Tsing 2005) underlying the global processes of late capitalism.

Marginalizing and revaluing Papuan Malay: the impact of politics, policy and technology in Indonesia (Izak Morin, La Trobe University)

This paper takes a historical look at the movement and (re)valuation of standard Indonesian (SI) and Papuan Malay (PM) in Papua. Drawing inspiration from work on language ideologies and using a range of historical texts, signs, media footage, and lived experience I argue that in recent years PM has moved from the peripheries to new, more central domains, such as the media. This revaluation sits in tension with another process (promises of a massification of education in villages) that will facilitate the continued movement of SI into the peripheries, especially social domains formerly inhabited by the voices of PM and regional languages. I start by looking at how PM emerged through contact between Malay speaking people and Papuans before then looking at the role of missionaries in the mid-1800s in marginalizing this emergent variety through its replacement with standard Malay (SM). I then go on to argue that the implementation of the powerful political decrees by the first Indonesian President Sukarno paved the way for SI to move easily into the Land of Papua in 1969. With Papua under Indonesian control SI began to replace SM while continuing to place PM in a marginal position. Even after decentralization nothing much changed in terms of language policy as it related to the language of schooling, but ambiguities in a number of government decrees laid open an avenue for the revaluation of PM through it increasing use in the media on the internet.

Discussant commentary (Joel Kuipers, George Washington University)

Part 3

The material force of signs and the reconfigurement of superdiverse identities (Deborah Cole, University of Texas Pan-American)

This study investigates a value project to create and promote a commodity register to formulate a "diverse identity" as emblematic of the city of Jogjakarta, Central Java. It takes as its data the products of a popular souvenir company, DAGADU, which was launched by a group of architecture students from Gadjah Mada University in 1994. The company's history spans the final years of Soeharto's centralized government, the reformasi era of decentralization, and the present. The signs produced for sale on t-shirts, stickers, key chains, and other souvenirs provide rich data for advancing a materialist theory of signs that sees them "as material forces subject to and reflective of conditions of production and patterns of distribution, and as constructive of social reality…having real effects in social life" (Blommaert 2013: 38).

The analysis of these data reveal the ways that patterns of production and consumption contribute to the (re)creation of ethnolinguistic hubs and peripheries. Further, it clarifies our understanding of the complex dialogic and heteroglossic processes by which signs are emplaced in the linguistic landscape, select their audiences for uptake, and participate in the enskillment and knowledging of those who read and make use of them. Most importantly, the analysis helps us to make sense of the ways that the superdiversity of contemporary globalization contributes to formulations of identity categories that conflict with chronologically prior, or geographically distant, formulations and valuations of similar personae.

On the internet, no one knows you're from Madura: De-naturalizing language ideologies in post-Reform Indonesia (Howard Manns and Simon Musgrave, Monash University)

This paper examines the evolving nature of language and identity in post-Reform Indonesia by investigating the use of language variation to instigate and resolve ethnic-national tensions in online forums. We begin by briefly introducing some of the key features of the Semiotic Register (SR) of Kaskus (Agha 2007), Indonesia's most popular online forum.

We next show how language variation emerges against the backdrop of this SR in discussions of ethnicity. These discussions often entail the strategic elevation of the ethnic self and the strategic denigration of the ethnic other and we illustrate how language variation is implicated in either strategy.

Language is not ideologically neutral as Bakhtin (1981) and Bourdieu (1991), among others, point out. While Kaskus may appear to be a topsy-turvy sociolinguistic hub, Standard Indonesian continues to voice 'authority' thus maintaining its role as a unifying force during the New Order. However, this authority is undermined by the informal and casual nature of the Kaskus SR as well as the often tongue-in-cheek use of ethnic languages which invokes linguistic peripheries within this space.

We conclude that the internet provides yet one more periphery through which New Order ideologies of language become 're-imagined' and 'de-naturalized' in the post-Reform era (Goebel 2008). Thus, through the internet, the local, ethnic self may explore and resolve tensions around what it means to be a member of the wider, Indonesian community.

Local activism versus recentralization: The case of Javanese in municipal offices and schools in Central Java (Yacinta Kurniasih, Monash University)

Since 1995, the central government has designated Javanese as a compulsory school subject (Kurniasih, 2006). Elsewhere in Java, other regional languages have enjoyed strong support from the school community and the local government. Provincial governors were actively involved in formulating and implementing the school curriculum in their provinces' regional language, and regional languages were promoted as part of a regional identity. These efforts gained momentum with the implementation of decentralization laws in 2001. However, centralization forces re-emerged through the introduction of a national curriculum in 2013, threatening the continued support for regional languages. This evoked strong reactions from school communities and at least four governors (West Java, East Java, Special District of Yogyakarta, and Central Java).

This paper focuses upon Javanese valuation projects by examining local reactions to the national curriculum, showing that a decade of decentralization has provided regional communities with a strong sense of ethnolinguistic identity. I will examine a series of governor instigated regulations that were released in response to the national curriculum, together with an account of the activism that emerged within some school communities in Central Java. Of particular interest will be the Gubernatorial Regulation No.57/2013 on the Javanese language, which foregrounded rights under decentralization laws by specifying that Javanese was to be spoken during informal occasions in schools and government offices. The Governor of Central Java further amended this regulation in 2014 making it compulsory to speak Javanese once a week during both formal and informal occasions in municipal offices. The new regulation also stated that Javanese must be taught in schools as a separate subject for a minimum of two hours per week for each grade.

Modelling unitary and fragmented language ideologies on Indonesian television (Zane Goebel, La Trobe University) 

From 1968 to 1998 the bureaucracy, the education system, and the media became key to centralization and language standardization efforts in Indonesia. During this period these processes helped create versions of the familiar formula of language plus person plus territory equals nation (e.g. Hobsbawm, 1990), and ultimately an ideology that Indonesian and ethnic languages were "unitary languages" (Bakhtin, 1981). Those who spoke state-authorized versions of Indonesian and ethnic languages become Indonesian citizens and members of ethnolinguistic groups respectively (Goebel, In press). While this process was pushed along by the marketization of ethnic languages on television in the early 1990s (Loven, 2008), marketization also challenged the ideology of unitary languages through the modelling of mixed languaging practices. The constant tension between centralization and fragmentation, pointed out by Bakhtin (1981: 270-272), is the central focus of this paper which shows how ethnolinguistic identity and mixed languaging practices were modelled on Indonesian television. My focus will be 400 hours of footage recorded in 2009 which shows that mixed language practices were modelled across all television stations, most genres, and most timeslots. This co-occurred with other semiotic content that anchored this practice to territory; helping produce older unitary formulas of personhood. As with the early 1990s, this tension appears to be a reflex of the seeking of niche markets (fragmentation) in an era of expanding programming and the continued copying of sell-well programming (centralization).

Discussant commentary (Asif Agha, University of Pennsylvania)


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Zane Goebel