From clients to citizens? Emerging citizenship in democratizing Indonesia

Projectleiders: Henk Schulte Nordholt, Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (KITLV-KNAW) en Bambang Purwanto, Gadjah Mada University

Democratic citizenship refers to the capacity and willingness of citizens to actively influence the functioning of state institutions. While considered a vital correlate of democratization and the rule of law, its largely Western-oriented literature rarely studies the forms of democratic citizenship that emerge in the context of a weakly institutionalized state and a largely clientelistic political system. Citizenship in Indonesia is hardly studied, as the concept was long considered inadequate to describe the hierarchical and clientelistic relations that characterized much statecitizen interaction during and before the New Order. Yet the nature of Indonesia’s democratization process makes it necessary to go beyond the more common elitefocused research on Indonesian politics to study the way citizenship is perceived and practised by ordinary Indonesians. From Clients to Citizens? aims to understand the impact of Indonesia’s democratization process on everyday state-citizen interaction: to what extent is Indonesia’s democratic transition changing the way ordinary Indonesians relate to the state in terms of citizenship? How can we explain both the changes and the continuities?

In addressing these questions, From Clients to Citizens? aims to make three major contributions to a better understanding of democratization and the articulation of citizenship in Indonesia. First, as citizenship is generally studied in the context of a liberal, high-capacity welfare state, this project aims to improve our understanding of how democratic citizenship takes shape in the context of a weakly institutionalized, post-colonial state. This project focuses on the relationship between citizenship, political clientelism and the institutionalization of the rule of law – in our eyes a vital issue, yet largely ignored in the literature on citizenship. We need to understand under what circumstances clientelistic practices may be displaced by successful citizenship claims. Second, this project aims to study how historical trajectories of state formation feed into contemporary forms of state-citizen interaction. It examines to what extent currently prevailing norms of citizenship can be traced back to older (cultural) notions of authority and political legitimacy. Thirdly, this project aims to improve our understanding of differences in political practices and attitudes within Indonesia. It uses a comparative examination of the contrasts between (and within) greater Jakarta, South Sulawesi and Lampung to understand how regional differences – for example in terms of the size of the informal economy, the character of local trust networks, the history of indirect rule or the regulatory capacity of the state – affect the strategies and attitudes that citizens adopt vis-à-vis those in power.

Being young in a provincial town. Photo: Collection KITLV Being young in a provincial town Photo: Collection KITLV To address these questions, From Clients to Citizens? engages in both historical and ethnographic studies of everyday interactions between citizens, state institutions and political intermediaries. Focusing on key citizenship struggles in contemporary Indonesia – such as the anti-corruption mobilization and the campaigns to institute Islamic morality, to secure land rights, to receive adequate public services and to achieve social security reform – the project’s seven sub-studies aim to capture the changing norms, practices and discursive strategies that citizens adopt vis-à-vis those in power. This project’s shared comparative approach maximizes synergies between the subprojects as they study three complementary aspects of the emergence of democratic citizenship in Indonesia: how is democratization affecting:

  1. the dependence of citizens on political patrons, 
  2. the strategies and discourse that citizens adopt to secure their rights and 
  3. the accessibility and the character of Indonesia’s public sphere?