Challenging Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia: Comparing Indonesia and Malaysia

Challenging Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia: Comparing Indonesia and Malaysia

Challenging Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia: Comparing Indonesia and Malaysia

Challenging Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia: Comparing Indonesia and Malaysia

Synopsis

One of the first in-depth comparative studies of contemporary Indonesia and Malaysia, this work attempts to respond to the impasse of the so-called transition from authoritarian to democracy paradigm and adopts broader senses of politics, power, and authoritarianism, challenging our familiar understanding of gender, Islam, ethnicity and social classes.

Excerpt

Cultural politics of the middle classes in Indonesia

Ariel Heryanto

The phenomenal growth of the so-called urban middle classes in many Asian societies, following the sustained capitalist industrialization of the last quarter of the twentieth century, has been well documented. Beyond that general observation, however, we have a sea of unresolved debates about the new phenomenon, including the precise nature of the so-called middle classes, ways of studying them, and their qualitative significance to ‘democratization’ (itself no less popular and no less problematic). Cognizant of the complexity of the subject matter, this chapter focuses on a fairly narrow topic and scope. The bulk of it is devoted to two empirical cases where middle class politics, in particular economic and socio-cultural settings in industrializing Indonesia, made a significant contribution to the development of broad challenges to the New Order authoritarian regime (1966-98). Comparisons with the situation of neighbouring Malaysia will be offered from time to time to sharpen the issues.

Two main arguments will frame the ensuing discussion. Firstly, under certain circumstances middle class public intellectuals in post-colonies can take the most active role in the process of democratization, though by no means are they consistently or universally important agents of history. The specific circumstances for this active role can be described as social instability in the post-colony during the early stages of a sustained and expansive capitalist industrialization. These changes are significant in that they undermine the familiar ways of doing things, but they are not extensive and powerful enough to establish a new social order. Some features of capitalist industrial production and consumption are dominant, but they do not occupy a hegemonic position in moral, cultural or ideological spheres. It is neither possible nor necessary to characterize the political traits and ideological orientation of the middle classes in a static, sweeping, monolithic or deterministic formulation. Various segments within the middle classes, with diverse and changing attitudes, respond differently to the plural processes of democratization (Koo 1991:486, 495, 499) that are also inherently contradictory (Goldfarb 1998:6-8).

Secondly, in view of the arguments above, it is worthwhile examining in detail the dynamics of middle class cultural politics at a micro level, without . . .

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