Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Third-Party Intervention in Terminating Oil Palm Plantation Conflicts in Indonesia: A Structural Analysis

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Third-Party Intervention in Terminating Oil Palm Plantation Conflicts in Indonesia: A Structural Analysis

Article excerpt

Together with Malaysia, Indonesia now leads the world in Crude Palm Oil (CPO) production (Colchester et al. 2006, p. 25). Although oil palm plantations in the country date to 1911, they have developed rapidly since the time of the New Order government (1966-98) and are now spread over the islands of Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and Papua. They had a total area of 9,230,100 hectares (1) in 2012 (Badan Pusat Statistik 2013, p. 238), when 1,510 large-scale firms operated in the sector (Badan Pusat Statistik 2013, p. 233). The national and regional governments continue to promote the expansion of oil palm plantations because of the high value of their production and their importance to government revenue (Afrizal 2007a, pp. 95-98; Colchester and Chao 2013, pp. 7-8).

The extensive development of oil palm plantations in Indonesia has been responsible for businesses-people conflicts, people-government conflicts and people-people conflicts. Since the collapse of the New Order government, those conflicts have increased, and many of them have escalated into physical violence in the form of riots and uprisings (Afrizal 2005, pp. 108-53; Afrizal 2007, pp. 91-131; Afrizal 2010, pp. 97-124; Afrizal 2013, pp. 149-175; Dewi 2010, pp. 39-60; Colchester and Chao 2013, pp. 28-200). The conflicts have proved long-lasting; most of them are not yet resolved (Afrizal 2007, pp. 108-53; Afrizal 2010, pp. 97-124; Afrizal 2013, pp. 149-75; Colchester and Chao 2013, pp. 28-200). This article presents research findings on the resolution of oil palm plantation conflicts outside the courts. It pays particular attention to the use of third-party intervention.

Psychological reductionism characterizes much of the literature that seeks to explain successful third-party intervention. For example, Horowitz (2007, pp. 51-56) says that successful third-party intervention is dependent upon the capability of third parties to develop what is called "trust and cooperation" between parties involved and to rely on the ability of third parties to "facilitate, educate or communicate to clarify issues, identify and manage emotions, and create options". Literature of this nature focuses attention on the ability of a third party to help conflicting parties and on the emotional condition of conflicting parties. This focus ignores the influence of structure. Conflicts do not occur in a social vacuum. My contention here is explanations of successful third-party intervention in conflicts must take structure into account, as it constrains and facilitates actions as well as solutions.

Theoretical Framework

Scholarship on successful third-party intervention in terminating conflicts emphasizes the ability of third parties. These latter help the conflicting parties explore possible solutions to their problems by steering them towards agreement (Kressel 2006, pp. 726-53; Pruitt and Rubin 2011, p. 374; Kressel et al. 2012, p. 136). This process is said to be dependent upon the capability of third parties to develop what is called "trust and cooperation" between parties involved and to rely on the ability of third parties to "facilitate, educate or communicate to clarify issues, identify and manage emotions, and create options" (Horowitz 2007, pp. 51-56). Scholars also emphasize the third party's strategies (Kressel 2006, pp. 735-37; Pruitt and Rubin 2011, pp. 383-412) and style (Kressel et al. 2012, p. 136).

One cannot isolate the success of third-party intervention from the context of the conflicts that it seeks to resolve, as third-party intervention does not take place in a social vacuum, ft is conditioned by certain structures. Miall et al. (1999, p. 156) introduce the concept of conflict structure. In their use of the concept, they mean "the set of actors, issues, and incompatible goals or relationships which constitute the conflict". His emphasis on the abilities of third parties notwithstanding, Kressel (2006, pp. 730-31) in fact reveals the importance of conflict structure to third-party intervention. …

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