Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Contested Development in Indonesia: Rethinking Ethnicity and Gender in Mining

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Contested Development in Indonesia: Rethinking Ethnicity and Gender in Mining

Article excerpt


Gender and ethnicity are used to downplay and upgrade particular rights, access, control, and discursive power with regard to natural resources, and shape diverse understandings of development. In research on the masculinized mining industry, gender constitutes a critical variable in human-nature-relationships and related issues of development. As ethnicity also has strong impact on identity and group formation, this category is expected to feature prominently in the literature on mining in Indonesia, but this is not actually the case.

In this article, we discuss, based on a literature review, how researchers and development practitioners elaborate on the intertwinement of gender and ethnicity. In a further step, we frame shortcomings with regard to institutional analysis and give future prospects for further research. With special focus on Indonesia, we focus on gendered roles, access, control, and knowledge on processes of identity-formation and how these are instrumentalized in struggles over mining projects embedded in development discourses. This contributes to an understanding of how research in the field of gender, ethnicity, development and mining analyzes and describes the role and influence of different actors and discourses, as well as the relationship between ethnic- and gender-coded power relations and socio-ecological transformation in Indonesia.


Indonesia, as many other countries, links development with resource extraction and mining which is directly associated with economic and social development. During the former president Suharto's developmentalist authoritarian regime until 1998, the top-down agenda of development (pembangunan) was based on the economic extraction of the peripheries for the sake of the center's progress (Haug, Rössler, & Grumblies, 2017). In most cases, the large-scale exploitation of natural resources was materialized through contracts with foreign companies within the Contract of Work system (kontrák karya) which was regulated in Law No. 11 of 1967. A kontrák karya is an agreement between the Government of Indonesia as the principal and a foreign company as the contractor, giving the latter a strong position with regard to tax payments, revenue sharing, and dealing with environmental pollution and human rights abuses. In 2009, Law No. 4 of 2009 on Mineral and Coal Mining replaced the kontrakt karya system by a mining permit system (izin usaha pertambangan) in the framework of a more protectionist economic approach.

As global demand for scarce energy resources is mounting rapidly, the coal mining sector promises massive revenues (Barma, Kaiser, Le, & Vinuela, 2012). However, the resource curse thesis suggests that natural resource abundance generates a series of economic and political distortions which ultimately undermine the contributions of the extractive industry to development through civil conflict (Sachs & Warner, 2001). The debate on the prospects and dangers of mining can be seen as an exemplification of the debate around the country's development model. The state's strong emphasis on economic growth through resource extraction can be seen in the expansion of Indonesia's coal industry. The mineral resources sector accounts for more than 17% of export revenues of the Indonesian economy (Price Waterhouse Coopers Indonesia, 2013) and globally, Indonesia is the second-largest coal producer and the largest exporter of thermal coal (Devi & Pragoyo, 2013).1

The benefit of mining to inhabitants living in resources rich regions - including ethnic groups - can materialize in the contribution to the development of local suppliers and local employment. However, the assessment of the impact of the mining industry on development depends on the definition of development. Multiple concepts of development exist - related to different approaches in the organization of social and production systems, orientations toward the past and the future, and philosophies of science and epistemology. …

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