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Beyond the local perspective

Tacking the Indonesian energy of the 21th century into a sustainable way

Location: Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta

Period: May 17, 2017

Organisation: University of Gadjah Madah and Radboud University Nijmegen

Convenors: Pujo Semedi, Edwin de Jong and Luuk Knippenberg


After a turbulent start at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Indonesia has entered a new and more peaceful phase, filled with new opportunities, prospects and challenges. The economy is growing steadily and the new employment possibilities generate new hope and energy. These dynamics are really fascinating and result in shifts not known before: such as a strong growth of urban populations, resulting in the weakening of once clear and seemingly indissoluble distinctions between the countryside and the city, accompanied by the transformation of social hierarchies, if only because middle classes are growing steadily. However, these rapid societal transformations do not come without a price.

Indonesia is host to some of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on this planet and is one of the world’s major stockholder and supplier of natural resources (forests, oil, fisheries, minerals). The speed and scale of exploitation and deprivation of these ecosystems and natural resources equals – mirrors is perhaps a better term – the social-economic transformations described above. We see large-scale logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, and the construction of large infrastructural projects, such as dams, harbours, and roads. The unintended side effects are sometimes less welcome, for instance flooding, landslides, mudflows, forest fires, chemical pollution, and the accumulation of plastic waste, as well as food and drinking water shortages. The stirred up contemporary socio-economic dynamics seem to stretch the resilience of the ecosystems to their limits and, and as a result also their capacity to deliver their eco-services in the longer run. This will also affect the wellbeing and health of the Indonesian population at large.

Contents: tacking the new wind

In this masterclass we are looking at the socio-ecological transformations that are taking place in Indonesia. The objective of this Masterclass is to work towards a new approach to study these processes, capable of tacking the new wind and energy driving contemporary Indonesian society. By so doing we aim to develop a new research programme that is comparative in nature, i.e. comparing the processes going on in Indonesia with likewise processes going on in Europe. That studies these processes in a transdisciplinary manner as we consider them as socio-ecological processes that transcend the existing borders of disciplines, geographical locations, and the so-called culture-nature divide.

The programme aims to offer the possibility of co-construction and co-creation with relevant stakeholders, and work towards sustainable transformation, i.e. generating a dynamic and resilient Indonesian society: in which economic and social wellbeing, economic productivity and ecological sustainability go hand in hand, in a balanced way.

The approach will explicitly transcend the local perspective in various ways. It will look at supra-local practices and networks, compare transformation processes in various geographical settings, and involve researchers with different scientific backgrounds and from different locations.


In the morning we start with a number of short presentations of PhD researchers that picture various social-cultural and ecological changes taking place at various locations in Indonesia. These presentations will provide some snapshots of the shifting directions in which Indonesian social-ecological interactions are moving.

In the afternoon some senior researchers and a journalist working for the Indonesian newspaper Kompas will sketch the broader picture of social and ecological transformations in Indonesia. After that a pitch will be given for a social-ecological interaction approach before we move on to a more general brainstorm-type of session in which we try to further develop a new research programme on ‘beyond the local perspective’ that focusses on cooperation, or rather co-creation, between social and ecological scientists and relevant stakeholders.

Who can participate

Students, researchers, or government officials and people that work at civil society organisations are invited to submit an application for participating in this master class. The maximum number of participants is 20.

Preliminary list of presenters

Dr. Pujo Semedi (UGM, Yogyakarta, Indonesia)
Dr. Edwin de Jong (Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands)
Dr. Luuk Knippenberg (Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands)
Dr. Erwan Purwanto (UGM, Yogyakarta, Indonesia)
Prof. Rijanta (UGM, Yogyakarta, Indonesia)
Gaffari Rachmadian PhD-student (Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands)
Runavia Mulyasari PhD-student (Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands)
Mohamad Nasir PhD student (University of Balikpapan & Radboud University Nijmegen)
Johan Saimima PhD student (UGM, Yogyakarta, Indonesia)
Nina Witasari  PhD student (UGM, Yogyakarta, Indonesia)
Hayu Dotti Darmarasti PhD student (UGM, Yogyakarta, Indonesia)
Anindrya Nasti PhD student (ITB/Radboud University Nijmegen)
Lufiandi PhD student (ITB/Radboud University Nijmegen)
Ichsan Kabullah PhD student (Andalas University, Padang/Radboud University Nijmegen)
Madina Nusrat (Kompas Jakarta, Indonesia) (tbc)

Towards a socio-ecological interaction approach

Many approaches to studying nature still use a strict distinction between culture and nature, and apart from that a strictly physical and functional definition of what nature is, and hence, what it is for. Nature is often seen as a pre-given, inexhaustible, self-restoring entity or platform, a source for our welfare, providing material services (i.e. commodities such as wood) and less material services, such as climate regulation, soil production.

However, there is a large and growing body of work showing that the resilience of nature to keep on providing these services is severely strained. Moreover, it has become clear that the interaction between nature and mankind is far more complex, and far less one-directional and static as supposed. There is a strong interrelation between the presence of resilient ecosystems (not nature) and resilient culture, societies and economies. The recent discoveries of climate change are a good example. They show that all human civilizations have developed in period characterized by remarkable stable climate conditions, and still are highly dependent of this stability. On a lower scale we see that the explosion of dengue in some areas is strongly related to the degradation of wetlands, in some areas. It becomes clear that old divide between on the one hand nature and on the other hand culture is no longer tenable. That is why more and more scientists are now talking of socio-ecological systems (see also de Jong, Knippenberg, Bakker, 2017, forthcoming).

In our eyes, the discussion indeed needs to move a step further, not just beyond the functional approach, i.e. the question of what services nature can offer to us, including so-called cultural services, or what services we can offer to nature, but beyond the whole nature-culture dichotomy. Nature is not given, nor are the ways humans interact with nature or the ways humans perceive and value that interaction and the way they perceive and value themselves in that interaction. It is not just that nature start to bite back. It goes further: we start to understand how deeply our societal systems are conditioned by and dependent on natural processes, and the other way around: so-called natural systems are conditioned and often even dependent on human interactions and other societal processes. We should, at least theoretically, merge culture and nature to develop a perspective for understanding our contemporary world. Perhaps, one should claim that this transformation is the real new frontier for the social and life sciences. One can certainly say that this insight draws new borders, and requires new scientific methods, theories and forms of cooperation.


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