PANEL 1–A – TRAJECTORIES
Navigating across a plurality of sectors of research on social mobilizations
- Chairperson: Benjamin B. Velasco, AlDev UP CIDS
This panel aims to highlight the itineraries of different figures of engaged research: grassroots intellectuals, movement theoreticians, university–based committed researchers, citizen–scholars and more militant productors of knowledge. How do the militant careers of thinkers–actors evolve between different kinds of categories, in a continuum or through trials, personal reassessment and disengagement? The presenters will also report on people who have chosen to maintain forms of distancing toward engagement in order to preserve what they conceive as their freedom for research, to be able to continue producing fresh outsider’s insights and to adopt more independent postures enabling people to speak to them with the least possible a priori. The portraits of intellectual–activists can be based on ethnographic observation, archival materials, interviews, and personal testimonies.
- Abdul Rahman, Serina (Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore) – Producing new knowledge while empowering a community: treading a fine line between scholar–activism and community intervention
The co–creation of new knowledge through the combination of traditional ecological knowledge collation and citizen science is a tool through which a community can be empowered to help itself cope with impending and irreversible change. This paper reflects on my personal experience as a researcher deeply involved in community organising in a rural fishing village in southwest Johor, Malaysia. My accidental scholar–activism comes as a result of 14 years immersed in this community, initially as a facilitator for an environmental club, which then evolved into a locally–led grassroots organisation working to enable the community participate in and benefit from the development encroaching onto their neighbourhood and natural habitats. With no initial intention to remain and engage with this community to such an extent, my work progressed from environmental education to mobilising and capacity–building the community to become their own voice to overcome restrictive power structures and ensure social justice. I used my position as a researcher to maintain an objective ‘distance’ from my community subjects as I studied their ‘progress’, while providing them with access to resources, networks and materials, as well as to amplify their work through story–telling and publications in myriad media. While this work was borne of my ‘desire to make a difference’, I constantly question the wisdom of my providing the community with a vision that they may never be able to actually achieve, and the contravention of gender norms and conservative cultural expectations.
Keywords: scholar–activism, community empowerment, traditional ecological knowledge, social justice, citizen science
Biography: Serina Rahman teaches environmental politics at the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, NUS. Her research encompasses (un)sustainable development, rural politics, climate change impacts on coastal communities, and political ecology. The rest of her life is taken up by Kelab Alami, a community organisation that she co–founded in 2008 to help the people of Mukim Tg Kupang, Johor, participate in and benefit from urbanisation. Trained as a conservation scientist, her practice is in community empowerment for habitat conservation, the study of marine human–habitat interactions, and sustainable fisheries management. She has a PhD in Science from UiTM (Malaysia) and a Masters in Applied Linguistics from the University of Wales, Cardiff. Serina is an Iskandar Malaysia Social Hero Award Winner for Environmental Protection, and was highlighted by Channel News Asia as an Asian Climate Warrior.
- Brooten, Lisa (Southern Illinois University, College of Arts and Media) & Swan Ye Htut (Stanford University) – Burma’s Decolonizing Moment? Growing challenges to colonial structures and narratives
The February 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar is an extreme manifestation of the wave of authoritarianism witnessed in recent years in Southeast Asia and elsewhere worldwide, and has spawned a slew of new reporting and analyses of Myanmar’s post-takeover situation. In response, a growing number of Burmese have been raising important questions and critiques of the historic and current influence of outsiders in defining the dominant narratives regarding their country – first due to foreign control of the country itself until its independence in 1948, and now due to the ongoing dominance of the wealthy, post-industrial nations in the production of global journalism, research and analysis of Myanmar for an international audience. These critical Burmese voices are calling for the decolonization of Myanmar studies, but also critiques of those writings and reports by foreign (especially Western) academics, parachute journalists and popular political analysts, who, they argue, lack recent experience in the country. These calls have been triggered by the disillusionment of many GenZ activists and young academics, and then taken up by others, regarding the discourses about their country they see circulating in academia and international news, and their anger at the lack of concerted action by the international community to support them in their struggle against the military junta.
Those calling for change are part of a global push for decolonization – emergent in some places and fields, well-established in others, absent in still others – that moves beyond the framework of postcolonial studies to center attention on issues of redistribution and retribution. How to help in these efforts was a question we struggled with in writing this piece. As a US academic conducting research for decades in Myanmar, and an emerging Burmese American scholar, we have approached this project as a way to interrogate our own positions in the academic project of Myanmar Studies. We believe it is a useful project to document some of what we see in this moment, so we make a modest contribution to forwarding the conversation by laying out the key academic discussions of decolonization, especially from Burmese academics, and then documenting and analyzing key themes circulating through broader, (English language) social media spheres that echo these academic calls. While popular media discussions might not use the term “decolonize” in their calls for change, what they do call for corresponds with many of the key demands of those working for decolonization, indicating that this is a phenomenon worthy of our attention, a phenomenon broader than the sum of its various participants.
We analyze several case studies in this paper of critical discussions of foreign influence over narratives being circulated globally about Myanmar. These critiques include responses to the parachute journalism trip of CNN’s Clarissa Ward into Myanmar about a month after the coup; the IEP’s problematic inclusion of Myanmar in its Global Terrorism Index; and a series of political analyses published in popular venues, in particular a controversial series of articles by analyst Anthony Davis, and two controversial articles in The Economist that generated a lot of social media discussion. The themes circulating in these critical discussions provide insight into this moment in Burma/Myanmar’s shifting historical identity, help identify new forms of allyship in the decolonizing project, and new ways of moving forward in efforts to promote a more inclusive, democratic Myanmar and contribute to the global push for a decolonized future.
- Atik Catur Budiati & Dwi Winarsih (Department of Sociology and Anthropology Education, Faculty of Teacher Training and Education, Universitas Sebelas Maret, Indonesia & Centre de Recherches en Histoire Internationale et Atlantique (CRHIA) – Département Langue Etrangères Appliquées, La Rochelle Université, France) – “Solo Mengajar”. Community social platform for education in underprivileged urban areas in Solo – Indonesia
Surakarta, better known as Solo, is an Indonesian city that has a reputation for its social movements. We often refer to its local political atmosphere as a barometer of national political turmoil. Historically indeed, some Solo’s social agents have played an important role throughout the Indonesian independence movement. During the Orde Baru era, we can mention some activists from Solo as militant opposition to authoritarian regimes. Today, the digital environment has reshaped the social movement in Solo. The Internet and social media have encouraged Solo’s activists to build such virtual social spaces. The Solo Mengajar is one example. This social movement was born from the commitment of several academics and activists to reduce educational inequality in the urban spaces. In this paper, we will discuss how the creation of a virtual Solo teaching community since 2010 has brought changes to the collective consciousness or only become awareness to gain instant popularity. Our study shows that the establishment of this community social platform has encouraged solidarity as it has been able to mobilize young people to teach in underprivileged area, such as urban slums.
- Calvin Ho (Phd student, Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong) – Tool of empowerment and liberation: Kalimantan Credit Union Movement
Credit Union (Koperasi Kredit) is a realization of the impactful social movement to break the structural marginalization and impoverishment among the Dayak indigenous communities of Kalimantan, Indonesia. First introduced in Indonesia by Pater Karl Albrecht Karim Arbie, SJ, on 4 January 1970 through the Credit Union Counselling Office, the earliest wave of the credit unions is marked by the introduction of credit unions in West Kalimantan in Catholic parishes through learning and experimentation, with active support by Catholic church officials. The expansion became more significant through Pancur Kasih Social Work Foundation, founded in 1981 by a group of young Catholic activists. The foundation focused on the Dayaks’ social, education, and economic condition in West Kalimantan. The foundation realized that what kept Dayaks from failing in pursuing education was a lack of funds or financial difficulties. Thus the foundation developed a community economic empowerment movement by establishing the Pancur Kasih Credit Union in 1987. The development principle of the credit union movement focuses more on the quality growth of the community and members than the institution itself. The credit union has a professional manager and practices financial management like banks and insurance agencies within a cooperative framework. Its aim is not merely solidarity but also capital accumulation—the members must grow to expand the savings and credit base—and it can finance professional staff and operational cost. As of 2021, West Kalimantan has 2987 credit unions with 1.2 million members and total assets of Rp 5.24 trillion (US$360 million). Three decades of Pancur Kasih have made the credit union the symbol of empowerment of indigenous people in Kalimantan, contributing a role in providing information, motivation, and awareness to village communities in the overall effort to bring about empowerment.
Keywords: Indigenous Movement; Credit Union; Microcredit; Development; and Social Justice.
Biography: Calvin is an Indonesian citizen based in Bali and Jakarta. He graduated with a master’s degree in Politics from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China in 2018. He finished his bachelor’s degree in Political Science at Universitas Indonesia, Depok, in 2013. Calvin’s particular interest is in political science and social issues. He was involved in related work experience at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Jakarta as a Macroeconomist from 2014 to 2015. As a researcher, He provided data and due diligence on Indonesia’s macroeconomic policies and political dynamics in Indonesia and ASEAN states to the Ambassador and his staff. He also briefly served as a a journalist for a local TV station in Jakarta, BeritaSatu TV, in 2014, covering Indonesian politics, economy, and culture. He also actively engages in a wide range of local and regional social movements. He currently lives in Hong Kong as a Ph.D. student at the Policy and International Affairs, City University of Hong Kong. His research is about comparative tribal marginalization and empowerment in Indonesia: Case Studies Dayaks and Papuans, supervised by Dr. Diego Fossati.