Development and Urbanization
My paper is about the puzzle of “the persistence of the peasantry” in Indonesia. I use the phrase “persistence of the peasantry” stylistically (perhaps better termed the persistence of the rural surplus population) to capture a structural problem where large agricultural labour forces and rural populations that contribute little to national wealth in developing economies, such as Indonesia’s, are not absorbed into labour intensive and higher earning formal sectors. I approach the puzzle from both a structural perspective involving factors of productivity, diversification, state support, deindustrialization and institutional capability as well as from the perspective of members of a village community. From June 2014 to August 2015 and from December 2016 to February 2017 I undertook ethnographic field research in a single rural East Javanese village that I call Kalijati. The objective of my fieldwork was to understand Kalijati’s villagers’ persistence from their perspective in order to contribute an embedded account of rural social and political change. Through analysis of the changing agrarian structure of Kalijati village and the material consumption enabled by just agricultural production, I argue that the negotiation of household debt for social status is the basis for villagers’ persistence. As increasing government redistribution to the countryside brings the status of villages to the fore through subsidization and support programs, villagers’ negotiation of increasing debts brings to the fore their social status. I will discuss this argument in relation to considerations of what orders the Indonesian state.