My book manuscript explores the historical and cultural connections between contemporary politics and nationalist lineage in the political imaginaries of Indonesian student activists at the end of the New Order regime. The book is sited in Jakarta, the densely populated centre of Indonesian politics, capital, and recent social movements.
My manuscript Pemuda Fever: Nationalism, Youth, and Public Culture in Urban Indonesia, based on a significant revision of my dissertation, is an urban ethnography of Indonesian activists who participated in the mass demonstrations that visibly marked the end of Suharto’s authoritarian New Order regime (1966-1998). The book takes up the growth and dissolution of the student movement in the post-Suharto era to consider new and recurring structures in Indonesian political culture, in particular the ideological roles attributed to educated, politicized youth (pemuda), the city as the site of national politics, and the messianic force of nationalism in Indonesian history. My book asks three comparative questions of popular movements broadly speaking: firstly, how do we make sense of the sudden eruption of popular politics amongst ideal or apolitical citizen-subjects such as youth?; secondly, in what ways is politics a lived experience rich with tactility, materiality, and even culture?; thirdly, how do we keep sight of the traces of politics in the aftermath of the event, the violent shock, and the epistemological tear?
My reading of youth politics in Indonesia engages writers such as Walter Benjamin, Rudolf Mrazek, and Alexei Yurchak, whose works capture the sensibilities of political dissonance at the end of an era. My book addresses the theoretical enigma of how such forms of dissonance and dissidence arose out of the middle class zone at the height of the New Order dictatorship as a means to reposition how middle class perspectives and norms influenced Indonesian publics, and more broadly generally to critique the social movement literature that emphasizes human agency without proper attention to the complex preconditions of class, gender, age, and location. By treating the political subjectivity of youth as a specific historical product, and by concentrating on practices that illuminate the changes to political expression and engagement, I draw attention to hitherto neglected connections in the study of youth. Mobilizing Derrida’s work in Archive Fever (1995), my theorization of “Pemuda fever” aptly describes the reconciliatory effects of the drive to archive, narrativize and memorialize contemporary actions as continuous with the dominant narratives of Indonesian politics and history.
Of particular interest is the contribution my manuscript will make to the understanding of activist lifeworlds as material sites of friendship, community, organization, and learning, and as productive zones of specific urban strategies and techniques that educated, urban youth have privileged access to. I take up these issues through an analysis of personal activist and organizational archives, some of which are housed in the Netherlands, activist narratives that compare Reform to Revolution, and through an invocation of how public culture illuminates the shaping of selves ideally and ideologically tuned into the nation.