What forms of citizenship arise from selective integration of different populations into the economic life of “frontiers”? What uneven relationships to land, labour and infrastructure emerge in these regions? This research approaches these questions by investigating the intersection of development approaches that centre indigenous “empowerment” and infrastructure expansion in the central highlands of Indonesia’s contested Papua territory, also known as West Papua. 
Regional social movements in Papua have criticized development agendas that value natural resources over indigenous inhabitants’ human capacities. One governmental response has been to incorporate “indigenous empowerment” as a formal principle of economic policy. In practice, this has largely amounted to channelling extractive rents into social transfers and investments in connective infrastructures. These policies have incited local discussions about how to tackle inequalities between indigenous residents and newcomers from other Indonesian islands (who predominate in commercial trade and private sector employment) and whether new infrastructure investments will facilitate natural resource extraction or the livelihoods of customary landholders. While media highlight “failures” of indigenous empowerment programs, local critics problematize livelihood dependence on social transfers funded by resource extraction. Powerful discourses attribute the failure of “empowerment” to a supposed “culture of idleness” fostered by reliance on “handouts”. Meanwhile, road construction projects raise the potential of increased connectivity which local representatives point to as a key to improving agricultural livelihoods, even as critical observers warn of a pending large-scale mining boom.
The output of this research project examines the forces of economic displacement and the forms of labour that are obscured by “cultural” discourses of “idleness”. It will intervene in discussions on the politics and political economy of “frontier” zones in and beyond the Asia-Pacific, contributing to debates on the expression and suppression of labour (e.g., its dismissal or non-recognition) in modes of political belonging today.