New Actors, New Identities: Post-Suharto Ethnic Violence in Indonesia

VIOLENT INTERNAL CONFLICTS IN ASIA PACIFIC, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Helene Bouvier, Glenn Smith and Roger Tol (eds.), pp. 79-100, Yayasan Obor Indonesia/ LIPI/ Lasema-CNRS/ KITLV-Jakarta, 2005

23 Pages Posted: 19 May 2008 Last revised: 3 Dec 2008

Date Written: January 1, 2005


We now know enough about the major episodes of ethnic violence around the end of the New Order to bring some intellectual rigour to the task of understanding them. Earlier essentialist (primordialist) views on the ethnic driving force have in the international literature given way to more constructivist (instrumentalist) views. But an important dividing line remains between those who see a fundamental rationality in episodes of ethnic violence (politics by other means) and those who do not. The former include structuralists, who highlight the material interests of whole groups, and rational choice theorists, who emphasise the deliberate choices of individuals, often elites. The latter group are mainly psychologists (including social psychology and collective behaviourism). Internationally, sophisticated statistical models in the structuralist tradition are attracting much attention. They prove significant correlations between violence and certain sets of social conditions. However, the problem with this approach is that it leaves the actual conflict mechanism a black box. The present paper attempts to open the black box. It adopts a sociological approach in the contentious politics and social movements literature developed by Charles Tilly and his colleagues. It is close to the structuralist tradition, but instead of the macro-level explanation offered by the statistical models it aims at the middle level by means of a detailed examination of the actual conflict narrative.

Keywords: Indonesia, ethnic violence, social movements, contentious politics

Suggested Citation

van Klinken, Gerry, New Actors, New Identities: Post-Suharto Ethnic Violence in Indonesia (January 1, 2005). Available at SSRN:

Gerry Van Klinken (Contact Author)

KITLV ( email )

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