Decolonization and the Making of Middle Indonesia

Urban Geography, Vol. 30, No. 8, pp. 879-897, 2009

39 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2010

Date Written: November 16, 2009


Indonesia has about 200 provincial towns with populations between 50,000 and a million, yet they have attracted far less scholarly attention than the nation’s few megacities. Recent democratization and decentralization have brought to light patterns of communal and localist mobilization in these towns, centered on elections and other political events, that have not been seen in Indonesia since the 1950s and early 1960s. Provincial towns have talked back to the center in ways that belie their supposed passivity as expressed in the term “urban involution.” This paper attempts to build a synthetic and historical explanation for these patterns by examining the social embeddedness of the state in the provincial town. Most of Indonesia’s towns, particularly outside Java, became urban only through the formation of the modern colonial state from the mid- to late nineteenth century on. After decolonization in 1945, the expanding but chronically underfunded bureaucracy became an arena for contestation among emerging middle classes in these towns, which lacked manufacturing. The new provincial classes were politically significant because of their numbers and their mobilizational skills rather than their wealth. They successfully seized the state at the local level. The central state, anxious to establish political stability, appeased them with substantial political transfer rents, particularly during the oil boom years of the early to mid New Order, but continuing to the present day.

Keywords: Urbanism, Provincialism, Indonesia, Middle Class, Elite Capture, Mobilization, Primitive Accumulation

Suggested Citation

van Klinken, Gerry, Decolonization and the Making of Middle Indonesia (November 16, 2009). Urban Geography, Vol. 30, No. 8, pp. 879-897, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Gerry Van Klinken (Contact Author)

KITLV ( email )

Reuvensplaats 2
Leiden, 2311BE
+31-71-5272635 (Phone)
+31-71-5272638 (Fax)


Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics