Social Movements and Scientific Forestry: Examining the Community Forestry Movement in Indonesia

Siscawati, Mia. Social Movements and Scientific Forestry Examining the Community Forestry Movement in Indonesia. Diss. U of Washington, 2012.
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Industrial scientific forestry has been one of the main tools of state control over land and forest resources in post-colonial Indonesia, particularly since the beginning of the New Order era inaugurated by the military coup of General Suharto in 1966. Suharto's regime facilitated a massive process of forest exploitation by licensing forest lands to both private and state-owned logging companies as well as to industrial plantation companies. Beginning in the mid 1980s, despite facing heavy political controls over popular social movements, Indonesian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) responded to this problem with intensive campaigns against state forest policies and the destructive practices of logging companies (Mayer 1996, Tsing 2005). Most notably, NGOs began to promote community forestry focused on issues of land tenure and resource rights as an alternative to industrial scientificforestryThe Indonesian community forestry movement has formed an arena for emancipatory political struggles not only for rural communities but also for other social groups who have opposed authoritarian rule and the destructive power of capital (Moniaga 1993, Hafild 2005, Tsing et al. 2005). One of the groups involved in the community forestry movement in Indonesia has been the progressive academic forestry scholars. Participation of these scholars marked a critical point since, in general, academics have been associated with the ruling regime, and many of them were the main intellectual actors behind the development of the forestry paradigms that lead to deforestation and its resultant social problems. Despite the prominent contribution of academic forestry scholars in adopting local knowledge into academic forestry, the social possibilities of their work have been largely understudied. Our limited understanding about the relationship between scholars and civil society relates to a more general pattern of analysis of environment and development that positions foresters merely as an apparatus of state power (Dove 1994, Robbins 2003). In Indonesia, however, environmental science and activism have been interconnected and have influenced each other. We normally think that science is supposed to facilitate a direct, unmediated representation of nature. Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholars have demonstrated that the questions scientists ask about nature also reflect their interests as social actors (Hayden 2003). In Indonesia, as elsewhere, scientific knowledge is created by people and institutions with particular situated and partial perspectives (Haraway, 1988, Latour, 1993), and has been critically shaped by histories, as well as domestic and international political, economic, and cultural forces (Shivaramakrishnan 1999). For these reasons, my dissertation project explores how collaborations between academics and social activists have transformed forestry science. Drawing from the theories and methods found within political ecology, social movement theory, and feminist science studies, my dissertation project examines the cultural aspects of collaboration between social movements and forestry science. I also explore the complex and contradictory position of academic foresters in order to understand their social, political, and scholarly framing of forests, how they mediate their political position and "situated knowledge" with the state, capital, and social movements, and how this positionality has affected the constitution of community-managed forests as an object of knowledge. Furthermore, I investigate the adoption of gendered local knowledge promoted by and circulated within social movements into academic forestry science, and the possible role of alternative forestry science in shaping social movements. My dissertation research applies a multi-sited ethnographic approach to follow important figures and institutions across scales that are local, national, and transnational in nature. Moving between village level sites of social forestry, academic forestry school institutions, transnational donor institutions, and US-based libraries and academic settings have allowed this study to examine how Indonesian forests are a nexus for social transformation. Specific methods that are adopted include participant-observation, structured and open-ended interviews, and archival research including historical study. The research and writing process of the dissertation also employ a feminist methodology that ties knowledge together with standpoint and subjectivity.

Status of Research or Work: 
Completed/published
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