Can formalisation of adat law protect community rights?

Crawford School of Public Policy | Arndt-Corden Department of Economics | Indonesia Project

Event details

Indonesia Study Group

Date & time

Wednesday 09 May 2018


Seminar Room 1, Level 1, Stanner Building 37, Lennox Crossing, ANU


Professor Kathryn Robinson, Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU.


ANU Indonesia Project

Claims against the widespread dispossession of village lands, which were very common under the New Order, continue to emerge in connection with land extensive investment projects, including infrastructure. The organization AMAN, which emerged as a champion of those dispossessed under the New Order, has had considerable political success under the Jokowi presidency in championing rights in terms of the rubric (masyarakat adat) rights, which has emerged as a translation of the global concept of ‘indigenous rights’ found in international instruments such as the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples. Francesca Merlan (2009) has noted that this “geocultural category” presumes a world collectivity of “indigenous peoples” in contrast to their various “others.

Drawing on the histories of the peoples who regard themselves as the original landowners of the concession area of Sorowako nickel project in South Sulawesi, the presentation asks how well identities framed primarily in terms of this global discourse, and primarily in cultural terms can provide a remedy for adverse dispossession? Further, can the current trend to formalization–through certification of land rights claimed through the idiom of adat/indigenous rights–protect land-based livelihoods? What are the risks to the livelihoods and rights of groups not ‘recognised’ as masyarakat adat/indigenous?

Kathryn Robinson has followed developments in Sorowako from her original doctoral fieldwork in the 1970s until the present (with a current ARC Discovery project investigating long term impacts).

Indonesia Study Group (ISG) seminars are free and open to the public. No registration is required. If you would like to be added to the ISG mailing list, please send your contact details, including your email address, to

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