SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

On being a 'free (wo)man'. Criminality and social responsibility in Indonesia

Laurens Bakker
Dr. Laurens Bakker (University of Amsterdam)

Date: 4 October 2017Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 4 October 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: B202

Type of Event: 0


Indonesia has a history of local security provision by non-state, informal organizations. Traditionally these groups are also tied into the local crime scene and have stakes in gambling, parking business, racketeering and prostitution. Depending on the quality of their links to such local power holders as the governor, mayor, head of police or military commander, they can position themselves above the law to a greater or lesser extent. The word for such a gangster-like person, who walks about bragging, ostensibly fearless and with a devil-may-care attitude is a preman, a ‘free man’ who owns allegiance to no-one but can help –or threaten-  all. In the past decade, this repertoire has been adopted by what might otherwise have been civil society organizations: groups who argue for indigenous rights and the plights of the poor, but who realized that they did not make much impact if they lacked powerful friends or muscled supporters . Rather than exclusively in local elites, they found those in the masses they seek to represent. In consequence, the repertoire of premanism is undergoing revisions and diversifications. On the one hand we see the rise of religion as a highly successful rallying call, on the other the entry of moderate members and the coming to the fore of influential women. Both developments appear to have premanism serving quite different goals, but both entail associations with crime as well as with serving the interests of society at large. In this presentation I consider the positions and activities of these groups vis-à-vis the state, particularly in terms of relational capacities of security arrangements and actors, in order to come to an understanding of the value –or damage- their existence brings to everyday security in Indonesia.           

 Speaker Bio

Laurens Bakker is an anthropologist working of issues of law, violence and security in Asia. Mainly in relation to natural resource contestations and particularly in Indonesia. Jointly with Lee Wilson (Queensland University) he recently finished a project comparing the role and influence of local militias in four parts of Indonesia. He is presently principal investigator of the project 'Securing the Local: The Role of Non-state security groups (NSSGs) in the Struggle against Extremism in Kenya, Nigeria and Indonesia'. 

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