Can Indonesia Get Out of The Middle-income Trap: Policy Analysis


With a population of 260 million people, Indonesia is the fourth largest country globally and one of the most dynamic economies in the global market. According to the World Bank, Indonesia is now included in the status of a middle-income country. The economy in the country is running smoothly, especially during the last decade following the economic contraction caused by the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998. Due to its fairly rapid economic development, Indonesia has become a developing country and the first economic power in Southeast Asia. Its role in ASEAN continues to be important. Indonesia’s political and economic structure has changed over the years since its independence. In 1950, after the end of Dutch colonialism, economic and political development focused on the agricultural sector to realize a self-sufficient agricultural system by 1960. In the middle of 1970-1980, after the crude oil price fell, the Indonesian economy rapidly developed with urbanization and industrialization programs, for This Indonesia occurred as a consequence of the political change from crude oil exports to manufactured exports. 

After the Soeharto regime and the financial crisis in 1998-1999, Indonesia’s economy and politics progressed rapidly, and by 2004-2008 the GDP increased by 5%. During 2008-2009, the slowing down of the global economy did not have a high impact on the Indonesian economy, but GDP increased by 4% until the end of 2019. However, when the SARS-CoV-19 pandemic began to emerge, the Indonesian economy was negatively impacted. Indonesia is at significant risk of falling into the Middle Income Trap (MIT), and once in, it will not be easy to get out. According to the Coordinating Minister for the Economic, Airlangga Hartono, the Omnibus Law or the Job Creation Bill that the Joko Widodo 0.2 government recently passed could be a good weapon against MIT. This law is highly controversial; the effects of this reform will have a profound and lasting impact on the Indonesian economy that will last for decades. However, the Omnibus Law has been criticized. Public opinion and students for its negative impact on the rights of the environment, workers, and society.

The Middle Income Trap

The definition of Middle Income Trap or MIT is not universal; so far, no single general definition can explain its meaning. However, five main definitions can be used to understand the status of the included countries in MIT. The first is a non-empirical interpretation, based on the opinion of Gill and Kharas (2007), with MIT as a status where an economy has experienced a sharp decline in economic dynamism after successfully transitioning from low to middle-income status, presenting as stop-and-go growth, not steady long-term growth in productivity and income. Thus, it is intended to prevent the economy from moving to high levels of income.

Kenichi Ohno (2009) also expressed the same opinion that a developing country must follow several phases that assimilate. This method is known as “catch-up Industrialization” or “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” (Figure 1). The approach rests on structural and economic development in which the nature of the production structure and its context is on learning and international competitiveness issues. Furthermore, according to Ohno (2009), middle-income countries face slow growth, but the analytical framework for understanding slowing growth is different and the policy prescription.

Based on Ohno’s theory, Indonesia is now in stage 2. This stage is accompanied by increased accumulation and production so that the supply of domestic spare parts and components also begins to increase (Ohno 2009: 64). It must enter from FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and local supplies, which makes industry grow with a moderate increase in internal value, but production remains under foreign management. Another MIT interpretation is passing the income threshold, and this interpretation is the empirical interpretation of the income level as the threshold for MIT. Spence (2011) suggests that a threshold should be established through a rate of between USD 5,000 and USD 10,000 per capita income (KKB). He said this was because he saw that countries willing to transition to the level of developed countries were facing difficulties. According to the World Bank, Indonesia has entered into the middle to upper income (Table 1). This status was established following Joko Widodo’s political-economic plans during his first term. Jokowi plans to focus on infrastructure, especially bridges, highways, airports as set out in the ‘nawacita’ plan.

Tabel 1 : GNI  rates for Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia until 2020

Source : World Bank Data

Indonesia’s status is classified as middle income because the country’s GNP has increased to $4,050 per capita. According to the World Bank, when the country’s gross national income or GNI per capita is $4,046 -$12,535, the country can enter middle to upper-income status.  It can also be seen in table 1 by the World Bank. However, the path to becoming a developed country is still long and complicated, and there is a very high chance that Indonesia will be trapped in MIT. Based on the MIT theory through income threshold, middle-income countries find two threats; the first is a trap for capital income between $10,000 and $11,000, and the second the per-capita income between $15,000 and $ 16,000 trap (Eichengreen, Barry, Donghyng, Pak and Kwanho Shin, 2013).

Agen and Canuto (2012) suggest that the MIT analysis must pass the catch-up benchmark, which, in MIT analysis, takes data from the relative income threshold (Figure 1)

Graph 1

The threshold used to determine whether a country is stuck at MIT is between 5% and 45% of US GDP per capita. A study was conducted in 2012 to see how many countries have entered MIT and how many countries are high-income countries. However, this could become an example for Indonesia at present. According to Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro (2020), Indonesia will transition and enter the status of a high-income country by 2025 at the latest (Graphs 2 and 3).

Graph 2

Graph 3

Felipe, Abdon and Kumar (2012) said that countries trapped as MIT could be seen from the time threshold of 28 years for low, middle-income countries (KKB increases by 4.8% per year), and 14 years for high middle-income countries (KKB increase per year 3.5%). If these countries exceed the threshold number of years, they will be classified as trapped in MIT. However, Woo (2012) and Hawksworth (2014) conducted MIT analysis from another perspective. They analysed data from the Catch-Up Index (CUI). According to them, these countries could get stuck as MIT if they showed no inclination to meet global economic leaders from, for example, the US or China. CUI revealed that these countries enter into MIT as a result of dividing their income level: for example, based on the US income level, if Indonesias result is more than 55%, the country is classified as a high-income country, but if the result is 20% it will be called low income and or middle-income country. However, Hawksworth (2014) states that countries that want to leave MIT must follow several factors: economic stability, progress and social cohesion, technological advances, legal policies, institutional regulations, and sustainable development.

Based on this theory, it can be said that the countries included or trapped in MIT are developing countries (Pruchnik and Zowczak 2017: 18). The demographics are not favourable, especially considering the ages of the working class; if the workers are older, the saving rate will decrease compared to countries that have a younger working-class (Canning 2004, Ayiar 2013). Then, when the level of economic diversification is low, the country’s economic structure is important to continue the level towards high income. Middle-income economies must move up the value chain to maintain their high growth rates. Another consideration is inefficient financial markets, according to the World Economic Forum 2014, as they are negatively associated with a possible slowdown consisting of indicators such as availability of financial services, availability of venture capital and ease of access to loans. It also relates to inefficient raw infrastructure because the infrastructure with great quality is important in leaving MIT status (Agenor and Canuto 2012), especially based on the 2014 WEF (World Economic Forum), electricity, transportation, and communication infrastructure.

One factor that can assist a country leave MIT status is innovation. Low levels of innovation can cement a trapped state in MIT. Weak institutions can also be a problem for becoming a high-income country, especially if impacting the efficiency of the legal framework, protection of property rights, and the quality of government regulations which are important to encourage innovation and design activities.

Last but not least is an inefficient labour market and human capital. The country should make efficient use of the talents of workers, with flexibility in setting wages and hiring and firing practices.

How can Indonesia avoid being caught up in MIT? Can the Job Creation Law be a solution?

As explained above, Indonesia has become a high middle-income country. Based on the World Investment report 2020, FDI in Indonesia increased by 14% between 2018 and 2019 (figure 2).

Figure 2

Even though the Indonesian economy is developing and its status is rising, several factors can trap Indonesia in MIT status, such as high costs that can reach 60% for illegal transfers. WB has proven that the legal, economic framework is less effective than other Asian countries.

In addition, the business community generally considers the administration of justice and taxation and customs to be corrupt and arbitrary. Another factor is limited infrastructure, particularly the gap between Java and the outer or isolated islands, the unemployment rate, poverty and China’s high dependence on export commodities, thereby increasing the risk of Indonesia’s economic slowdown. Human capital in Indonesia is also one of the issues that can trap Indonesia in MIT status. Based on the latest data from the World Bank, the 2018 Human Capital Index in Indonesia is 0.53, meaning the average capacity of worker productivity is 53% of its full potential with access to education and the health system.

One of the “weapons” of the Indonesian government and Jokowi is 0.2 government is the approval of the Job Creation Law or the Omnibus Law. The Minister of Finance (Menkeu) said that she strongly agreed with the Law because, according to her, the Law will help State innovation, public creativity and various incentives to facilitate entrepreneurship in increasing income.  Teten Masduki, The Minister of Cooperatives and SMEs, said that this regulation would make it easier for business actors to benefit, especially those from Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. The Omnibus Law attempts to shorten the hyper and heavy regulatory structure in Indonesia, which, until now, has been an overlapping legal issue which is a major problem economically as it slows down competitiveness nationally. For a country like Indonesia that wants to become a country with a high income by 2035, competitiveness is important because, with fast and uncomplicated competitiveness, the investment will be more attractive to Indonesia.

The World Bank (2018) says that because Indonesia has a multi-layered structure,  Indonesia is 73rd out of 190 countries and ranked 50th for competitiveness. It means that the bureaucracy in Indonesia has too many regulations, which slow down investment. Because of this problem, low human capital is increasing and also the infrastructure needs to be improved throughout Indonesia. The government has accepted the Omnibus Law because it aims to deal with vertical and horizontal public policy conflicts effectively and efficiently, harmonizing government policies at the central and regional levels, and simplifying a more integrated and effective licensing process. It is regulated into an integrated policy to break the convoluted bureaucratic chain and improve coordination between related agencies. In addition, the Omnibus Law can provide legal certainty and legal protection for policymakers.


The government must invest in Human Capital through education and the health and welfare system. Education is important to enable the level of knowledge and quality of society to be productive. Further, investment policies are less complicated so that foreign investors do not encounter bureaucratic difficulties. Indonesia is one of the countries with a very strong economy in Asia and the world, so the government should focus on following investment trends or trends followed by other countries, such as those focused on the green economy, infrastructure and technology. It is also important to focus on infrastructure for underdeveloped islands like North Sulawesi, Kalimantan and several areas in Sumatera. Anti-political corruption is a critical factor, as is political status in the country, which can also alter economic performance.

Indonesia has all the ingredients to become a high-income country in 2035-2040 but needs vigilance. Although the Omnibus Law is heavily criticized, it could be the last stage to move out of middle-income status, but only time will tell whether this will fail or succeed. It is necessary to focus on human capital and education, especially among the younger generation, while poverty levels must be reduced and infrastructure must be innovated, including in areas outside Java island. The bureaucracy must be facilitated, which may be facilitated by the Job Creation Law. This period is very important, as after Indonesia overcomes the COVID-19 outbreak and its economy recovers, the government needs to focus on improving domestic policies and infrastructure in under-developed areas and improve infrastructure in more developed areas such as Java.


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About the author:

Aniello Iannone is a candidate for Master of Political Science, Diponegoro University, and Junior analyst at the Institute of Analysis and International Relations (IARI).


The Development of Jokowi’s plan; why the Omnibus Law is good for the economy but a threat to civil rights in Indonesia

Jokowi’s first development plan: infrastructure

Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, is in his second period of the presidency in Indonesia, which had, during his first period, he concentrated policy on the development of the Indonesian economy, especially through investment in the development of the development infrastructure (Hill and Negara 2019). Jokowi knows that infrastructure has been the “Achilles Heel” for developing countries like Indonesia, yet he focused on investment, health systems, and education during his second term. The last law on labour, the Omnibus law, was confirmed by the Jokowi administration last October during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new law will administer labour, environmental and investment regulation (Arifin 2021, Mahy 2021)

Nevertheless, what will be the cost-benefit of this decision?  Time will tell whether the Omnibus law will have a good effect or a dangerous effect. However, the people did not see any good in this new government choice, as evidenced by responses from the labour and student movements and academics. A strong infrastructure is essential for the effective functioning of the economy, particularly for reducing economic gaps in the region and reducing the poverty rate. (Firework World Economic Forum 2014).

Comparing the last year of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono presidency with the start of the Jokowi period, the stark difference in approaches to economic development is clear. The first act that Jokowi did was to end the fuel subsidy, a subsidy that cost the Government 17.8 billion $  in 2014 and 4.8 billion $ in 2015, enough to divert to a start in promoting the infrastructure, improving the health system, and education ( Negara 2016). Indeed it was already clear that Jokowi planned to dedicate priority to infrastructure investment in the draft of the Medium Term National Development Plan or in Indonesian language RPJMN 2014-2019, where the Government hoped to increase 7 % GPD starting in 2016 (RPJMN report 2014). However, the anticipated GDP target was not reached.   Instead, the GDP of Indonesia has grown just 4 /5 % YoY during the slowdown of the global economy created by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nonetheless, Jokowi wanted Indonesia to be more economically independent, also not wanting Indonesia to fall behind other countries in Asia like India, China, and Vietnam where infrastructure was developing apace.  During his first semester, according to BAPESSAN analysis, no longer Europe and America, but Asia and the Pacific would be the centre of the world economy (Graphic 1).

 Graphic 1 demonstrated the prediction made by  BAPESSAN.

 Source : Bappenas, Oxford Economic Model 

Furthermore, Jokowi had understood that the national balance was insufficient without investment from foreign sources, based on investment in infrastructure. Jokowu also knew that, compared with other developing countries like Vietnam or China, Indonesia has a slow and complex bureaucratic system, especially for the legacy of foreign investment. These factors have combined to push the Government to create the controversial new Omnibus Law, cutting many bureaucratic knots in investment to the environment and labour laws.

In this scenario, Jokowi has understood that without foreign Investment, Indonesia cannot develop faster. After the end of Yudhoyono’s period and the start of Jokowi’s period, the budget that Indonesia needed for investment in infrastructure was 300 billion US$, yet the national public finance of Indonesia afforded just 20% of that amount (Deny Sidharta and Jared Heath 2014). According to Hall Hill and Negara (2019), one of the challenges in meeting Indonesia’s massive investment in infrastructure ambition is the weak tax system causing the government shortfalls in the public reserve. Therefore there were a few associated challenges that the Jokowi administration needed to resolve. The first was financing, and the others were land clarity, planning and projecting (Utomo 2017). In addition, Jokowi also faced another huge problem from entrenched local corruption festering through years of power decentralism after the end of the Suharto regime ( Nugroho 2020). In combination, tax inflation, excessive bureaucracy, and massive corruption have pressured Jokowi to accelerate the Omnibus Law to fix his plan to develop the nation’s economy.

 The Omnibus Law: worker, gender, environment rights

During the emergence of COVID-19 in Indonesia, the Jokowi Government and The House of Representatives accelerated the procedure for acceptance of the new Omnibus Law on labour in Indonesia to repair the bureaucracy that has, according to the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo (2020), slowed down investment in the country. The problems that made Jokowi create the Omnibus Law were hyper-regulation and bureaucratic knots (Anggraeni, Rachman 2020). According to the Regulatory Quality Index ranking, Indonesia is on the lowest level. Another problem is the decentralisation of power that has increased corruption at the local level (Johannes Nugroho 2020) and slowed down investment procedures. However, the effects on workers, gender, indigenous affairs and the environment are worrying.

Many scholars and NGOs have demonstrated their disappointment to the Government. The Omnibus Law is associated with profound adjustment to legislation that otherwise presents obstacles to investment, including the revision of 79 laws, reorganisation of legislation into 11 clusters and adjustments to more than 1000 articles, including those impacting labour law, social law, and national social security agency law (Amnesty International 2020). Many protections from the 2003 labour legislation have been deleted or modified. A new law on wages and job security is considered a threat, specifically because it does not consider inflation rates for the minimum wage. Therefore is revokes the set city district minimum wage. In practice, without inflation and cost living criteria for determining the minimum wage, poor areas like Papua are further weakened with not enough income to cover the daily cost of living (Usman Hamid 2020).

Another issue of concern is the relative security of the worker when signing a job contract. Under the Omnibus Law, employers cannot offer a permanent job contract but can provide a temporary contract for an indefinite period, meaning that the worker can more easily lose their job. The review of Labour Law presents a new threat with the possibility of performing “work for free”, meaning extra work that does not produce income for the worker. Moreover, article 93 (2) of the Labour Law does not allow for paid time off during menstruation, which is a significant violation of women’s rights.

Additionally, there is concern from environmental NGOs that the new law will increase deforestation in Indonesia (Madani 2020). There is a possibility that by 2056, 5 areas of Indonesia, Riau, Jambi, Sumatra, Bangka Belitung and Center Jawa, will lose their natural forest. Article 29,30,31 of the new law retains the AMDAL (environmental impact assessment requirements) but deletes the function of an independent committee composed of NGOs and activists for the environment.  The new law further supports deforestation to increase the palm oil plantation, a dangerous threat that the Government has endorsed with the amplification of the work.  It will probably negatively affect the local people who live in the areas that will be deforested, particularly art. 50 (2) sentences 12A and 17B prohibit farming in forestry areas and commercial activities in unregistered forests (Hamid and Hermawan 2020). How to report the NGO Human Rights Wacht (HRW), this is a violation of international norms, such as those expressed in the ICESCR and the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (HRW 2020 )

On the one hand, the Omnibus Law was created by the Jokowi administration to push ahead with infrastructure and economic development through investment. The new Labour Law attempts to remove excessive bureaucratic administration and red tape relating to foreign investment regulation, liberalizing all foreign investor businesses in any sector, except for currently heavily regulated, banned or illegal industries such as weapons or illicit drugs (Shen and Siagian 2020). The Labour Law also brings tax reforms, an extremely complex issue because tax evasion is one of the highest in the region.  The Omnibus Law aims to reduce the tax to 20% for private companies and 17% for Indonesia-listed companies, while foreign workers will be exempt from paying personal income tax on income derived outside Indonesia (Shen and Siagian 2020). On the other hand, the Omnibus Law potentially damages workers’ rights, especially women and indigenous workers, so while investment may grow, the price will be paid by erosion in democracy and civil rights.


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About the Author:

Aniello Iannone is a candidate for Master of Political Science, Diponegoro University, and Junior analyst at the  Institute of Analysis and International Relations (IARI).


Inklusi Sosial di Era Digital (Social Inclusion in the Digital Age)


Pola relasi-relasi sosial yang tumbuh dan berkembang dalam kehidupan komunitas digital antara lain ditandai oleh kontak langsung, komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak orang (many-to-many communication), keterbukaan pandangan (ide), serta kebebasan berinteraksi. Uraian berikut memetakan perbedaan pandangan tentang dampak pola relasi-relasi tersebut terhadap inklusi sosial atau proses meningkatnya kapasitas akses komunitas pada sumber daya (resources), menguatnya partisipasi mereka dalam formulasi dan eksekusi keputusan publik, serta jalinan kerja sama di antara mereka dalam memanfaatkan dan menciptakan peluang. Di satu sisi, terdapat pandangan yang yakin (optimistic) bahwa relasi-relasi sosial tersebut memiliki dampak signifikan terhadap inklusi sosial karena mampu menghimpun perbendaharaan informasi yang dapat dipergunakan sebagai saluran akses pada sumber daya (resources), dapat dimanfaatkan sebagai pengetahuan (knowledge) untuk menciptakan dan memanfaatkan peluang, serta sebagai sarana mendorong partisipasi politik. Sementara itu, di sisi yang lain, terdapat pandangan yang justru meragukannya (skeptic) karena relasi-relasi sosial tersebut masih menghadapi kendala ketimpangan digital (digital divide) dan literasi sehingga tidak kondusif bagi upaya meningkatkan inklusi sosial.

Kata kunci: informasi, akses, inklusi, ketimpangan digital


Kemajuan teknologi informasi dan komunikasi telah mengubah berbagai tatanan kehidupan. Kita sekarang hidup di era digital atau era informasi, sebuah kehidupan yang diwarnai oleh relasi-relasi sosial yang melembagakan kontak secara langsung, komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak orang (many-to-many communication), keterbukaan pandangan (ide), dan kebebasan berinteraksi. Relasi-relasi sosial tersebut didukung oleh komputer (computer mediated) dengan beragam divice melalui e-mail, chat room, short message service, video call, telepon, teks, dan gambar, yang mampu menembus batas wilayah geografis, kelas, etnis, agama, gender, dan ideologi, juga membentuk. Di samping itu, keanggotaan komunitas digital bersifat sukarela (voluntary) dan terjalin atas dorongan atau motivasi pribadi (individuated) serta tidak mengenal hubungan hierarkis (berlapis). Berbeda dengan kehidupan komunitas nyata (real), relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas ini tidak terdapat dominasi individu atau kelompok atas individu atau kelompok lain. Identitas dalam komunitas ini juga bersifat fleksibel dan dibangun secara spontan. Identitas dalam komunitas ini tidak dibangun berdasarkan penghargaan status dan peran sebagaimana lazim terdapat dalam kehidupan komunitas nyata. Oleh karena itu, setiap anggota komunitas ini dalam waktu yang sama bisa menjadi follower (pengikut) sekaligus menjadi influencer (berpengaruh). Silih berganti peran semacam itu menciptakan kehidupan komunitas digital amat dinamis karena mereka senantiasa dituntut terus-menerus melakukan adaptasi dan negosiasi terhadap norma, nilai, dan pengetahuan baru (Boyd, 2007: 136).

Relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital yang melembagakan kontak langsung, komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak orang, keterbukaan pandangan (ide), serta kebebasan interaksi memproduksi informasi yang membentuk kultur unik, oleh Castel disebut culture of real-virtuality (Castel, 2001: 169–170). Di satu sisi, kultur tersebut berkarakter virtual (maya) karena nilai, norma, dan pengetahuan yang tumbuh di dalamnya dimanifestasikan melalui pesan-pesan audiovisual. Akan tetapi, di sisi lain, kultur tersebut juga berkarakter real (nyata) karena nilai, norma, dan pengetahuan tersebut dituangkan secara nyata dalam bentuk gambar, profil, suara, kata, dan sub-text. Informasi tersebut juga beredar luas dan kompleks, tidak hanya berbentuk deskripsi suatu kejadian yang dialami masyarakat nyata, tetapi juga berupa refleksi hasil-hasil diskusi, dialog, atau catatan kritis, bahkan refleksi protes keras yang berujung pada transaksi atau ketegangan politik.

Pertanyaannya yang menarik diajukan adalah sejauh mana sebenarnya relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital tersebut memiliki dampak signifikan terhadap inklusi sosial atau proses meningkatnya kapasitas akses komunitas terhadap sumber daya (resources), partisipasi mereka dalam formulasi dan eksekusi keputusan publik, serta kerja sama di antara mereka dalam memanfaatkan dan menciptakan peluang. Pertanyaan semacam ini relevan diajukan karena kontak langsung, komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak orang, keterbukaan pandangan (ide), dan kebebasan interaksi yang melembaga dalam komunitas digital dipercaya mampu meningkatkan akumulasi pengetahuan yang dapat dipergunakan untuk meningkatkan inklusi sosial. Jawaban atas pertanyaan tersebut terbelah ke dalam dua pandangan. Pandangan pertama percaya bahwa relasi-relasi sosial semacam itu memiliki efek yang signifikan terhadap inklusi sosial (optimistic in mind). Sebaliknya, pandangan kedua justru meragukannya (skeptic in mind). Perbedaan pandangan semacam itu sampai saat masih menjadi perdebatan (disputes) dalam berbagai diskusi dalam literatur sosiologi dan studi komunikasi. Uraian berikut bermaksud mengupas argumentasi di balik perbedaan pandangan yang bertolak belakang tersebut.

Pandangan optimistic

Seperti dinyatakan pada uraian terdahulu bahwa relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital melembagakan kontak langsung, komunikasi antar banyak orang, keterbukaan pandangan (ide), dan kebebasan berinteraksi sosial yang mampu menembus batas wilayah geografis, kelas, etnis, agama, gender, dan ideologi. Relasi-relasi sosial semacam itu memproduksi informasi yang tidak hanya bergulir dengan cepat dan menjangkau kalangan yang amat luas, tetapi juga dapat menciptakan stimulan dan mengundang tanggapan langsung (direct response) secara terbuka. Stimulan dan tanggapan tersebut beragam, bisa bersifat positif atau berupa dukungan (support) atau apresiasi, tetapi bisa juga bersifat negatif atau berupa catatan kritis dan protes yang dipicu oleh perlakukan yang diskriminatif. Stimulan dan respons tersebut bisa berkembang menjadi gerakan politik terutama ketika informasi yang bergulir ditengarai menciptakan kelompok tertentu menjadi marginal.

Bukankah catatan kritis dan protes secara langsung dan terbuka semacam itu lazim ditemukan pula dalam kehidupan komunitas nyata? Lalu, apa bedanya? Boleh jadi begitu. Namun, catatan kritis dan protes dalam komunitas digital dapat disampaikan secara langsung karena tidak membutuhkan perwakilan, artinya dapat menembus hambatan terjadinya mediasi yang dikendalikan oleh konspirasi politik. Di samping itu, dalam konteks demokrasi, penyampaian secara langsung dan menembus institusi mediasi juga diyakini mampu mempercepat proses pembentukan aspirasi dan opini sehingga berbagai bentuk kebijakan yang dirancang dan diimplementasikan menjadi lebih memperhatikan harapan publik. Dalam sistem demokrasi, pembentukan aspirasi dan opini juga dibutuhkan untuk menjaga kedaulatan (Dorota, 2006: 43–64).

Lazim pula dinyatakan bahwa relasi-relasi sosial dalam kehidupan komunitas digital memproduksi informasi yang mampu meningkatkan interactivity, yaitu proses berkembangnya tukar-menukar pengetahuan (Bucy and Tao, 2007; Tewksbury and Rittenber, 2012: 94–95). Pengetahuan tersebut bisa berupa kondisi aktual yang sedang menjadi keresahan masyarakat, tetapi bisa pula deskripsi tentang misi yang perlu diketahui publik, bahkan bisa pula terkait dengan efisiensi dan efektivitas kebijakan publik yang telah diimplementasikan. Oleh sebab itu, interactivity dapat berperan sebagai mimbar yang memberi fasilitas bertemunya berbagai macam kepentingan, serta menjadi tempat berdiskusi untuk menemukan alternatif solusi memecahkan masalah-masalah krusial. Peran interactivity semacam itu amat penting bagi berkembangnya inklusi sosial karena di samping melibatkan interaksi banyak kalangan, juga memiliki tautan dengan kepentingan publik.

Relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital juga diyakini berpengaruh signifikan terhadap berkembangnya modal sosial. Modal sosial adalah sumber daya (resources) yang dimiliki oleh kelompok atau komunitas dalam bentuk nilai-nilai dan norma yang melembagakan hubungan yang saling menguntungkan (reciprocal relationships) dan saling memberi atau menaruh kepercayaan (trust) yang dapat dikapitalisasi untuk kegiatan produktif. Hubungan antara pola relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital dan modal sosial adalah sebagai berikut. Pertama, karena pola relasi-relasi sosial tersebut mampu meningkatkan pengetahuan (knowledge) dari berbagai bersumber, maka bukan hanya penting dalam proses mengidentifikasi pelbagai masalah yang dihadapi (serta menemukan alternatif solusinya), tetapi juga dalam proses menciptakan dan memanfaatkan peluang. Kedua, pola relasi-relasi sosial tersebut juga menjadi modal membuat prakiraan langkah-langkah yang perlu dibangun supaya memperoleh hasil optimal. Ketiga, pola relasi-relasi sosial tersebut juga memiliki energi yang dapat dipergunakan untuk mobilisasi sumber daya (resources). Semakin banyak informasi yang diperoleh, semakin luas pengetahuan yang dimiliki, dan semakin kuat pula energi untuk melakukan mobilisasi sumber daya. Selanjutnya, relasi-relasi sosial tersebut dapat menanamkan dan menebarkan trust (nilai-nilai positif terhadap perkembangan), sekaligus mengembangkan mempertegas identitas sehingga mudah mengembangkan hubungan yang saling menghargai (recognition).

Pandangan skeptic

Pandangan optimistic yang yakin bahwa relasi-relasi sosial mampu meningkatkan inklusi sosial telah diragukan oleh sejumlah kalangan. Keraguan tersebut muncul karena masalah ketimpangan digital (digital divide) dan literasi. Digital divide adalah ketimpangan yang terjadi akibat perbedaan akses terhadap infrastruktur dan sistem pelayanan jaringan teknologi informasi dan komunikasi. Boleh jadi benar kontak langsung dan komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak orang (many-to-many communication) dalam komunitas digital mampu menembus batas-batas kelas, etnis, agama, gender, dan ideologi politik, sehingga pengguna dapat memperoleh pengetahuan dari berbagai macam sumber. Boleh jadi benar keterbukaan pandangan (ide) dan kebebasan interaksi sosial dalam komunitas digital tersebut mampu menciptakan peluang untuk menyampaikan catatan kritis, pengaduan, bahkan protes tanpa mengikuti sistem perwakilan. Akan tetapi, dalam realitasnya tidak setiap komunitas memiliki akses yang sama terhadap infrastruktur teknologi informasi dan komunikasi serta mampu memanfaatkan konten dan aplikasi. Observasi selama ini menunjukkan bahwa perbedaan wilayah, kelas, dan status berhubungan signifikan dengan akses dan literasi.

Kesenjangan digital tersebut terkait dengan difusi (penyebaran) infrastruktur jaringan teknologi informasi dan komunikasi serta ketersediaan device dan aplikasi dan konten internet (software). Tendensi ketimpangan digital (digital divide) ini terjadi karena pembangunan infrastruktur teknologi informasi dan komunikasi membutuhkan dana yang amat besar, dan pada umumnya diserahkan kepada swasta atau dalam skema kerja sama pemerintah-swasta (public-private partnership). Oleh karena itu, infrastruktur teknologi dan informasi cenderung dibangun di daerah-daerah yang secara ekonomi lebih mendatangkan keuntungan ekonomi. Implikasinya kemudian adalah terjadi gap atau kesenjangan akses pada infrastruktur informasi dan telekomunikasi. Kedua, terkait dengan status ekonomi pengguna (user). Supaya dapat menggunakan aplikasi dan konten (software) membutuhkan ketersediaan device yang tidak murah. Observasi selama ini juga menunjukkan bahwa aplikasi dan konten internet lebih banyak digunakan lapisan menengah dan atas (the have) terutama kategori usia muda, bekerja di sektor perdagangan, industri barang dan jasa, serta bermukim di daerah perkotaan. Tendensi demikian semakin mempertegas bahwa masalah kesenjangan digital (digital divide) cukup kompleks, maksudnya di samping terkait dengan potensi wilayah, juga terkait dengan sektor pekerjaan dan status sosial ekonomi.

Ketimpangan digital tersebut juga terkait dengan literasi, yaitu pengetahuan dan keterampilan (skill) menggunakan media digital untuk melakukan komunikasi melalui jaringan internet dalam rangka memenuhi berbagai kebutuhan. Dalam konteks ini literasi digital lebih terkait dengan kecakapan kognitif dan teknikal dan merupakan adaptasi terhadap perkembangan teknologi digital. Pengetahuan dan keterampilan tersebut biasanya diukur dari frekuensi dan intensitas: (1) menggunakan aplikasi dan konten internet dalam rangka mencari berbagai macam informasi yang relevan untuk melakukan perubahan, (2) mengirimkan informasi melalui aplikasi dan konten internet disertai dengan dialog tentang informasi tersebut, (3) berpartisipasi aktif dalam diskusi atau seminar yang diselenggarakan melalui internet, serta (4) membuat kreasi web page, terutama terkait dengan stimulan dan respons terhadap perkembangan isu-isu krusial. Observasi selama ini juga memperlihatkan bahwa mereka yang memiliki pengetahuan dan keterampilan semacam itu lebih banyak ditemukan di kalangan usia muda, bekerja di sektor perdagangan, industri barang dan jasa, dan bertempat tinggal di daerah perkotaan.

Seperti telah disampaikan dalam uraian terdahulu bahwa relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital yang ditandai dengan kontak langsung, komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak kalangan (many-to-many communication) mampu menembus batas wilayah geografis serta perbedaan kelas, ras, etnis, ideologi politik, umur, dan gender. Namun demikian, dalam realitasnya, relasi-relasi sosial acap kali terlalu bebas dan tidak mudah dikendalikan, dan potensial merusak nilai-nilai dan norma-norma yang telah disepakati secara kolektif. Relasi-relasi sosial semacam itu acap kali dipenuhi oleh ambiguitas dan inkonsistensi yang justru dapat menghambat kreativitas dan kegiatan ekonomi yang produktif. Oleh karena itu, asumsi bahwa relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital dapat mendorong berkembangnya modal sosial menjadi sukar menemukan bukti.

Selanjutnya, asumsi bahwa relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital mampu meningkatkan partisipasi politik dalam kenyataannya tidak mudah diwujudkan. Bahkan, tidak berlebihan apabila dinyatakan bahwa relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital potensial mengganggu stabilitas politik. Adapun bentuk gangguan terhadap stabilitas politik tersebut adalah sebagai berikut. Pertama, relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital dapat menciptakan delegitimasi sistem politik yang sudah menjadi kesepakatan publik. Strategi yang dilakukan adalah mengonstruksi sistem politik tersebut dengan mengembangkan wacana bahwa sarat konspirasi dan mengandung pelemahan hak-hak politik, sehingga harus ditolak. Relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital menjadi saluran yang efektif dalam proses penolakan tersebut. Kedua, kontak langsung, komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak kalangan (many-to-many communication), keterbukaan pandangan (ide,) dan kebebasan interaksi sosial menciptakan apa yang lazim disebut cyberbalkanization atau internet balkanization, yaitu segregasi di antara pengguna menjadi himpunan kelompok-kelompok kecil berbasis persamaan kepentingan politik. Kelompok-kelompok kecil ini sering kali membangun wacana dan pandangan sempit (a narrow-minded) dan sukar menerima wawasan yang dianggap tidak sesuai atau berlawanan dengan prinsip-prinsip yang melekat dalam kelompoknya. Dalam perkembangnya, relasi-relasi sosial  semacam itu memicu kebebasan berekspresi (free expression), menutup diri, dan pada gilirannya berujung pada melemahkan integritas dan kerja sama.

Ketiga, relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital acap kali menjadi lahan subur bagi berkembangnya buzzer politik. Dalam konotasi negatif, buzzer politik adalah pemilik akun menjalin hubungan dengan menggunakan aplikasi tertentu seperti facebook, twitter, istagram, whatshapp, flog melakukan propaganda atau menyerang rival politik. Buzzer politik melakukan kegiatan untuk memperoleh keuntungan finansial sehingga sering kali berperilaku oportunis atau berada di “dua kaki” pihak yang terlibat dalam kontestasi, kompetisi, atau konflik politik. Kegiatan buzzer bisa merusak stabilitas politik karena menciptakan wacana atau analisis yang menimbulkan rasa saling curiga atau saling tidak percaya. Itulah sebabnya acap kali dinyatakan bahwa relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital tidak hanya menciptakan respons dan stimulan yang serba spontan, ekspresif. dan emosional, tetapi juga memelihara epidemi irasionalitas.

Relasi-relasi sosial yang melembagakan kontak langsung, komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak orang (many-to-many communcation), keterbukaan pandangan (ide), dan kebebasan interaksi sosial dalam komunitas digital juga mendorong berkembangnya kapitalisme informasi (information capitalism), yaitu bisnis swasta yang memanfaatkan informasi sebagai modal utama dalam kegiatan ekonomi. Dalam konteks ini informasi tidak sekadar dipahami sebagai deskripsi peristiwa yang disebarkan untuk memperkaya perbendaharaan pengetahuan publik, tetapi lebih dari dikapitalisasi sebagai modal yang dimanfaatkan untuk kepentingan bisnis. Kapitalisme informasi mengembangkan pola bisnis yang berbeda dengan kapitalisme industrial. Dalam kapitalisme industrial, kegiatan bisnis terutama dalam bentuk mengolah barang dan jasa serta memanipulasi pasar. Pola bisnis kapitalisme informasi berbeda dengan kaptalisme industrial. Dalam kapitalisme industrial lokasi produksi, jaringan transportasi, penyimpanan atau pergudangan (storage), dan sistem distribusi (supply-chain) sangat diperlukan karena menjadi faktor-faktor yang determinan bagi keberhasilan bisnis, sedangkan dalam kapitalisme informasi, faktor-faktor tidak menjadi fokus kapitalisasi informasi. Kapitalisme informasi mengabaikan aglomerasi (wilayah) industri karena tidak lagi bergantung pada lokasi, jaringan transportasi, pergudangan, dan sistem distribusi. Dalam kapitalisme informasi, fasilitas produksi yang utama adalah akses pada teknologi informasi dan komunikasi serta jaringan internet. Implikasinya kemudian adalah kegiatan produksi dan distribusi hasil produksi dapat dikerjakan secara mandiri (tidak harus di pabrik). Tendensi demikian memicu berkembangnya out sourcing yang pada gilirannya menciptakan precariat atau kelas pekerja.

Semakin pesatnya perkembangan kapitalisme informasi ternyata tidak melemahkan kegiatan kapitalisme industrial. Sebaliknya, kapitalisme industrial justru semakin berkembang karena para kapitalis ternyata semakin canggih memanfaatkan dan menciptakan peluang yang hadir bersama relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital yang melembagakan kontak langsung, komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak kalangan, keterbukaan pandangan (ide), dan kebebasan interaksi. Dalam kehidupan nyata, kapitalisme industrial dan kapitalisme informasi acap kali bersinergi (working in gloves). Kegiatan kapitalisme industrial justru semakin besar, semakin leluasa bergerak dalam berbagai sektor usaha, dan semakin sistematis melakukan eksploitasi dan monopoli pasar. Implikasinya adalah pelaku usaha yang tergolong besar akan semakin besar, sedangkan pelaku usaha kecil dan menengah semakin terpuruk. Daya saing kelompok ini semakin rapuh karena kalah berkompetisi dan acap kali juga tidak memperoleh perlindungan yang memadai. Tendensi demikian menjadi alasan bagi sejumlah kalangan untuk meragukan (skeptic) asumsi bahwa relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital mampu meningkatkan inklusi sosial.

Catatan Penutup

Uraian yang telah disampaikan memaparkan argumentasi di balik perbedaan pandangan tentang hubungan antara relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital dan inklusi sosial. Inklusi sosial termanifestasi dalam tiga hal: (a) kapasitas komunitas akses terhadap sumber daya (resources), (b) partisipasi komunitas dalam proses formulasi dan eksekusi keputusan publik, dan (c) kerja sama komunitas dalam memanfaatkan dan menciptakan peluang. Argumentasi pandangan optimistic dibangun di atas asumsi sebagai berikut. Pertama, relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital tidak hanya menciptakan relasi-relasi sosial yang menembus batas wilayah geografis, kelas, etnis, agama, gender, dan ideologi, tetapi juga dapat meningkatkan perbendaharaan pengetahuan yang dapat dimanfaatkan menjadi energi untuk akses pada sumber daya (resources). Kedua, perbendaharaan pengetahuan yang diperoleh melalui relasi-relasi sosial komunitas digital tersebut tidak hanya berupa deskripsi suatu peristiwa, tetapi juga menciptakan perspektif yang dapat menjadi energi partisipasi politik. Ketiga, perspektif semacam itu selain dapat menjadi strategi menciptakan struktur hubungan sosial yang egaliter, juga dapat menjadi referensi membangun nilai-nilai yang melembagakan trust dan relasi-relasi saling menguntungkan (social relationships).

Sementara itu, argumentasi pandangan skeptic dikembangkan di atas asumsi sebagai berikut. Pertama, relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital masih belum merata atau masih berhadapan dengan tantangan digital divide (kesenjangan akses) dan literasi. Tendensi demikian terjadi terutama karena pembangunan teknologi informasi dan komunikasi diserahkan kepada pihak swasta, dan lebih mengutamakan dibangun di daerah-daerah yang secara ekonomis potensial memperoleh keuntungan ekonomi. Konsekuensinya adalah terjadi ketimpangan digital (digital divide). Kedua, relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital acap kali justru menumbuhkan berbagai macam propaganda dan intrik yang menyerang rival politik. Relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital tersebut gagal mendorong partisipasi politik, dan potensial menciptakan kegaduhan dan konflik politik. Ketiga, relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital menjadi lahan subur bagi berkembangnya kapitalisme informasi, yaitu kegiatan bisnis yang memberi ajang amat lebar kepada swasta. Kapitalisme informasi ditandai dengan melemahnya aglomerasi (kawasan) industri karena tidak lagi bergantung pada lokasi, jaringan transportasi, pergudangan, dan sistem distribusi. Kapitalisme informasi tersebut semakin melemahkan tatanan kesempatan kerja dan posisi tenaga kerja karena mereka masih tetap dihadapkan dengan eksploitasi dan manipulasi kegiatan kapitalisme industrial.

Pelajaran apakah yang dapat dipetik dari argumentasi di balik perbedaan pandangan tersebut? Pelajaran pertama, pada tataran teoretis, argumentasi yang dibangun baik oleh pandangan optimistic maupun pandangan skeptic sama-sama menempatkan kontak langsung, komunikasi yang melibatkan banyak orang (many-to-many communication), keterbukaan pandangan (ide) dan kebebasan interaksi sosial dalam komunitas digital melembagakan hubungan tanpa tergantung pada mediasi atau representasi (perwakilan). Kedua, dalam analisis tentang hubungan antara relasi-relasi sosial dalam komunitas digital sama-sama dikaitkan dengan pengetahuan (knowledge) yang mampu meningkatkan akses terhadap sumber daya (resources), partisipasi politik dan kegiatan menciptakan dan memanfaatkan peluang bisnis. Ketiga, upaya meningkatkan inklusi sosial melalui relasi-relasi sosial yang tumbuh dan berkembang dalam komunitas digital menghadapi kendala ketimpangan digital (digital dived) dan tingkat literasi pengguna.

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Oleh : Sunyoto Usman (Pakar Pembangunan Sosial UGM)

Indonesia Risks Factors in Terrorism

In Indonesia, terrorism is a threat that affects the nation’s social/political order and bring light to tensions existing in the country. Indonesia has the largest Muslim majority globally; however, Indonesia is a secular country adopting a liberal reform of Islam and accepting religious tolerance towards other minorities. However, terrorist groups have voiced their radical opinions on Indonesia’s secularism calling for the country to be an Islamic state and achieve these goals through violence. The Indonesian government has taken counter-measure to tackle these terrorist threats, but these measures are criticized by Human Rights Organisations (HRO). Because Indonesia has created many anti-terror repressive laws, violating the freedom of speech and the task force Densus 88 has broken many Human Rights Violations (HRV). This brings into question is terrorism the overall threat towards Indonesia, I would argue no but state that terrorism must be a risk that does possess a threat, however, cannot endanger Indonesia’s democratic institution. I would argue that Indonesia’s anti-terror laws are a danger to Indonesia’s democracy and Indonesia’s Counter-Terrorism (CT) agencies violate human rights laws (HRL). These are the overall threats that endanger Indonesia’s democracy and why treating terrorism as a risk can be approached with de-radicalization programs. I will explain how Indonesia can treat terrorism as a risk and not an existential threat like climate change and can be mitigated with soft-approach policies, and I will outline the dangers of the hard-approach undertaken by the Indonesian government.

Climate change, ethnic tensions, and inequality are challenging problems that Indonesia faces as a nation. Climate change has undoubtedly forced the Indonesian government to adopt new environmental laws but is yet to be taken seriously by the government (Kheng and Bhullar, 2011). The lack of governance to combat these growing inequalities and the existential threat of climate change has been met with criticism because the Indonesian government has failed to approach this with innovative policies. Instead, the government has taken a harder stance to combat terrorism, creating or reforming new laws enacted recently by the Indonesian parliament. The new laws have alarmed HRO and scholars criticizing the government for violating the freedom of speech and pushing the government into post-authoritarianism (Kusman and Istiqomah, 2021). Critics have argued that there can be other policies that Indonesia can adopt such as the de-radicalization program which requires serious reform because the threat of terrorism is continuing to evolve (Gindarsah and Priamarizki, 2021). Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and other terrorist organizations are continuous threats, and the rise of lone-wolf terrorism will challenge Indonesia’s counter-terrorism agencies. The risk factors of terrorism in Indonesia are a present danger, but CT actions against terrorists are needed for a soft approach or hard approach to combat the risks involving the rising threat of terrorism in the country.

The war on terror is the defining factor that has pushed the Indonesian government to enact new repressive policies. Since the 2002 Bali bombing, the Indonesian parliament has rushed anti-terror laws to combat terrorism, but these laws have constrained individual rights in the country (Nakissa 2020). One of these laws, called “the Revisi Undang-Undang Anti-terrorism” allows the military to fight against terrorism (Haripin, Anindya, Priamarizki, 2020). The allowance of having the Indonesian military against the fight against terrorism is seen as an abuse of power because it pushes the nations back into the former post-authoritarian roots (Kusman and Istiqomah, 2021). The growing level of military force does have a negative consequence, for example, the United States (US) military war on terror is met with many criticisms among societies (Satana and Demirel-Pegg, 2020). Allowing the military to fight terrorists will create tension among the civilian population and could involve higher civilian casualties deaths if the military is called to eliminate terrorists in the region. One example was when the military was deployed to crush the terrorist organization called East Indonesia Mujahideen in the region called Poso, in central Sulawesi Indonesia (Nasrum, 2016). The military presence only created tension and fear amongst the civilian population because they were afraid and would be caught against the terrorist and military cross-fires (Nasrum, 2016). Allowing the military provides a challenge to Indonesia’s democratic institutions, which has weakened under President Widodo’s reign. President Widodo has taken great lengths to weaken the HRO and anti-corruption agencies in Indonesia (Kusman and Istiqomah 2021). The latest push by President Widodo to enact new counter-terrorism new laws is threatening Indonesia’s democracy because will these hard approaches to combat terrorism as risk be effective.

Indonesia’s hard-line approaches against terrorism are dangerous, especially allowing the military to fight terrorist groups, thus creating tension amongst the civilian population. Indonesia’s own CT task force called Detachment 88 or Densus 88 is being met with criticism and accusation from HRO (Arrobi 2018). Densus 88 task force was established in 2003 after the 2002 Bali bombing assisted by the United States and the Australian government and has successfully disrupted terrorist operations (Carnegie 2015 and Barton 2018). Densus 88 is one of the world’s best task force because Densus 88 has successfully prevented many terrorist threats in the country. Since 2002 Densus 88 has arrested 800 jihadists and thwarted 15 attacks in 2017, proving how robust and effective the task force has become (Arrobi 2018). Despite these successes, Densus 88 has violated human-rights laws by torturing suspected individuals, extra-judicial killings, tampering with evidence, and interfering with defence lawyers for easier convictions (Nakissa 2020). Indonesia’s own National HRO Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia (Komnas HAM) has admitted to Densus 88 “excessive use of force” (Nakissa 2020). Torture tactics conducted by Densus 88 is bound to have negative consequences because many reports and evidence shows that torture is the worst interrogation method conducted (Rejali 2007). Individuals are more likely to lie to get out of torture and only radicalize their supporters to commit attacks against the state (Rejali 2007). Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict THE RE-EMERGENCE OF JEMAAH ISLAMIYAH (2017) reports explained the death of a terrorist suspect Siyono who died in police custody. Siyono’s death from the announcement was met with outrage amongst the civilian population and called for greater accountability for Densus 88. The hard-approach measures taken to combat terrorism in Indonesia has only provided more threats in the country because the violation of HR has only angered the civilian population. It is why a much broader scope of Indonesia’s de-radicalization program can mitigate the risk associated with terrorism.

A soft-approach towards terrorism is needed with Indonesia’s de-radicalization program, which requires policies and reform (Gindarsah and Priamarizki 2021). In Indonesia, terrorism is evolving, and terrorist organizations are starting to use social media to bolster their support and increase their recruitments ( Habulan et al. 2018). Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD) the organization involved with 12 terrorist attacks, including police officers’ targeting, is starting to use social media as a propaganda tool (Habulan et al. 2018). Indonesia’s national counter-terrorism agency (BNPT) will need to counter these messages with good prison sentences and education reform to counter-terrorism. De-radicalization programs have been shown to work in Indonesia, individuals have realized that the action they have committed is wrong and speak out against inciting violence. The book “why terrorist quit” by Julie Chernov Hwang (2018) had shown interview reports where the individual questioned his action when he bombed the church killing innocent civilians. Evidence shows that even installing Muslim leaders to shut down radical preachers can shut hate messages and change the individual perspective (IPAC 2014). Prison and Education reform is the best soft approach needed to boost Indonesia’s de-radicalization program. Evidence shows that individuals can change their perspective when re-educated and shown Islam’s correct teaching (Hwang 2018).

The risk involving terrorism is continuing to dominate Indonesia’s social and political order, and with the rise of social media, terrorists are starting to change their tactics and adapt their propaganda. Indonesia’s hard-approach towards terrorism will undoubtedly create more risks testing Indonesia’s democracy, which is already under threat. President Widodo pushing the parliament to introduce new CT laws violates the freedom of speech in the country. Repressive anti-terror laws approving the military to engage against terrorist groups will create tension amongst civilians and push Indonesia back towards the nation’s post-authoritarian roots. Densus 88 have already come under scrutiny for breaking human rights laws and has received backlash from the public. Indonesia’s government and the (BNPT) must approach terrorism as a risk factor which can involve soft-approach policies. De-radicalization programs have proven to change former terrorist perspective and can introduce these individuals back into society. Terrorism treated as a risk can move toward reform of education and good prison sentences instead of the Indonesian government’s draconian policies. Terrorism if treated as a risk factor proves that the threats are there, but Indonesia’s policies do not have to be affected by terrorism, but a more civilian,  human right, and justice approach can combat the threat of terrorism in Indonesia.

About the author:

Dave Pereira was a participant of Development Studies Professional Practicum (DSPP) Virtual Internship at ACICIS Indonesia. As part of this program, he also conducted an online internship in PSSAT (Pusat Studi Sosial Asia Tenggara or CESASS (Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies) UGM on January 8th – February 12th, 2021.

Radical Islam, The Relationship between Politics, Security and Terrorism in Indonesia

Terrorism is often an act of violence, or threat to act, that is politically or religiously charged. A true worldwide definition of terrorism does not currently exist, yet there are specific characteristics that we can link to the concept. One of the struggles of understanding terrorism in academic debates stems from the lack of a solid definition. It has been argued by many scholars that such a definition cannot ever exist (Jackson et al. 2011). Difficulties scholars have agreeing on a definition of terrorism come from it being contextually determined, and definitions in this area can often include political bias. Over-generalized definitions are mostly what we have been left with around the world. Indonesia’s Anti-terrorism Law (ATL) of 2002, gives a description of terrorism. This law does not define terrorism in any strict sense but instead claims that the crime of terrorism can be any act that fulfils elements of the crime under this law. There are critical terms left undefined and therefore subjective to various interpretations, such as ‘widespread atmosphere of terror or fear’. Widespread is not defined to a radius, neither is fear define to a degree. The vague terms included in this description has been criticized for being applicable to various cases that may not involve terrorism (Butt, 2008). A lecturer at Murdoch University, Dr Ian Wilson (2020), argues that there are no terrorist organizations, there are only political groups that use terrorism as a tactic. This is important to understanding the link between terrorism and politics in Indonesia. The motives of these groups are politically charged and stem from a discomfort with Indonesian democracy.

There was much debate about the security of Indonesia being threatened with the release of Abu Baker Ba’asyir early this year. Jones (2019) argues that his release is unlikely to suddenly increase the risk of terrorism in Indonesia. However, he is still very much able to preach radical ideas and is under no restrictions from doing so. In 2014, while in prison, Ba’asyir pleaded his allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. According to Jones (2019), President Joko Widodo’s decision to release him violated standard regulation when Ba’asyir did not need to sign a loyalty pledge to the government. ‘It would seem to violate Regulation 99 of 2012 from the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, which makes the early release for certain categories of offenders, including convicted terrorists, contingent on their willingness to sign a written loyalty oath to the Indonesian government’ (Yulisman, 2019). Abu Baker Ba’asyir was exempt from signing. This shows a political weakness in the fight against terrorism. While the security of Indonesia is seemingly not threatened by his release, the political leaders have undermined the regulations that actively contribute to counterterrorism measures through de-radicalization.

Radical political groups and terrorism acts undermine the political sphere and create security issues in Indonesia. The continued pressure from political Islam has been a developing issue in Indonesia for many years. Radical Islamist groups continue to create fear through terror tactics around Indonesia and political Islam threatens Indonesia’s democracy. The Indonesian government has limitations, and they have fallen short when it comes to dealing with terrorism. Indonesia was a presentation of democratic transition for many years, especially for countries like them with large Muslim populations. Liberalism and perhaps even tolerance in Indonesia can be seen to be under threat. Tim Lindsey in his article ‘Retreat from Democracy: The Rise of Islam and the Challenge for Indonesia’ (2018), argues that liberal democracy is in contest with Muslim conservatives. He points out the paradox that the voices of tolerance which sought to present Indonesia as a Muslim Democracy now face opposition from Muslim conservative intolerance empowered by that very democracy.

Within the Muslim community in Indonesia there is a battle between moderates and conservatives over the essence of Islam and its presence in political and social structures, institutions, and culture. As Shira Loewenberg (2018) argues, there are two very different futures for Indonesia that are fought for by the two sides. The moderate side fights for Indonesia’s democracy, and religious freedom, while the conservative side fights for an Islamic state, governed under Islamic law and opposed to democracy. However, most scholars agree that it is unlikely Indonesia will formally be an Islamic state anytime soon.

In Vedi R. Hadiz’s ‘Towards a Sociological Understanding of Islamic Radicalism in Indonesia’ (2008), he discusses radical Islam as being deeply rooted in contemporary world order. Hadiz makes comparisons between the fear of political islam, with the growing discomfort surrounding the state of democracy in Indonesia. In the past, organized Islam has been a major source of opposition to democracy, and appointed leaders. This pressure continues to threaten democracy, while being given a platform to speak by that very democracy. Blasphemy laws in Indonesia are just one example of political Islam being put at an advantage by democracy (Connelly & Busch, 2017).  The jailing of Ahok, the Jakarta governor, in 2017, demonstrates the problem. President Joko Widodo and his government struggled to respond effectively. They can be argued to have been intimidated by the attacks on the governor and the calls for ending Jokowi’s presidency as well. The governor lost his election and was jailed under blasphemy laws. Islamic values are imposed on laws and norms gradually, such as increasing limitations on free speech, restrictions on clothing and sexuality, as well as the banning of alcohol. As a model for this approach many look to Malaysia (Lindsey, 2018).

The relationship between politics, security and terrorism in Indonesia is grounded in the largely Muslim population, and is threatened by extremists. Politics, including laws and norms, can be seen to be continually being influenced by conservative Islam. Threats from terrorism are very real, and undermine the security attempts made by the Indonesian government.


Butt, S. (2008). Anti-Terrorism Law and Criminal Process in Indonesia. ARC Federation Fellowship ‘Islam And Modernity: Syari’ah, Terrorism and Governance in South-East Asia’. Retrieved from

Connelly, A., & Busch, M. (2017). Indonesian democracy: Down, but not out. Retrieved 28 January 2021, from

Jackson, Richard, Lee Jarvis, Jeroen Gunning, and Marie Breen Smyth. 2011. “Conceptualizing Terrorism”. In Terrorism: A Critical Introduction, 1st ed., 99-121. Palgrave Macmillan.

Jones, S. (2021). Indonesia: releasing Abu Bakar Ba’asyir wrong on all counts. Retrieved 12 January 2021, from

Lindsey, T. (2018). Retreat from democracy? The rise of Islam and the challenge for Indonesia. Australian Foreign Affairs, (3), 69-92.

Loewenberg, S. (2018). Threats to Indonesia’s Democracy. Retrieved 21 January 2021, from

Vedi R. Hadiz (2008) Towards a Sociological Understanding of Islamic Radicalism in Indonesia, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 38:4, 638-647, DOI: 10.1080/00472330802311795

Wilson, Ian. “Introducing the unit & the challenges of conceptualizing terrorism” [lecture]. In Pol 234: Terrorism in a Globalized World, Murdoch University, 27 February 2020.

Yulisman, L. (2019). Indonesia president orders review of planned release of radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir. Retrieved 13 January 2021, from

About the author:

Megan Connelly was a participant of Development Studies Professional Practicum (DSPP) Virtual Internship at ACICIS Indonesia. As part of this program, she also conducted an online internship in PSSAT (Pusat Studi Sosial Asia Tenggara or CESASS (Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies) UGM on January 8th – February 12th, 2021.

Wives for sale! Exports of the Vietnamese Bride Industry

When it comes to Vietnamese exports, the first item that comes to mind for most people might be Vietnamese coffee. Indeed, this famous good lies among the many items exported out of Vietnam which has led to the establishment of these marketable industries. However, this article will not be exploring these conventional exports but will focus on a lesser-examined good instead- the Vietnamese bride.

This ‘economic good’ of the Vietnamese bride can be located within the larger phenomenon of the mail order bride industry. As defined by Sarker, Cakraborty, Tansuhaj, Mulder and Dogerlioglu-Demir (2013), this industry can be seen through “international marriage brokering agencies as mail order bride services”. In highlighting the centrality of brokering agencies to the market, this definition helps distinguish a bride that is specifically sold as an international ‘product’ against her fellow compatriot who marries overseas, outside of the system. Hence, this serves to demarcate and economise the human bride into a commercial good, which is arguably problematic due to its dehumanising undertones. However, for the purpose of understanding how this industry can be perceived using an economic lens of analysis, these terms will be used in the course of examination below.

Within the mail-order bride industry, countries are categorised as ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ or exporters and importers. Developing countries, such as those in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, tend to be grouped as exporting countries while developed ones such as the U.S., Western Europe and East Asia are seen as importers (Lloyd, 2000). These circumstances are shaped by demand and supply factors for brides. Women facing issues of poverty in their developing hometowns become the supply while men from wealthier nations and purchasing power fuel the demand. For the brides-to-be, such marriages are a means for them to escape comparatively poor living situations with a hope to remit money gained from their new life to their families back at home. The motivation for men in these importing countries would then be to meet their needs of a wife through monetary means for reasons which do not allow them to find one in their own country (Yakushko & Rajan, 2017).

One exporting country which has become more active within this industry in recent years is the republic of Vietnam. This is due in part to the demand factor of East Asia’s economic rise which increases purchasing power and demand for the service, as well as the associating problems of changing marriage norms with more financially independent women in the region (Kim & Shin, 2008). The popularity of Vietnamese brides, in particular with these East Asian countries, can be observed in the lower cultural barriers to bridge these international counterparts. This can be seen in similarities of religion, family values and even their physique which arguably inclines them towards an East Asian model. As such, this accounts for the prevalence of Vietnam brides over mail-order brides from other destinations within the East Asian region. (Kim, 2012).

Due to the pronounced financial benefit associated with these marriages, there is a prevalent perspective that wives only seek to gain from such an arrangement. However, this article would like to highlight that this is not entirely the case. Beyond the allure of economic security lies challenges which these brides have to navigate through on their own in a foreign land after the marriage. These issues include social exclusion, higher risks of facing physical abuse within the marriage, and the threat of human trafficking when examined across the different ‘import’ countries which these brides get sent to.

In a study by Kim (2012) on Vietnamese brides in South Korea, it was found that the phenomena of social exclusion were widely faced by these ladies after migrating for their marriage. Exclusion arises from the differences that exist between the bride and the Korean society despite the overarching similarities they share compared to mail-order brides from other countries. This is especially distinct in the area of communication because the Korean society is arguably perceived to be relatively homogenous and defined by the Korean language. Difficulty in picking up the language by these brides result in them being demarcated as ‘others’ by the larger society. As a result of this, they become excluded at a societal level and the lack of acceptance makes the facilitation of integration for these brides to be difficult in finding emotional stability in their new homes.

A closer look at brides ‘exported’ to America reveal the problem of physical abuse as highlighted by Morash, Bui, Zhang, & Holtfreter (2007).  A prevalence of such abuse being faced by these brides has been argued to stem from the demographics of men who tend to engage in this industry. These risk factors are seen in the larger percentage of men who have backgrounds with a history of violence that seek wives using these means. The decision to turn to women overseas is a response to the struggle in finding local women to marry due to their backgrounds. The Vietnamese bride becomes highly prized among this demographic due to their marketing as ‘subservient’ by matchmaking companies, which feeds into the notion that they are easier to control and thus appealing to such men. This however leaves the bride at the mercy of physically abusive spouses which places them in a vulnerable position.

When examined in the context of these brides in China, Barabantseva (2015) paints an even more alarming problem of trafficking that they are exposed to. Some of these brides are kidnapped, misled and sold into the market by traffickers who attempt to profit off the industry by doing so illegally instead of through official brokering agencies. This is an issue for Vietnamese brides to China in particular because of the close geographical proximity of the two where they share a common border. This is facilitated by traffickers who falsely promise Vietnamese women job opportunities in China, bringing them across the border or forcibly kidnapping them to be sold to Chinese men in need of a wife. This practice continues in recent times as reported by various news sources even in 2019 (Ng).

In conclusion, this industry is complex, dynamic and not without its benefits and challenges (Thai, 2008). From understanding the economic framework of how marriage can be commodified and facilitated in a cross-border process from Southeast Asia to the region beyond it, as well as the challenges which these brides face within this exchange, there is much which can be observed and commented on. It is hoped that even as ‘importing’ countries enjoy the benefit of being able to engage in these services, measures would be put in place to safeguard the lives of these Vietnamese brides who arrive on their shores not just an economic good but as a human.



Barabantseva, E. (2015). When borders lie within: Ethnic marriages and illegality on the Sino‐Vietnamese border. International Political Sociology, 9(4), 352-368. doi:10.1111/ips.12102

Kim, H. (2012). Marriage migration between South Korea and Vietnam: A gender perspective. Asian Perspective, 36(3), 531-563. doi:10.1353/apr.2012.0020

Kim, S., & Shin, Y. (2008). Immigrant brides in the Korean rural farming sector: Social exclusion and policy responses. Korea Observer, 39(1), 1.

Lloyd, K. A. (2000). Wives for sale: The modern international mail-order bride industry. Northwestern. Journal of International Law & Business, 20(2), 341.

Morash, M., Bui, H., Zhang, Y., & Holtfreter, K. (2007). Risk factors for abusive relationships: A study of Vietnamese American immigrant women. Violence Against Women, 13(7), 653-675. doi:10.1177/1077801207302044

Ng, D. (2019). Raped, beaten and sold in China: Vietnam’s kidnapped young brides. Channel News Asia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].

Sarker, S., Chakraborty, S., Tansuhaj, P. S., Mulder, M., & Dogerlioglu-Demir, K. (2013). The “mail-order-bride” (MOB) phenomenon in the cyberworld: An interpretive investigation. ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems (TMIS), 4(3), 1-36. doi:10.1145/2524263

Thai, H. C. (2008). For better or for worse: Vietnamese international marriages in the new global economy. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.

Yakushko, O., & Rajan, I. (2017). Global love for sale: Divergence and convergence of human trafficking with “mail order brides” and international arranged marriage phenomena. Women & Therapy, 40(1-2), 190-206. doi:10.1080/02703149.2016.1213605

Article was written by Esther Ng Shu Shan National University of Singapore.

The Domino Effect and the Web of Connections Between Tourist Sites in Indonesia

On the 1st-4th of April 2019, I attended the MMAT workshop (Mengajar & Meneliti Asia Tenggara or “Understanding Changes in Southeast Asia”). The workshop aimed to equip the participants with a deeper understanding of Southeast Asia as well as research skills and experience. A part of the workshop was to do fieldwork at one of three locations, and I was in the group that did our fieldwork at Sosrowijayan. We were asked to observe and do interviews to find out more about the area in accordance to our area of study. As an anthropologist, I looked at the state of the society, and the practices of the people.

In this essay, I would like to explore the concept of the “domino effect” or interrelatedness through the tourism industry located in Sosrowijayan; its implications and significance; and its resultant impact and consequences for the area and its community of residents. From my observations, I would like to suggest that a domino effect can be observed, where it has affected the economic activities and fortunes of the people living and doing business in Sosrowijayan. This has further implications for the lives and identities of its residents.

Sosrowijayan is located near Yogyakarta Station or Stasiun Tugu, a railway station located close to the centre of the city of Yogyakarta. As my group and I walked around Sosrowijayan, it was clear that the area was created primarily because of its location and the resultant demand for accommodation from travellers. Sosrowijayan is mostly filled with losmen, hotels, restaurants, tour agencies, and other services catering to the types of people that visit the area. These indicate the importance of the need for tourism-related demand, and it is not surprising why the area is heavily dependent on tourist numbers.

After the Bali bombings occurred in 2002 and 2005, this negatively affected the tourist sentiments about Bali, and in turn, affected the tourist arrivals to Indonesia in general, which includes Sosrowijayan in Yogyakarta. The tourist arrivals to the area dropped, which greatly affected the businesses in the area. With a decrease in the number of regular tourist arrivals to Indonesia, this increases the difficulty of sustaining an already seasonal economic activity, since most tourist arrivals (usually from Western countries) usually come during the summer (middle of the year) or around the Christmas holiday period.

This is where the domino effect comes into play because we were told by an owner of one of the resturants and losmen in Gang 2, Sosrowijayan, in a conversation with him, that the tourists usually come to Indonesia on a tour package. These tour packages usually bring them to Bali first and then Yogyakarta, so when the Bali bombings happened, the tour groups stopped coming because the package would include both. Hence, indirectly, the owner of the restaurant and losmen and Sosrowijayan in general are reliant on these tourist packages. This reveals an interconnectedness that exists between the various popular tourist sites in Indonesia, where even though they may not geographically distant from each other and might not be conceived as connected in any way by the locals, tour agencies have created a connected that these businesses had apparently depended on, and need to sustain their business.

This comment reveals the importance of the domino effect, since its consequences also affect the society there in other ways; not just economically, but also in terms of social positioning and feeling of relevance, since their identity as an area, as an “international village” is based on that idea that travellers will stay at that area. So what will happen to that identity when there are little tourists or when the tourists are gone?

While my group and I walked around Sosrowijayan, we visited a bookstore-cum-gift shop located in Gang 1. We talked to the owner/manager of the store she commented that the shop would received a lot of visits and business from the international tourists when there were still many coming to Yogyakarta before the Bali Bombings in 2002 and 2005. However, now the store’s relevance has changed, since more students and locals patronise the store and buy the books there because it is cheaper than other bookstores like Kinokuniya, since the books are second hand and are from the owner’s brother’s personal collection.

This is perhaps indicative of a changing relevance of Sosrowijayan, where it is not just an international village but a local “kampung” or a local village. Perhaps it now presents an international front for the local people, which casts doubt on whether the area is truly “international”.

This could be a new form of the concept of “international”, where the meaning of the concept is pertinent not to the outsider but to the insider. An example that comes to mind is the mall Terminal 21 in Bangkok, where each of its floors are zones designed according to the themes of different cities in different regions of the world. While the mall is situated in a tourist area and located near many hotels, it seems like such a design was not just meant for the tourists, who may actually originate from those cities or regions, but it seems to be designed for locals who wish to experience a different region without travelling out of the country, or while they go about the mundane activity of visiting the mall. Whatever the case might be, at the end of the day, such a theme is an effective way to attract visitors to the mall and create interest in them while they are there.

It is worth noting that Sosrowijayan does not have much relevance to Indonesia, as shown in a comment by the restaurant/losmen owner about how there are not many locals that stay there, since they would rather stay at their friend’s house or kos, instead of playing for a room at the losmen.

There are also other problems that face the area including the difficulties of digitalisation, the disruption presented by online businesses, and the construction of a hotel in the area. While digitalisation is the future, its effects are not necessarily positive, since most of the existing older losmen do not use digital infrastructure like credit card payments or online bookings. Furthermore, since there are more online businesses are now present in the area like Airy Rooms, tourists would usually prefer to stay in these more modern accommodations that the traditional and older losmen. Thus, it is important for these losmen, these businesses that are not digital, to retain their relevance to the modern tourist who prefers obtaining his accommodations through digital means. Lastly, the future presence of a big hotel in the area also presents a challenge for the community, since it literally towers over all the tiny losmen and smaller hotels and represents the advance of a “modern” form of tourist accommodation. It is not certain how its presence will affect the community and businesses in Sosrowijayan.

A sidenote, I think that it is worth considering the reasons why losmen are not all going digital, since examining the reasons could reveal other forces at play in the state of the community in Sosrowijayan that affects tourism activities. Some possible reasons include the existence of a technical gap, the lack of willingness to change, or the perception that it is or will be too difficult to change the nature of the business.

In conclusion, Sosrowijayan provides an interesting case study for the “domino effect” that is present in the tourist industry. It could also be a case study for how the tourist industry copes with different forms of changes, including competition from other kinds of tourism-related activities, new developments, events, technologies, etc., in order to remain relevant.

This article was written by Violet Ng Hui Zhi, an undergraduate student at National University of Singapore, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Photo by Nemanja .O. on Unsplash

Is It Worth Going to War Over the South China Sea? Chinese and US’ Stakes in the Region

The South China Sea issue is currently one of the most evident aspects of the growing polarization between the world’s two major economies, China and the United States. Even though this question involves primarily actors from Northeast and Southeast Asia (hereafter East Asia), which includes ASEAN and its member-States, it still should not be forgotten that at the end of the day, China and the US still are the main decision-makers in the region, given their power-projection capabilities. Peace, or war for that matter, depends on the position of these Great Powers. The region has a systemic value because the US-led network of alliances is being challenged by an ongoing military and economic Chinese ascent.

The Southeast Asian countries are participants in a fragmented productive system in the region. This system has been historically led by Japanese investments. However, it is today facing a trend of increased Chinese presence, in industry, trade, and direct investments – more so with the Belt and Road Initiative. The faltering of the US leadership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership has strengthened this movement. This is a result of fundamentally different perspectives and interests in the region: while for China the local sea routes can be considered essential for its survival, for the US, it is “only” a way of both controlling Chinese behavior and positioning itself as a trustworthy hegemon.


Chinese Stakes and Strategy

The South China Sea connects the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and as such, it connects the main producers of oil in the Middle East and Africa to the industrialized economies of Northeast Asia. It also provides the main lanes of intermediary goods trade within East Asia. These sea-lanes are also used by China as one of its main possibilities of naval power projection. Estimates of 2017 put a total of 40% of Chinese international trade passing by the region, and 22% of the total trade of East Asia. For the US, it only represents 6%. The Malacca strait is its most famous chokepoint, through which 80% of oil imported by the Chinese passes by . A blockade in Malacca, Sunda and Lombok straits would imply the necessity of circumnavigating Australia, which would have an impact over the cost of transportation and, most importantly, would increase the insurance price for the tankers, as well as interrupting the regional productive network.

Through a vast process of economic modernization and industrialization prompted by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, Chinese GDP grew by an average of ten percent from 1980 to 2010, maintaining an average of over seven percent in subsequent years. To support this profile, China needs to meet its energy demand, dependent on oil imported through the Malacca Strait. Thus, Chinese interests in the South China Sea are primarily energetic, which implies two initiatives: expanding its military presence in the region and strengthening political and economic interdependence between China and the Southeast Asian countries. It is noted that the importance of either initiative has varied over the years: in the early 2000s, China employed a regional foreign policy known as “Charm Offensive”, following the principles of safeguarding peace, promoting the development and broadening cooperation . According to Shambaugh , most nations in the region saw China as a good neighbor then and a non-threatening regional power.

The current assertive stance, employing skirmishes between fishing boats and coast guards, with the establishment and expansion of military bases at points that were once small rocks, constitutes a change in China’s insertion in the region. Nevertheless, China maintained the same strategic interest in the region: safeguarding its interests by having political force in its strategic surroundings, securing its supply and trade routes and preparing against possible assertive initiatives by the United States and its allies. China is gaining influence over Southeast Asian countries. It has maintained its partnership with China-aligned countries in the Region (Laos and Cambodia), maintained diplomatic channels with countries seeking a neutral profile in the region (such as Indonesia and Singapore), and has gradually been able to increase its influence over countries that directly challenge Chinese territorial claims (Philippines and Vietnam, besides becoming the main foreign investor in Thailand). The region is central to the Belt and Road Initiative Belt. While the United States withdrew from negotiations for the establishment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiations for the ASEAN-centered RCEP with Chinese participation remain open.

One of the high points of the previous Chinese cooperative stance was the Declaration on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. Nonetheless, its main promise – the future signing of a Code of Conduct that would prevent the parties from resolving its territorial issues violently – evolved slowly, and indeed China has prevented its resolution. The change of attitude is logical if we analyze what was and is now at stake concerning the evolution of Chinese military modernization, both about the projection of maritime force and the strategic use of long-range nuclear weapons. The Chinese perception of the United States’ capacity for dialogue and its role in regional alliances also changed during this period.

From a strategic-nuclear standpoint, the main change was the process that led to the establishment of nuclear deterrence patrols of its new ballistic missile submarines, commissioned in 2007 and operating since 2010. The nuclear submarine armed with ballistic missiles is the main system for second-strike capability within the nuclear triad – meaning they are the ultimate dissuasion weapon. These submarines operate from Hainan Island in south China. This regional deployment is explained by the fact that on its east and north coasts, China is surrounded by US bases and its allies’ naval forces in Taiwan, the southern islands of the Japanese archipelago and South Korea. It becomes central to China’s ability to prevent detection of its nuclear submarines to fortify its position in the South China Sea. Besides, Japan and South Korea’s acquisition of ballistic missile interception capabilities starting in 2009 (through the AEGIS system), which although officially used as a defense against the North Korean nuclear program, also threatens Chinese dissuasory capability of a second-strike nuclear attack using land-based missile launchers.

From a military modernization standpoint, China started to invest heavily in its naval forces after they were shown to be thoroughly insufficient during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis (1995-1996). Naval reform, as well as its growing economy, enabled China to become the world’s greatest shipbuilder. This enabled China to become more assertive both regarding Japan, concerning the Diaoyu/Senkaku, and the SCS, occupying Scarborough Shoal in 2012.


American Stakes and Strategy

As stated above, the US’ stakes in terms of commerce are relatively minimal when compared to China’s. Still, American stakes in the region are directly connected to its global strategy. Contemporary US strategic interests in the SCS can be explored by analyzing two key moments: the 2011 Asian pivot, and the 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategic Report. Both have the same foundation: that the US network of allies in East Asia is one of the main pillars for their international hegemony.

The 2011 Asian pivot meant that the US would refocus to the Pacific instead of the Middle East. The US had boosted its alliance with Australia through the establishment of a military presence in Darwin, through agreements with India and Vietnam, and the use of anti-missile systems in Japan. The economic basis of this initiative would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The US sought to strengthen its position as guarantor of regional security and by ensuring the possibility of intervention in defense of allies. A major threat to US hegemony is China’s acquisition of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) capabilities, challenging the US capacity of unrestricted access to the region. The concept evolved gradually from AirSea Battle in 2010 to the 2012 Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), and finally to the Joint Commons Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC) . Unrestricted access would mean the ability to attack the rearguard of the enemy’s defensive lines. However, by destroying the enemy’s (China’s) ability to command and control, it would also threaten the ability to coordinate a nuclear second-strike, and thus threatening credible nuclear deterrence. The Chinese response to the new US doctrine was the enactment of the Active Defense strategy in 2015, outlining a more assertive military stance.

Even if it is not as important to the US, the region has critical importance to their allies South Korea and Japan. About 90% of the oil imported by Japan and South Korea goes through the region, and both have the third and second-largest trade flows in the local straits, respectively . This is could be considered the basis of the US interest in proposing itself as the advocate of Global Commons.

Current US strategic interests for the region are presented in the US Department of Defense’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report of 2019 . Even though it is based on the Obama administration’s pivot, it has the differential of accusing China of being a strategic competitor and revisionist power. It follows the 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which mention that the main threats for US interests abroad include competition between major powers (Russia and China) and conventional military threats (in other words, refocusing away from counter-insurgency). Contrary to the AirSea Battle concept, which focuses on the unique ability of the United States to employ combined forces (enabled by technological advancement), recent documents emphasize that such a factor will only be decisive if used at sufficient scale. The 2019 document concedes that conflict scenarios close to competitors are dangerous because in these cases the enemy would have a local military advantage at the start of a possibly short confrontation. To fight this, the active participation of their allies, committed to a joint confrontation of the revisionist power, is essential. The US would act differently depending on how close it is to countries in the region: Allies (Japan, South Korea, Australia, Philippines, Thailand), Strong Partners (Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand, Mongolia), New Indian Ocean Partnerships (India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal), new partnerships in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia), dialogue partners (lowest level of engagement with Brunei, Laos and Cambodia). Thus, the US seeks above all to maintain a balance of power that gives credibility to its posture of guarantor of its allies and thus to maintain its hegemonic position.


Will there be a major war anytime soon?

Not likely. Indeed, the importance of the South China Sea straits – especially for mainland China, Japan, and South Korea – means that an embargo or blockade could threaten the entire productive system of the region. Although both Japan and China have strategic oil reserves in the event of shortages (100 and 40 to 50 days respectively ), the degree of productive interconnection means that any embargo can cause complete chain paralysis and consequently global shortages of certain industrialized products. Even threat perception can have increasing effects on the price and viability of production by increasing the price of vessel insurance. A prolonged interruption of maritime communication lines would threaten the survival of the State and thus lead to open conflict. Just as the United States realize the seriousness of imposing an embargo on China, Beijing understands that the sinking of an American aircraft carrier would require a US military response that could lead to total war. Besides, the SCS does not have the same symbolic importance for China as Taiwan has, for instance.

Will the US passively allow China to gradually surpass its economic and military power in the region? Also unlikely, but it does not mean that the SCS will be the theater of a major engagement. However, recent experience has shown that small naval encounters could lead to stalemates, which might bring winners and losers as one of the sides might have to concede to the adversary’s will. These stalemates could lead to limited skirmishes, which would contribute to the credibility of either Chinese or American military efficiency. Right now, the balance-of-power is shifting towards China. One of the key variables to assess future developments could be the possibility of change in Japanese and Indian initiatives. Even though they are giving signs that they are willing to play a bigger role in the region, as of now it still would not be enough to counter growing Chinese clout over the former American-led sphere-of-influence in Southeast Asia.

This article was written by Rômulo Barizon Pitt, a postgraduate student at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, while working as a fellow researcher at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash


Tourism in Singapore


Tourism has become one of the most important global industries today. To maintain global power, Singapore has to get involve and give value to tourism in the country. Singapore can be considered a small country if you determine it from the amount of land the country has, but if you measure from its economy, it is one of the most growing counties in the world. This statement is pointed out by Hooi Hooi Leana, Sio Hing Chongb and Chee-Wooi Hooyc (2014) who say that ;

“ Tourism is a fast-growing industry in Singapore. Despite the small contribution to the country’s overall GDP, hovering around 8 percent, Singapore’s tourism industry lingers as a noteworthy showcase not only for trade and economic powerhouse but also as a hub for entertainment, media, and culture in Southeast Asia. In 2005, the Singapore Tourism Board heralded its target to ensure tourism played the role as a key economic pillar by tripling tourism receipts to S$30 billion and doubling visitor arrivals to 17 million in 2015. Besides, the “Uniquely Singapore” campaign that launched in March 2004, aimed to show the world the blend of the best of Singapore as the modern world of warm, enriching and unforgettable tourist destination had won a gold award conferred by the Pacific Asia Travel Association. In 2009, the contribution of the tourism industry on economic growth has recorded 7.3 percent and created 5.8 percent out of total employment opportunities. An increasing trend showing 4.1 percent of the total economy from the tourism industry in 2004 has escalated to 7.3 percent in 2009.”

From this fact, we can understand how tourism has had an impact on Singapore. But to understand the current impacts of tourism in Singapore, we must acknowledge what types of tourist attractions Singapore has to offer and the effects that tourism has on Singapore’s structure.


The types of tourist attractions in Singapore

Singapore can be considered one of the most outstanding counties in southeast Asia, this fact is a benefit for Singapore when it comes to tourism because Singapore’s name in more likely to pop up if you are planning a trip to this region. By recognizing this advantage, Singapore has created many noticeable tourist attractions throughout the years. Since there are so many tourist attractions in Singapore, the writer is going to narrow them down into two main categories which are nature-based tourist attractions and human-made tourist attractions. The writer plans on giving at least three destinations as examples.

Nature-based tourist attractions are tourist destinations which are more interested in the nature side of the attraction. Nature-based tourist attractions are usually combined by three elements, namely education, recreation and adventure (UK essays, 2017). Since these type of tourist attractions have little to no interventions from humans, it is the perfect type of destination for people who enjoy the natural side of life. Even though Singapore has become a very developed country, but there are still many nature-based tourist attractions around, for example, Gardens by the Bay, Botanic gardens and Sentosa island.

The first natural tourist attraction which the writer is going to mention is Gardens by the bay, a national garden and premier attraction for local and international visitors. The garden is an advanced facility which uniquely displays the plant kingdom by entertaining and educating the visitors at the same time. The garden also maintains various types of plants from all over the world. The garden can also be considered an independent organization responsible for developing and managing one of Asia’s foremost garden destinations (Gardens by the bay, n.d.). Coming to Gardens by the Bay is like being at almost every garden is the world because of the variety of plants the garden has to offer.

Another memorable nature-based tourist attraction is Botanic gardens, a collection of different types of gardens, like the Ethnobotany garden, the National orchid garden, and the Ginger garden. The gardens have played an important role in fostering agricultural development in Singapore and the region through collecting, growing, experimenting and distributing potentially useful plants. The gardens also played a key role in Singapore’s Garden City program through the continual introduction of plants of horticultural and botanical interest(Singapore botanic gardens, n.d.). Seeing all of these wonderful gardens in person can be a very relaxing experience for many people and that might be why the gardens are still famous today.

Moving on is Sentosa Island, an offshore island of Singapore accessible by a road link, cable car, and a light railway line. The island is not far from the city center (about a ten-minute drive). There have been many improvements to the island thru out the years to make sure that the island becomes a world-class tourist destination, which creates opportunities for tourists and locals. The increasing of transportation options and attractions such as a Marine Life Park and the Universal Studios Singapore amusement park have helped Sentosa island become a very popular tourist destination at an international level. But despite all of the famous human-made tourist destinations, Sentosa island has a lot of natural activities which makes the visitor want to come back for more, like Siloso beach which is perfect for a nice day on the beach. (Centre for liveable cities Singapore, 2015)

The next type of tourist attractions is human-made tourist attractions, which is any object or place that a person might travel to see which exists mainly because a human created it (BBC, n.d.), for example, Orchard Road, Singapore Flyer, Universal Studios Singapore and Chinatown.

Starting with Orchard road, one of the largest shopping, dining, and entertainment hubs in the country. Orchard Road is a 2.2 km. shopping belt between Tanglin road and Selegie road. Tourist considers Orchard road as a shopping district and prefers it to regional malls even if it may not be as close to their lodgings (Yap Yong Hwang, 2014). From becoming a popular icon for shopping in Singapore, Orchard Road has become a must-go destination for tourist in Singapore. The popularity has also helped Singapore’s economic growth.

Following up is the Singapore Flyer, which is the largest Ferris wheel in Asia. Singapore flyer can take you up to about 165 meters from ground level, which is about the hight of the 42nd floor of a skyscraper. But it is not just the hight that attracts tourist, the greatest part of Singapore flyer is the amazing view that allows you to see most of Singapore in a way you have never experienced before (Singapore tourism board, n.d.).

When mentioning about Singapore, a popular tourist attraction that comes up to mind is Universal Studios Singapore, a well-known amusement park. The park is located on Sentosa island, which is not far from the city center. This is the only Universal Studios in Southeast Asia where 28 thrilling rides and seven themed zones await (Sentosa, n.d.). The size of the park and amount of character that Universal Studios Singapore possesses easily makes it a tourist attraction that most people would want to come to at any age or gender.

The next well-known human-made tourist attraction in Chinatown, which is a must-go destination for people who visit Singapore because of its long old history and the impacts it has had on Singapore’s culture. This statement can be supported by Planning for Tourism: Creating a Vibrant Singapore (2015) which claims that ;

“In the early 1980s, Chinatown was Singapore’s top tourist attraction. An important heritage area, it was classified as a “Historic District” in the 1986 Urban Conservation Master Plan, and an “Ethnic Quarter” in the “Ethnic Singapore” thematic zone within the Tourism 21 Master Plan. It was hence a natural candidate for the pilot project on thematic development.”


The effects of tourism on Singapore’s structure

By getting an idea about what kind of tourist attractions Singapore has to offer from the previous section, the question remains that how do these tourist attractions affect Singapore’s structure? Many might argue that tourism is only a temporary income that is unpredictable, but tourism is not only about the money, it also has many aspects to offer besides money which we are going to explore in this section.

Since Singapore is a country that strongly depends on its economic structure, Singapore has made sure that they can make the best out of what they have. Many might argue that tourism has only a small part on Singapore’s economy and Singapore can easily depend on making money from music, films, concerts, fashion, computer games, architectural services, and other creative products. But the truth remains that Singapore has to strongly depend more on labor, services, and brainpower because of its lack of natural resources. So tourism is a great way to boost the economies growth because it can attribute to the provision of hard currency, creates employment opportunities and accumulates physical capital (Chew Ging Lee, 2008). The potential benefits that tourism has to offer for Singapore’s economic structure have made the government realize how important it is and got the government move involved with tourism many years ago, as reported in Tourism and economic growth: The case of Singapore (2008) that ;

“In Singapore, tourism industry receives heavy supports from its government. The Singaporean government has launched the “Uniquely Singapore” marketing campaign through Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in March 2004 in Singapore. Subsequently, this campaign was launched in the various key markets, such as in Germany in the ITB trade show on 12 March 2004. Recognizing the importance of tourism to economic activities, on 11 January 2005, Minister for Trade and Industry of Singapore unveiled the STB’s bold targets of tripling tourism receipts to S$30 billion and doubling visitor arrivals to 17 million in the year 2015. This initiative will be supported by an S$2 billion Tourism Development Fund.”

On the other hand, an uncontrolled growing economy can backfire if not handled properly. There are many possible outcomes from a growing economy that gets out of hand, such as, the increasing price of food, land, and houses which would make it very difficult for the locals to remain living where they grew up. And also depending too much on tourism as a main income might shake the economic structure when tourism is not a reliable source (UK essays, 2018).

Moving on is socio-cultural impacts that tourism has on Singapore. From the amount of tourist who comes to Singapore each year, the impacts that they have on Singapore’s society and culture are increasing by the years. By these increasements, there have been positive and negative impacts on Singapore’s socio-cultural structure due to tourism in the country.

On the positive side of socio-cultural impacts, tourism has allowed the citizens of Singapore to interact with people from all over the world. These opportunities are the gateway for exchanging ideas, knowledge, and experiences. As a result, many elements from foreign countries have combined into Singapore’s society and enhances the skills of the residents to communicate to different types of tourist and how to handle situations relating to self-expression (UK essays, 2018). Besides, tourism has encouraged Singaporeans to travel at cultural destinations in their country, for example, Chinatown. This encouragement helps Singaporeans value and understand more about their cultural history.

With the positives of the socio-cultural impacts being so significant, the downsides to Singapore’s socio-cultural is also crucial. Since there are so many tourists coming into the country each year, it becomes hard to keep in check with what everybody is doing, which can easily lead to many problems in the society like drugs and illegal activities. Another downside which comes from tourism is the fact that locals start to adapt foreign influences and westernization, which slowly changes the locals from their traditional ways and replace it with a more foreign way of life (UK essays, 2018).

Many studies have shown that tourism has increased socio-economic growth. However, tourism steered economic growth and development is achieved at the cost of environmental pollution and degradation (Muhammad Azam, Md Mahmudul Alam & Muhammad Haroon Hafeez, 2018). It can be argued that Singapore has created a few tourist attractions dedicated to improving the environment, for example, Gardens by the bay which provides a ton polluted environmental atmosphere and the NEWater plant which is one of the world’s largest water recycling facilities. These type of tourist attractions have helped promote environmental awareness, but the downsides that tourism has brought to Singapore’s environment is too critical. The limited amount of space and resources in Singapore can not handle the incoming of tourist that are coming into the country. As a result, Singapore’s environment is getting affected in many negative ways because of the limited resources to deal with environmental problems. The most noticeable negative effects on the environment are pollution from more vehicle demands, litters dropped by visitors, disturbance of natural habitats and cause damages to the landscapes, land cleared for more attractions and heavy usage of resources (UK essays, 2018).



Tourism has had a major impact on Singapore. Since tourism is now one of the most important global industries today, Singapore has also got on board with what tourism has to offer. Although Singapore might be a small-sized country, in terms of development Singapore is one of the highest growing counties in the world and tourism has played a key part in this success. By recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the country, Singapore has been able to create many well-known nature-based and human-made tourist attractions, like Gardens by the Bay, Botanic gardens, Orchard Road and Singapore flyer. These extraordinary tourist attractions are the staples of Singapore’s entire tourism industry. By heavily depending on tourism as the main income, there have been many effects on Singapore’s structure. Government support has helped make a positive outcome on Singapore’s economic system and has lead to the provision of hard currency, creates employment opportunities and accumulates physical capital, but tourism might shake the economic structure when it is not a reliable source. On the socio-cultural approach, the benefits are that tourism is a gateway for exchanging ideas, knowledge, experiences and an opportunity to see value in Singapore’s culture, but the downsides are that tourism can easily lead to many problems in the society like illegal activities. Last but not least, Singapore’s environment is becoming more polluted due to the number of resources that need to be used in tourism, even though Singapore is trying as best as it can to improve and promote environmental awareness.



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This article was written by Dallas Kennamer, an undergraduate student of Psychology Department, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Photo by Nemanja .O. on Unsplash

Gender Bias in Marhata Sinamot: Wedding Procession of Toba-Batak

The process of marriage in Indonesia the society recognizes in term of dowry (mahr) for both brides. Dowry (mahr) is a property given to a woman from a man when he wants to marry the woman. In Toba-Batak custom, dowry is similar to sinamot. However, the distinguish dowry is not used for the cost of the wedding ceremony. Meanwhile, sinamot means” buying” – the woman he wants to marry from her family and for the wedding ceremony (Manurung, N. 2015, p. 33). Unlike Sinamot, Marhata Sinamot is an event in determining the amount of sinamot that will be given to women and whole of sinamot is used as the capital to make the wedding ceremony and as the purchase price of women. There is no specific formula for Sinamot. It was determined at the time of Marhata Sinamot by considering several things, such as the education of women – the higher the education the more sinamot they were given, social status – the more Sinamot given by men to be considered as established person and more Sinamot accepted by women is considered as buying an established lady, and the last is the position of the families – if it comes from high clan will be more expensive, is that so. In this era, born as a woman is still unprivileged under the stigma of “women will belong to others” and makes women left behind, unwell educated, and various others discrimination (Levine, D. 2003).

One thing that is overwhelming in our social structure is the ubiquity of gender where Children get gender from everywhere, women get gender from everywhere, so do men. Gender is in a pattern of relationship that develops by the time to define men and women, masculinity and feminity, structurally and regulate people’s relation among society (Eckert, P. n.d). In assessing someone without having a specific formula, we only use our perspectives that create uncertain valuation which makes more discriminations or bias to every individual. This happens almost in the whole layer of our society, in particular case on someone born as Toba Batak who has high patriarchal level –clan- makes women bear more burden comes from its patriarchal system. Clear depiction appears on Batak woman who fundamentally in a lower position than Batak men. Toba-Batak women are not allowed to inherit the clan from to their children, the child they born will inherit the clan of their father who must also be a Batak. For Bataknese, why this is necessary because they still hold the value of clan heir which only comes from the Batak men. Therefore, clan inheritance only by the man is a must for the Toba-Batak community. Furthermore,  placing the position of husband and son in each Bataknese ceremony is evidence of the pride of the Toba-Batak community in having a male role in tradition. This one of social structure creates a lot of discriminations in various fields, both inheritance, and custody rights.

Gender and Marhata Sinamot are two interrelated entities in the Toba-Batak tradition. The how women are constructed through clan and social position determines the received sinamot and the given sinamot by the groom. In determining the sinamot does not have clear standardization, sinamot is determined through the agreement of the two families of each bride and discussed in Marhata Sinamot and on how their parents rate the women based on their personal preference. One woman with another woman might have different sinamot, as well as the given sinamot from the groom. In Marhata Sinamot, the negotiation in term of Sinamot will be dominated by groom families and some consideration will be seen by groom parents in giving sinamot to female families. Not only highly educated, a career woman will get more sinamot rather than jobless women, the type of job is also being a further discussion as the determinants of sinamot. In the stigma of conservative Toba-Batak people, the doctor is placed as the highest, well-being, and as a desirable profession. For women profession, as the doctor will get sinamot more rather than others profession, It does happen in every Toba-Batak men profession as the doctor will give more sinamot caused by the dignity is constructed as the doctor. Being a woman is not easy, particularly if born into Toba Batak custom, one’s position will be different with others in regards on how people see them by the social structure and this constructs the different sinamot for every woman as their dignity, as happen to Toba Batak men.



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This article was written by Ferdinan R. Pilipus Sitanggang, an undergraduate student of Department of English at the Universitas Teknologi Yogyakarta, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).

Photo by Shardayyy Photography on Unsplash