Urban Inscriptions, Democratic Imaginings, and the Public Sphere in Indonesia

A Talk by Karen Strassler

Monday February 13th 2017, at 4pm

Room 105, 10 Sachem St.  /   Dept. of Anthropology

Since the end of authoritarian rule in Indonesia in 1998, the urban street has become a particularly dense zone of communication. The unprecedented access to the street as a surface for inscription in the post-Suharto period has been celebrated as a material embodiment of a new democratic era of openness and popular participation. Yet the polyphony of the street with its chaotic mix of advertising, sloganeering, art, and graffiti also serves as a potent symbol of the breakdown of order that accompanied the end of state control over public discourse. Like pollution and traffic, the visual noise of the city has become a subject of public concern, spurring debate about who has the right to mark city surfaces, which kind of inscriptions are of value, and when and how public inscriptions should be regulated. These debates entail imaginings of and contests over the nature of the post-authoritarian public sphere.

Karen Strassler is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center. Her current research centers on media and the work of images in Indonesia’s post-authoritarian public sphere. Her book, Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java (Duke UP, 2010) examined the role of photography in the production of national subjects, spaces, and imaginaries in postcolonial Indonesia. She teaches at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center.