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Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Freiburg seeks a transdisciplinary research agenda. Participating disciplines include Political Science, Social Anthropology, Economics and Asian History. Located at the crossroads of multiple encounters between the Middle East, India, China and Europe, Southeast Asia has been exposed to strong external cultural influences for many centuries. These foreign influences have been persistently localized and transformed over time into layers of indigenous culture. Research on Southeast Asia is therefore a suitable terrain for the empirical study of “multiple modernities” conceptualized both as a globally as well as an intra-regionally differentiated process.


Southeast Asian Studies at Freiburg mainly build upon a constructivist theoretical paradigm, although with the intention of reconciling it with rationalist arguments. Their focus is on the region’s ideational developments and on their implications for and in relation to material dynamics. Grounded and extensive empirical research is carried out within a framework of methodological pluralism that combines hermeneutic-inductive and qualitative approaches with deductive-nomothetic and quantitative research techniques such as model building, econometrics.

Southeast Asian Studies at Freiburg seek to contribute to theory building that is sensitive to local dynamics and knowledge production in the region. Research takes a close look at Southeast Asia both from a four-fold perspective: An outside-in perspective focuses on the external influences and their localization, an inside-out perspective on the region’s own norm production and their export, a top-down perspective focuses on Southeast Asian elites as norm entrepreneurs, and a bottom-up perspective examines the impact of local social and cultural practices, belief systems, and discourses.

Research focuses on two thematic pillars: democratization and institutional change as well as constructions of the “Other” and the impact of changing power configurations in Asia and the world.

Grounding Area Studies in Social Practice

Research approach
Flyer Bild.jpgParticipating scholars conceptualize Area Studies as relational and pursue transculturally-oriented research beyond Orientalism and Occidentalism. They focuse on everyday social practice in its complex plurality and sociocultural diversity. This is connected to cultural transfer and localization processes. Studying social, political, economic, cultural and historical phenomena in Southeast Asia must therefore transcend routine textual analysis. Rather than primarily relying on techniques of discourse analysis, Area Studies on Southeast Asia in Freiburg attaches great importance to empirical research based on extensive field work. While essentially pursuing a constructivist research agenda, it seeks to combine reflectivist approaches with rationalist theoretical arguments. This implies methodological pluralism seeking a convergence of methodologies derived both from hermeneutic and deductive-nomothetic epistemologies.
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Funding Agencybmbf-large.jpg
The Universitry of Freiburg's Southeast Asian Studies program was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under the latter's program for promoting and strengthening Area Studies in the Federal Republic of Germany. The project in Freiburg was titled Grounding Area Studies in Social Practice.

Time frame
15 November 2009 - 31 October 2013 (1st funding period)

1 November 2013 - 30 April 2016 (2nd funding period)

Academic Advisory Board

The Advisory Board consists of renowned scholars with a distinguished track record in at least one of the disciplines participating in the Freiburg Southeast Asian Studies program and Area Studies on Southeast Asia. Advisory Board members support and guide the Program. They provide suggestions and ideas to the research agenda and the scope of activities the Program pursues. In particular, board members share their thoughts on novel theoretical and methodological developments in bringing together mainstream disciplines and Area Studies (intra-disciplinary perspective) and the disciplines combined in the Freiburg Southeast Asian Studies program (trans-disciplinary perspective).

Advisory Board Members are

Prof. Dr. Amitav Acharya (American University, Washington, D.C.), Professor of Political Sciences

Prof. Dr. Barbara Watson Andaya (University of Hawaii at Manoa), Professor of Asian Studies

Prof. Dr. James J. Fox (Australian National University, Canberra), Professor of Anthropology

Prof. Dr. Hal Hill (Australian National University, Canberra), Professor of Economics

Department of Political Science

Populism and Foreign Policy

Principal Reseachers

Prof. Dr. Sandra Destradi and Dr. Johannes Plagemann

Departments Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg, Germany.
Duration: 2021 - 2024

German Research Foundation.

What are the international implications of the rise of populist governments across the globe? Recent developments – such as President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the protracted Brexit process – suggest that populism is detrimental to international cooperation. Populists, once they seize power, work to disengage their country from multilateral entanglements. In fact, populism is widely associated with a proliferation of international disputes, a weakening of global governance, and failures in global public goods provision.

Yet, previous work on the Global South reveals that not all populist governments pursue policies that are consistent with such anecdotal evidence from cases of right-wing populism in the West. On the contrary, some populist governments prefer to stick to the international commitments made by their non-populist predecessors and are even more willing to contribute to the supply of global public goods (e.g., India under Modi). In some cases, the populist takeover exacerbates existing tensions, leading to a more bellicose vision of international politics (e.g., Turkey under Erdoğan), whereas in others, populists in power actively promote regional cooperation (e.g., Venezuela under Chávez).

But how can one make sense of these variations?

The project aims to fill this research gap by assessing and theorizing the impact of populism on foreign policy. The overarching research question we seek to answer is as follows: To what extent, and why does the formation of populist governments lead to changes in foreign policy?

Further information


  • Sandra Destradi
  • Johannes Plagemann
  • Egecan Hüsemoğlu
  • Alyssa Santiago
  • Vihang Jumle
  • Ronald Schleehauf
  • Elena Dressler



  • Destradi, Sandra, David Cadier and Johannes Plagemann (2021). Populism and foreign policy: a research agenda (Introduction). Comp Eur Polit 19, 663–682.
  • Destradi, Sandra and Johannes Plagemann (2019). Populism and International Relations: (Un)predictability, personalisation, and the reinforcement of existing trends in world politics. Review of International Studies 45(5), 711-730.
  • Plagemann, Johannes and Sandra Destradi (2019). Populism and Foreign Policy: The Case of India, Foreign Policy Analysis 15(2), 283–301.

Conflict Transformation and Religious Actors. A Comparative Study of Indonesia and the Philippines

Project Director:

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland

Principal Reseachers Dr. Marcel Baumann, Dr. Christian von Lübke
Duration: December 2009 - October 2016
Funding: Academic Working Group for World Church Affairs of the German Catholic Bishops Conference

While research on religious actors and violent conflict is burgeoning, there is still limited understanding as to how (and how much) faith-based actors contribute to conflict resolution and conflict transformation. The study seeks add empirical insights by examining activities and accomplishments of Christian church-based activities in the field of peacebuilding. Peacebuilding is here understood as a highly sensitive and complex political process involving society as a whole. On the most basic level, it involves a set of reinforcing measures for rehabilitation, reconstruction, reconciliation and renewal. The primary objective of these measures is the lasting consolidation of fragile, post-conflict societies and the prevention of a resumption of hostilities. The two key questions underpinning this research can be summarized as follows:

  • To what extent and under what conditions have peace and reconciliation efforts by religious actors contributed to conflict transformation in post-conflict communities?  And
  • to what extent have these efforts been affected by specific economic, political or social contexts (e.g. constellations of religious groups, socio-economic wellbeing, and local education levels)?
The project was conducted in three phases.
  • The first phase entailed a detailed literature review (analysis of the state of the art), a documentation of best practices, and an identification of key findings and lessons (December 2009 - November 2010; Principal researcher: Dr Marcel Baumann).
  • The second phase focused on the development and refinement of a methodological concept for empirical field studies (October 2012 – April 2013; Principal researcher: Dr Christian von Lübke).
  • The third phase – the actual field study – included the conduct of local survey analyses and in-depth interviews in Maluku/Indonesia and Mindanao/Philippines (April 2015 – October 2016; Principal researchers: Dr Marcel Baumann and Dr Christian von Lübke)


  • Baumann, Marcel (2013), Kirchliche Beiträge zur nachhaltigen Friedenskonsolidierung in Post-Konflikt-Gesellschaften. Eine Literaturstudie. Baden-Baden: Nomos. Review.

Between Threat and Opportunity - The Image of US Foreign Policy in the Indonesian Press

PhD Candidate:       Jarno S. Lang
Department: Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: Cusanuswerk
Duration: 2012 - 2015

From the Konfrontasi period over the Reformasi Movement in the late 1990s to the open questions of Southeast Asian regionalism of the new millennium, ever since the country’s independence, the USA has either been important as a partner or an adversary to Indonesia. The beginning 21st century saw the rise of country specific, but also common challenges. On the domestic level, the economically ever stronger getting Indonesia has developed a democratic system, while the ascendance of neighboring India and especially China dominate the regional agenda. On the American side the Obama Administration has left no doubt that it views Indonesia as a very important economic and strategic partner in Southeast Asia. It will thus be of great relevance how Indonesia in the light of this international setting reacts to American advances and behavior, in other words, how Indonesia perceives the USA.

One force that is able to very strongly influence this perception is the media, as by deciding what news is important and how to depict it, they affect public opinion. For decades, the Indonesian media have been involved in major social and political events. Nonetheless, with the end of Suharto’s authoritarian New Order system that lasted for more than three decades, the rules of the game changed. Democratization demanded that not only the state, but also civil society should change. As the media of the Suharto era have often been referred to as the former system’s “lapdog”, in 21st century Indonesia they face the huge challenge of being profitable while simultaneously reaching professional journalistic standards.

Thus taking into account the importance of the Indonesian-American relations and the relevance the media have in Indonesian society, this study seeks to analyze first how the Indonesian media have depicted US foreign policy in the decade from 2001 to 2011, and second how these images might differ from official statements, in order to evaluate the image of the USA in the Indonesian media and to draw assumptions on the state of the media in Indonesia. Qualitative methods such as discourse analysis and semi-open expert interviews that will be supplemented by surveys, present the means through which the necessary data will be gathered.


  • Lang, Jarno S. (2016). Foreign Policy and the Media. The US in the Eyes of the Indonesian Press. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Elites, Networks and Democratization: An Actor-Centered Analysis of Thailand 1932-2006

Ph.D. Candidate: Emma Masterson
Department: Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)
Duration: 2009 - 2014

Symptomatic of other third wave democratizing countries (Huntington, 1991) Thailand has struggled to successfully consolidate a legitimate, democratic and stable political order with military rule continuing to alternate with periods of electoral politics. In over eighty years of Constitutional Monarchy, six civilian phases totalling some thirty years have ensued: 1944-1946, 1969-1971, 1974-1976, 1988-1991, 1992-2006 and 2007-2014. The country's political and economic development has for the greater part taken place under military government. Indeed, the recent 2010 political protests and crackdown have revealed again a divided society with supporters, loyal to competing factions, demonstrating a violence capacity to protect the power network most representative of their interests. This case study aims to understand this political volatility. To do so, it explores some eighty years of political history looking in detail at key actors and events. The methodology builds upon but also departs from traditional historical and cultural approaches by employing the 'analytic narrative,' in the framework closest to Scharpf’s (1997) 'actor-centered institutionalism,' to explicate how choices made by political elites and their networks influence Thailand’s political order. This original deployment of a methodological umbrella approach to explain political dynamics in Thailand is central to this research.   


  • Masterson, Emma in Huotari, Mikko; Rüland, Jürgen and Schlehe, Judith (eds.) (2014) Methodology and Research Practice in Southeast Asian Studies, London: Palgrave.

Reframing Modernity in Contemporary Indonesia; An Ethnographic Study of Ideas on ‘Center’ and ‘Periphery’ on Sulawesi and Java

PhD candidate: Vissia Ita Yulianto, M.Hum
Department: Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology
Funding for field research:
Field research period: 15 July 2010 - 29 April 2011

This project intends to investigate how modernity interacts with local practices – or rather how local agents interact with modernity – and will explicitly examine how contemporary Indonesians perceive and act themselves into their cultural existence. The intended fieldwork areas are Yogyakarta, a centre of progressive student activism on Java, and Manado, a Christian region on Sulawesi. The main focus will be on Manado/Minahassa on Sulawesi as it offers a focus on a significant region outside the Indonesian “centre” constituted by the island of Java, which has long been the centre of political policy making and modernizing influences. At the same time, Manado has a distinct history of modernization and political autonomy, and currently is responding to global influences, seemingly distancing itself from Java and the Indonesian capital. These factors suggest that an ethnographic investigation in the regions may offer new and different insights not only into current changes occurring in Indonesia but also into broader theoretical issues.

The project will identify specific social groups across sections of social strata in both rural and urban contexts in Java and Sulawesi. The main research questions are:

1. What do research participants regard as “Self?” Which significant “Others” do they identify? What is the primary focus for those concerned with foreign influence?

2. How do people see the “Foreign?” And how is it connected to everyday actual behavior?

3. What operates as the Indonesian “Centre” in framing the attitudes of research participants?

4. What is seen as modernity? How is modernity characterized? What is seen as the western, eastern, and global world? What is the perceived relationship between the West and modernity?

5. How do people discuss modernity? How does the discussion differ between people in Yogyakarta and Manado?

The Rise of Oligarchy in Contemporary Indonesia: Case Studies of Local Governor Elections in North Sumatra and East Java in 2008

PhD Candidate: Panji Anugrah Permana
Department: Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD)
Duration: October 2009 - September 2013

After more than three decades of the New Order Regime, Indonesia has embarked on a range of political changes. One of the most crucial changes in the new democratic order is a far-reaching and radical decentralization scheme, by many scholars dubbed as the “big bang” decentralization. An important democratizing dimension of decentralization is the direct election of local chief executive through local elections since 2005. The preliminary observation shows that local established elites have been quite resilient and are still able to defend their elevated political role even under the new democratic conditions. Local elections have not produced new, alternative leadership out of the existing one. The gives rise to the question as to what extent local elections as an embodiment of democracy could be coupled with the rise of un-democratic forces such as political gangsters, local bosses, and political brokers? How did the predators and the old elites build their alliances, how did they adjust to the new democratic system and how did their coalition manage to succeed in electoral contestation? What are the consequences of these tendencies for the consolidation of Indonesia’s democracy? Drawing from democratic transition literature, decentralization debates, elite theory and patron-client research, this study seeks to identify the dynamics in elite competition and elite circulation at the local level. Empirical research will be conducted through comparative method in two provinces (North Sumatra and East Java). The study promises novel empirical insights into a study about significant relevance for the consolidation of Indonesia’s fledgling democracy. 


  • Anugrah Permana, Panji (2017): Local Elite Adjustment in Indonesia’s Democratization: Case Studies of North Sumatra and East Java, 1998-2013. PhD diss., University of Freiburg

Paradox of Success: Authoritarian Legacies and the Problems of Democratization in Thailand

Ph.D. Candidate: Chaiwatt Mansrisuk
Department: Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: The Royal Thai Government in cooperation with German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
Duration: 2009 - 2013

This research project aims at reconsidering of the crisis of democratization process in Thailand. Central to this study is to inquire why new democratic regimes in Thailand have faced authoritarian regression time and again, and why democracy in Thailand cannot be consolidated. In particular, it asks why public commitment to (political/electoral) liberal democracy among Thai urban middle classes had remarkably swung swiftly to a very low degree since the breakout of popular campaigns against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from 2005 onwards. Focusing on urban middle classes is crucial because they are expectantly regarded by conventional wisdom as by-product of rapid economic development, and the drivers of democratization. Their roles in recent political crises, however, were evidence for their refusal to accept the principle of “democracy as the only game in town.”

By utilizing process tracing as a pivotal method, the research will comprehensively explore the regime emergence in post-transitional periods by contrasting it to the pre-transitional regime and the political regime throughout the transition phase. Four critical factors are usually identified in the transition literature as leading to the success of transition: (1) the pattern of economic development (state-led development), (2) the non-repressive nature of the authoritarian regime (the nature of authoritarian regime), (3) the trajectory of regime transition, and (4) cultural and ideational elements. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, once the transition phase had been completed and Thai politics moved into democratic consolidation, these factors turned out to become critical hurdles in the process of consolidating Thai democracy. In the post-transition period, contradictory impacts of these factors had manifested shifting into covert potential for the revitalization of the “authoritarian legacies” that would turn Thai politics into authoritarian regression. This research project investigates such paradoxical impacts of otherwise supportive factors to democracy and aims to shed light into the political and ideational circumstances in post-transitional periods that enabled a too low degree of public commitment to democracy among urban middle classes.


  • Mansrisuk, Chaiwatt (2017): Successful Transition, Failed Consolidation: Historical Legacies and Problems of Democratization in Thailand, PhD diss., University of Freiburg.

Securitization vs. Desecuritization. Dynamics of the State under the Democratic Transition Process: A Case Study of Indonesia since 1998

Ph.D. Candidate: Yandry Kurniawan Kasim
Department: Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD)
Duration: 2009 - 2013


The Indonesian democratic transition has shown that there are inherent problems behind the process and that the transition has its own security dynamics that need to be addressed. The evidence can be identified both from the outbreak of horizontal and vertical conflicts, as well as the increasing challenge from transnational threats within the Indonesian territory. This evidence has confirmed one important premise of democratization studies. That is, contrary to most expectations at the beginning of the transition, the democratization process turns out to be more connected to conflict rather than to peace. During the transition process, the diminished domestic legitimacy of the state is the main cause that leads to such a deteriorating situation. Therefore, states undergoing such problematic transitions have to re-arrange its security governance to deal with security issues, in accordance with democratic principles.

The re-arrangement of security governance in Indonesia has been conducted through an on-going process of security sector reform (SSR) since 1998. The initial process of SSR in Indonesia has actually begun with the military reform in order to create military disengagement from political, economic and social life in the context of long-term democratization process. Furthermore, this research argues that the military reform as well as the larger frame of SSR in Indonesia has aimed to terminate the state of emergency and begin to deal with differing political issues within the normality of day-to-day politics. In this context, one of the cornerstone aspects of re-arranging security governance in Indonesia is how to de-politicize and de-securitize its highly-cost consuming internal political disputes.

Based on the above mentioned argument, this research attempts to provide theoretical and empirical evidence relating to: (1) the democratization of the security governance; (2) the discursive dynamics of securitization - desecuritization; and (3) the effects of securitization - desecuritization dynamics on the development of democratic security governance. Case studies will be conducted in Aceh and Ambon.


  • Kurniawan, Yandry (2017): The Politics of Securitization in Democratic Indonesia. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

ASEAN as an Actor in International Fora - Reality, Potential and Constraints

Project Director:

Prof. Dr. Joseph Weiler (New York University)

Project Co-director: Prof. Dr. Michael Ewing-Chow (National University of Singapore)
Executive Director: Dr. Tan Hsien-Li (National University of Singapore)

Principle Researchers:


Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Dr. Paruedee Nguitragool


September 2011 - December 2012 (First Phase)

May 2017 - February 2018 (second phase)

Funding: National University of Singapore (2011-2013)

The study is part of a larger research project titled Integration through Law (ITL), which is organized and led by the Center for International Law (CIL) of the National University of Singapore (NUS). The project involves about 80 researchers. The project’s objective is to study the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia’s premier regional organization, from a legal and institutional perspective. Triggering the project was the implementation of the ASEAN Charter in 2008, which many observers regard as a quasi-constitutional document. The Integration through Law project seeks to explore the opportunities and limits of increased rule-based regional cooperation in Southeast Asia.

The component study on ASEAN’s bargaining power in international fora is using a theory-driven approach to explore how ASEAN manages to influence negotiations in global fora as a regional actor. While the bargaining-practices of ASEAN are sufficiently studied on the regional level and within the institutions of the wider Asia-Pacific area, the same cannot be said about the role of ASEAN in global fora such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the climate change regime and the nuclear arms non-proliferation regime. The study seeks to close this gap in ASEAN studies.
Based on the research findings and empirical results, a project second stage seeks to develop an ASEAN Law and Policy Curriculum and Training Programme. Its major output will be comprehensive course packs with the objective of facilitating teaching on ASEAN at the undergraduate and graduate level and providing course modules to all multiplicators providing information on ASEAN as a regional organization.
  • Nguitragool, Paruedee & Rüland, Jürgen (2015), ASEAN as an Actor in International Fora – Reality, Potential and Constraints, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Review

Constructions of the West through International Relations Scholars: Indonesian Views
Project Director:
Principle Researcher:
Dr. Parudee Nguitragool
Research project funded by DFG within the research group "Beyond Occidentalism. Concepts of the 'West' in Asia"
Duration: 1 October 2009 – 30 September 2012

Improving the relations between Asia and the West to find a common ground with respect to norms facilitating international cooperation is paramount in the search for solutions to global problems such as economic crises, environmental degradation, irregular migration, pandemics, international terrorism, organized transnational crime, piracy and drug trafficking. While globalization is often demonized as an essentially destructive force, it indeed entails a number of opportunities. One is the prospect for reviewing and eventually discarding long held stereotypes and misperceptions between social actors (be it global regions, nation states or ethnic groups) through more and accelerated communication, higher levels of information and intensified social exchange that allow for the transmission of ideas, norms and values with a possible effect of challenging the cognitive status quo. Whether this is the case in the relations between Asia and the West is to be explored in the project focusing on Indonesia.

Relying on a combination of qualitative methods, including process tracing, and content analysis, this research project seeks to explore the impact of social interaction of Indonesian International Relations scholars, who have been exposed to international norms and Western foreign policy ideas through overseas education and direct contact with Western peers. Of particular interest is the extent to which these scholars have contributed to 1) the construction of the images of the West, and 2) the understanding of international relations, such as international cooperation. Nguitragool, Paruedee (2013). Indonesia, the West and International Politics: A Survey of Indonesian Student Perceptions of Self and Others in International Relations. Occasional Paper 18. Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Freiburg.


  • Nguitragool, Paruedee (2012). God-King and Indonesia: Renegotiating the Boundaries between Western and Non-Western Perspectives on Foreign Policy. Pacific Affairs 85 (4), 723-743.
  • Nguitragool, Paruedee (2013). Indonesia, the West and International Politics: A Survey of Indonesian Student Perceptions of Self and Others in International Relations. Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Freiburg. Occasional Paper 18.

China and the Political Economy: East Asian Financial Order

PhD candidate:    Mikko Huotari
Department: Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: BMBF
The last two decades have seen China’s fast rise to an emerging super power. Especially in the East Asian region China’s influence is increasing dramatically. This is not only a function of China’s increasing military prowess. It is also closely associated with China’s unprecedented economic growth and, here, apart from trade, also its financial and monetary policies. The trajectory of China’s ascendance in these two latter policy fields is a theme so far relatively rarely studied. The project tackles this lacuna and seeks to trace how China’s financial and monetary power rose within a very short time, from virtually no direct relevance at the time of the Asian financial crisis (1997/1998) to a pivotal driver increasingly shaping Pacific Asia’s economic order. In more concrete terms, the study centers on how China impacts on key aspects of financial and monetary relations between states. This includes questions such as how states access liquidity in crisis situations; how they implement monitoring and surveillance to guard against financial crises and manage borrower-lender relations; and what international currencies they use for transaction and other purposes.

Constructing Regionalism Domestically: Local Actors and Foreign Policymaking in Newly Democratized Indonesia

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Duration: February 2010 - October 2011

National University of Singapore and Stanford University (Lee Kong Chian Distinguished Scholarship for Southeast Asia 2010) together with the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)

There is a dearth of studies exploring the construction of ideas on regionalism outside Europe. This project sought to make a contribution to close this gap. It examined the construction of ideas on regionalism in Indonesia, the largest member country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Theoretically, the project drew from Amitav Acharya’s concept of “constitutive localization” which it developed further. It offers an alternative explanation to studies which argue that as a result of mimetic behaviour, social learning, and cost-benefit calculations, regional organizations across the world become increasingly similar. While this may be the case in terms of rhetoric and organizational structure, it is not necessarily the case at a normative level. The Indonesian case shows that even though foreign policy stakeholders have increasingly championed European ideas of regional integration after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/1998, they have skilfully amalgamated them with older local worldviews through framing, grafting, and pruning. European ideas of regional integration thereby served to modernize and re-legitimize a foreign policy agenda which seeks to establish Indonesia as a regional leader with ambitions to play a major role in global politics.

  • Rüland, Jürgen (2017), The Indonesian Way. ASEAN, Europeanization and Foreign Policy Debates in a Newly Democratizing Country, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
"Avoiding the Western-centrism trap characteristic of rationalist theories of regionalism, Jürgen Rüland cleverly builds on current constructivist theories of norm diffusion to explain how foreign policy stakeholders in Indonesia have responded to external ideational and normative pressures seeking to Europeanize ASEAN. With intelligence and nuance, he offers an essential study of comparative regionalism and Indonesia's role in the ASEAN Charter."
— Randall Schweller, Ohio State University; Editor-in-Chief, Security Studies
  • Rüland, Jürgen (2014), “Constructing Regionalism Domestically: Local Actors and Foreign Policymaking in Newly Democratized Indonesia,” Foreign Policy Analysis 10(2): 181-201.
  • Rüland, Jürgen (2014), “The limits of democratizing interest representation: ASEAN’s regional corporatism and normative challenges,” European Journal of International Relations 20(1): 237-261.
  • Rüland, Jürgen & Bechle, Karsten (2014), “Defending state-centric regionalism through mimicry and localization: regional parliamentary bodies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Mercosur,” Journal of International Relations and Development, 17(1): 61-88.

Parliaments and Security Sector Governance. A Comparative Study of Indonesia and Nigeria
Project Director: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Principle Researcher: Dr. Maria-Gabriela Manea
Cooperation: Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) Geneva, Universitas Indonesia, Policy Analysis and Research Project (PARP) and the National Assembly, Abuja, Nigeria. 

German Foundation for Peace Research

Duration: November 2007 - October 2009

This research project studied security sector governance in newly democratizing countries. It proceeded from the assumption that democratic consolidation is more likely to occur, if potential “veto” players like the military are co-opted into the new democratic order. Hence, civilian supremacy and democratic oversight of the armed forces are important prerequisites for successful democratic consolidation. Due to their oversight and budgetary functions, a key role in this process is attached to parliament’s. The role of legislatures in “civilizing” and “democratizing” the armed forces in the process of democratic transition is thus the main objective of this research project. It examined under which conditions and to what extent parliaments effectively engage the military and eventually contribute to the latter’s transformation. Apart from that, it explores the strategies applied by legislatures to influence policymaking in security fields and to oversee the military. The study follows a comparative design and draws from empirical research in Indonesia and Nigeria.


  • Rüland, Jürgen; Manea, Maria-Gabriela & Born, Hans (eds.) (2013), The Politics of Military Reform. Experiences from Indonesia and Nigeria, Heidelberg: Springer.

Democratization through migration?

Project Director Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Principal Researchers Dr. Christl Kessler, Dr. Stefan Rother
Duration: October 2005 - September 2007
Funding: Foundation for Population, Migration and Environment (Switzerland)
The novelty of this project is the combination of migration studies and research on democratization. Apart from linking these two areas of study, the project also opened up new terrain within these two research fields, which have only been treated insufficiently or not at all. There were for example no studies, which examined the impact of migration on the political culture of the immigrant’s home society, while in democratization research the external factors of political transition have been neglected. The project assumed that the migrants who experience democratic political systems and cultures in their host countries would change their political attitudes and political behavior and would become drivers of democratization after they returned home.

The connection between democracy and migration has been examined with a standardized survey in cooperation with Social Weather Stations, a leading Philippine polling institute, together with a qualitative survey in cooperation with the University of the Philippines. Project results did not fully confirm our initial propositions, but brought additional insights instead: rather than the political system of the destination countries, the political space granted for migrant engagement facilitated the politicization of migrants both at home and abroad.


  • Kessler, Christl & Rother, Stefan (2016)Democratization through Migration? Remittances and Participation of Philippine Return Migrants. Lanham: Lexington Books.
"Much has been written about the economic effects of international migration but less is known about its political impact. In this highly original work the authors gauge the relationship between migration and democratization in the Philippines and their findings are original and quite surprising. The relationship is more tenuous and nuanced than we might expect. But the subject is vast and this work marks the beginning of what will become a growth field focused on migration and political development. I highly recommend this book."
— James F. Hollifield, Southern Methodist University
"Throughout the book Kessler and Rother provide a wealth of data and analysis that will be helpful to students and scholars of migration and democratization. They have also done an admirable job in answering the call for more detailed case studies that can inform these larger debates."
— M. Scott Solomon, University of South Florida (Read Full Review here)
“This book presents a convincing narrative on the political socialization of Filipino migrant workers in both democratic and authoritarian host countries, and the extent and ways by which such socialization affects the workers’ attitudes towards politics in their home country. It is convincing because it nuances what is obviously a complex nexus: migration and politics. The main strength of the book lies in the mixed quantitative-qualitative research methodology employed by the authors.”
— Carmel V. Abao, Ateneo de Manila University

Asian-European Interregional Dialogues on Human Rights: ASEAN-EU relations and ASEM 

PhD candidate: Maria-Gabriela Manea
Duration: September 2005 - August 2007
Funding: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

“Asian-European Interregional Dialogues on Human Rights: ASEAN-EU Relations and ASEM” is the working title of Gabriela Manea's doctoral dissertation. Theoretically, the thesis rests on a social constructivist framework accounting for collective identity, region-building through inter-regionalism and human rights norms diffusion. The main argument is that the EU-ASEAN and ASEM interregional dialogues on human rights have opened up a process of intra-regional communication on human rights in Southeast Asia that fosters ASEAN’s regional identity construction. The study thus looks into “interactions” and “discourses” on human rights, which are simultaneously embedded in several layers of the international system (global, inter- and intraregional, domestic), as part of and in relation to the constitution of ASEAN’s regional identity. Interactive and discursive fields correspond to micro and macro-structures of collective identity building. State and non-state actors as well as official and societal contributions to inter- and intraregional dialogues on human rights are the focus of an in-depth analysis of “modes” of interaction and of discourse analysis that includes newspapers, policy documents, interviews and scholarly texts.

Parliaments in Asia

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Principle Researcher: Dr. Michael Nelson, Dr. Patrick Ziegenhain, Clemens Jürgenmeyer, M.A.
Funding: Konrad-Adenauer Foundation
Duration: May 2001 - May 2003
Studies of parliaments in non-Western countries and, in particular, Asia are rare. The conventional wisdom is that they are merely rubber stamps in authoritarian regimes and their impact on political decision-making is limited. With the Third Wave of democratization reaching Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, these certainties eroded.
Inspired by four major theoretical discourses, namely, neo-institutionalism, Linz’ presidentialism critique, Lijphart’s distinction between majoritarian and consensus democracy, and transition theory, the project examined the specific role of parliaments in political decision-making, regime change, democratization, and consolidation of democracy in a comparative perspective. Cases chosen were either established democracies such as India or countries that have undergone democratic transitions such as the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand.
The project findings suggest that parliaments indeed play a greater role in political decision-making of their respective countries than is often assumed and that there is no cogent causal relationship between parliamentary performance and system of government.
  • Rüland, Jürgen; Jürgenmeyer, Clemens; Nelson, Michael H. & Ziegenhain, Patrick (2005), Parliaments and Political Change in Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  • Ziegenhain, Patrick (2008), The Indonesian Parliament and Democratization. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  • Rüland, Jürgen (2003), “Constitutional Debates in the Philippines. From Presidentialism to Parliamentarianism?” Asian Survey XLIII (3), 461-484.

New Religious Movements in the Philippines and their Political Impact

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Principle Researcher: Dr. Christl Kessler
Funding: Academic Working Group for World Church Affairs of the German Catholic Bishop Conference
Duration: May 2001 - May 2003
Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have grown worldwide in the last decades. In the Philippines, this growth has not resulted in a decrease of the Catholic faithful, but in a Pentecostalization of Philippine Protestant Churches and the Philippine Catholic Church as well. In terms of numbers, the Catholic Charismatic movement is by far outnumbering the adherents of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. This project explores the surge of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity using data from a nationwide survey with interviews and observations among Pentecostal churches and Catholic Charismatic groups. The authors question common perceptions of Charismatic Christians as underprivileged masses and depict the Charismatic success as a genuinely religious phenomenon, which nevertheless might have political repercussions. They transfer the concept of political populism to the religious sphere and explain the attractiveness and the ambivalences of Charismatic religion with the properties of populism. The potential political ramifications of the Charismatic success are ambiguous: it has the potential to strengthen the legitimacy of democratic institutions in the Philippines as well as the potential to foster theocratic attitudes.
  • Kessler, Christl & Rüland, Jürgen (2008), Give Jesus a Hand! Charismatic Christians: Populist Religion and Politics in the Philippines, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
  • Kessler, Christl & Rüland, Jürgen (2006), “Responses to Rapid Social Change: Populist Religion in the Philippines,” Pacific Affairs 79 (1), 73-96.
In 2007, Pacific Affairs awarded Christl Kessler and Jürgen Rüland the William L. Holland Prize for the best article in 2006.

The Reconfiguration of Indonesian Decentralization: An Historical Institutionalist  Study on Intergovernmental Power Relations and Resource Allocation
PhD candidate:

Zuliansyah P. Zulkarnain

Department:          Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: Gov. of Indonesia


The Indonesian big bang decentralization of 1999, which was initiated by the collapse of the New Order regime in 1998, has changed the nature of the Indonesian government from centralized government to decentralized government. To date the process of decentralization reform is still continuing in order to overcome conflict of authority between levels of government, and the discontent of sub-national governments on the design of fiscal allocation. However, most of the policies and studies on decentralization show less concern on the political context and political interaction in the process of institutional change and formation of intergovernmental relations. By utilizing a Historical Institutional perspective, this research aims to explore how the political context, power relations, and actors’ maneuvers determine institutional change of intergovernmental power relations, and influence the policy of fiscal allocation. A causal tracing process approach is being used to analyze the causal mechanism in the process of decentralization reform along the path of change since 1999 up to 2009. Methodologically, the within-case study is applied to elucidate how institutional change and formation took place in each period of reform, whereas cross-case studies intend to explicate how and why power relations and actors’ maneuvers create a discrepancy of fiscal allocation among the regions. As a protocol of cross-case studies, this research selects two provincial governments i.e. the provinces of Riau and East Kalimantan as comparable cases.

Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology

International Virtual Academic Collaboration

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Judith Schlehe
Principal researcher: Dr. Ingo Rohrer
Funding: DAAD
Duration: Okt. 2020 - Sept. 2021

The long lasting collaboration between the Departments of Anthropology, University of Freiburg, and the Department of Anthropology, Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, will be continued in the winter term 2020/2021. Supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in the funding line ‘International Virtual Academic Collaboration (IVAC), students will have the opportunity to participate in a collaborative online tandem research seminar entitled ‘Aging in Globalized Societies’. The seminar will be led by Sita Hidayah and Ingo Rohrer and particularly focusses on software-based approaches to joint qualitative research and data analysis. In the summer term 2021 an Argentinian university will be integrated.

Waste issues in Indonesia

Researcher:               Prof. Dr. Judith Schlehe in collaboration with Dr. Vissia Ita Yulianto

„World Class Professor Program of the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education of the Republic of Indonesia“ and „Senior Expert Service“

Duration: 2017 - 2019

In 2017 and 2018 Prof. Schlehe was invited to the Center of Southeast Asian Social Studies, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, for conducting research on maritime disasters (“Notions of Nature and the Normalization of Danger at the South Coast of Java”). This developed into fieldwork-based research on waste in relation to morality/religion as well as social mobilisation/activism in Yogyakarta, Bantul and Gunung Kirdul.

Ideas of the "Arab World" in Indonesia - Perceptions and Experiences of Working Migrants and Pilgrims

Researcher:               Dr. Mirjam Lücking
Department: Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology
Duration: First Explorative Fieldwork Period (funded by BMBF): 2015 - 2017

The Knowledge and the perceptions of “the world” are integral parts of societal ideas of morality and influence societal change. Ideas of the Arab World seem to a crucial reference point in Indonesia. The research interest is inspired by findings of the research project “Beyond Occidentalism: Concepts of the `West´ in Asia”. As the previous research activities of the Freiburg BMBF funded projects have shown, the South-South-Exchange becomes increasingly meaningful in globalized networks. What role do ideas and images of the “Arab World” in Indonesia play in this context?

Saudi Arabia is regarded as “holy land” for Muslims. The pilgrimage to Mecca is central in many Muslims life. Waiting lists to join the hajj (pilgrimage) are long in Indonesia. In order to meet the increasing demand, travel agencies offer additional trips to the “Arab World”. The agencies often advertise that travelers would get the chance to do the small pilgrimage (umrah) and explore other holy places in the Middle East.

Besides the positive connotations with the “Arab World” being the centre of Islam, the experiences of other mobile groups create a different picture of the region. Indonesian working migrants (mainly domestic workers) experience the “Arab World” in private households in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Reports about ill-treatment of domestic workers and human rights violations evoke a more critical view of the respective Arabic countries. Especially non-governmental organizations and journalists work on the disclosure of the situation.

Questions of the project that is still in the conceptualization process are: How important is the “Arab World” as a reference point for ideas of the world and of morality in Indonesia? What meaning do experiences in the Middle East carry for general worldviews in Indonesia? What kind of knowledge do pilgrims and working migrants bring along from their journeys and which ideas are revised? What is the relationship of the different experiences of pilgrims and migrants?

Contention with the different mobile groups that interact with the “Arab World” discloses which ideas and which knowledge about the “Arab World” exist in Indonesia and which identifications result from these ideas and what impact this eventually has on the Indonesian society.

Social Identities in Contemporary Inonesia

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Judith Schlehe (ALU Freiburg) and Ariel Heryanto (ANU Canberra)
Funding: DAAD
Duration: 2013 - 2015



“Social Identities in Contemporary Indonesia; a new framework of studying Asia" is a collaborative project, run by a team of researchers from The Australian National University and University of Freiburg, and sponsored by Australia's Group of Eight universities and the German Academic Exchange Service. 

This project takes one of the most challenging tasks in contemporary scholarship on Asia, namely how to articulate and analyse the dynamics of rapidly transforming societies in the region in the twenty-first century. It explores the formation and contestation of social identities, new subjectivities and cultural imaginations, as well as to build new approaches to the study of Asia. Focussing on Indonesia, the project examines intersecting and competing identities along gender, ethnicity, class and national/regional/cosmopolitan lines.
  • Lücking, M. & Eliyanah, E. (2017). Images of Authentic Muslim Selves: Gendered Moralities and Constructions of Arab Others in Contemporary Indonesia. Social Sciences6(3).
  • Downes, M. & Kobbe, P. (2017): Merantau and Minangkabau Modernities: Stories of Mobilities in Prose and Practice. Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Freiburg, Occasional Paper Series No. 35
  • Myutel M. & Sandkühler, E. (2017): (In)Visible Ethnicity: Celebrating Chines and Indian Descent in Indonesia.Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Freiburg, Occasional Paper Series No. 36.

Popular Historical Cultures in Indonesia: Current References to the Past in the Context of Democratisation and Decentralisation

Project Director: Prof. Judith Schlehe
Assistant: Evamaria Sandkühler
Department: Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology
Funding: Research Project funded by DFG within the research group "Popular Historical Cultures"
Duration: 1 November 2010 until 30 September 2013

Spaces, media and meanings of the popular production of knowledge are by no means identical across the globe in times of globalization, but rather shaped by local, cultural and political factors. This project is based on the example of Indonesia. There, democratization, decentralization and Islamization are presently linked to volatile new processes of negotiation of cultural identities. Thereby, reference to the past plays an important role in creating identification and legitimacy. This goes not just for academic historiography and official memory culture, but equally as much for popular stagings of “traditions” and references to the past. Popularly displayed historical culture in Indonesia is reflected in various expressive forms of portrayal, the spectrum of which ranges from religious rituals to miscellaneous art genres to festivals, parades and heritage maintenance in both an urban and rural context. These forms will be examined and connected to questions of how, from whom and with which effects they are produced, expressed, propagated, experienced and related to ideas of past and belonging and to images of local distinctiveness and subsequent processes of inclusion and exclusion. The focus is thereby on the interplay of popular stagings and subjective understandings of the past as well as its everyday relevance. Particular attention will be paid to Indonesian youths and, moreover, ethnic Chinese. The project is based on ethnological field research on Java and Sulawesi.

Decentered Theatrical Performances in Cambodia and Thailand

Researcher: Eric Haanstad, PhD
Department: Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology
Funding: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)
Duration: 15 November 2009 – 14 November 2013

This project examines the decentralization and democratization of two major national theatrical traditions, Khon performances in Thailand and Lkhaon Khaol theatre in Cambodia, and to ethnographically place these performances into a cultural dialogue that transcends the categories of Orient and Occident.  To study, as Walter Benjamin suggests, the participatory and democratic role of performative expression, and the decentralization of deeply-nationalized Khon and Lkhaon Khaol performances requires first an ethnographic understanding of how they are centered in Thai and Cambodian National Fine Arts training and state theatre.  These performances are primarily for Thai and Cambodian audiences, on the stages of their respective National Theaters, and the performers are trained within strict theatrical traditions that invoke nationalized mythologies of monarchy, Hinduism, and competing conceptions of Thai/Cambodian identity.  The performances express the ongoing animosity between closely related Thai and Cambodian cultural identities making them statements about the national self as well as the foreign/Western Other.  As the first Westerner engaged in participant-observation of these two contested national theatrical traditions, studying the training and performance of Khon and Lkhaon Khaol within the context of the unprecedented royal transition in Thailand and continued political consolidation in Cambodia will chart innovative ethnographic territory.

To bridge the “twin pillars” of the Area Studies Group, this project concentrates on not only how these performances are decentered and democratized in a variety of Thai and Cambodian contexts (including to a limited extent tourist theatre as well as rural performances, media production, and other manifestations within popular culture), but also addressing Southeast Asian views of the West which go beyond Occidentalism.  By exploring the performencer’s and producer’s vision of the West, and the intended cultural messages behind these national theatrical spectacles and their decentered manifestations, the project will address literatures of both decentralization and Occidentalism.  Further methodological innovations make it possible to theorize beyond Occidentalism while exploring an emergent methodology of observant-participation.  With a methodological focus on participatory research, this project will transcend both the disciplinary fictions of the detached observer as well as Thai/Cambodian conceptions of “farang/barang”. With the methodological goal of creating, with Thai and Cambodian collaborators, decentered/democratized performances informed by Khon/Lkhaon Khaol as well as Western musical and theatrical traditions, the ethnography is inserted into a vibrant cultural dialogue between East and West that addresses the ongoing merger of these two constructed categories of imagined difference.

The Knowledge of the "West" in Contemporary Indonesia: Anthropological Research in Rural and Urban Spaces on Java and Sulawesi

Project Director:     Prof. Dr. Judith Schlehe
Principle Researcher: Melanie V. Nertz, M.A.
Associate Researcher: Vissia Ita Yulianto, M.A. (DAAD, BMBF)
Department: Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology

Research Project funded by DFG within the research group "Beyond Occidentalism.
Concepts of the 'West'  in Asia


15 December 2009 -14 December 2012

Related PhD Projects:

“Occidentalisms in a Globalizing World: Negotiating ‘Western’ and ‘Islamic’ Frames of Reference on Java and Sulawesi, Indonesia” (Melanie V. Nertz, M.A.)

“Reframing Modernity in Contemporary Indonesia; an Ethnographic Study of Center and Periphery of Manado, North Sulawesi” (Vissia Ita Yulianto, M.A.)

The political change after 1998 and the increasing influence of religion in Indonesia have lead to a cultural vicissitude, beyond which we cannot see what future patterns of orientation the population will have. Part of this is the repositioning of the “Self” in opposition to the “Other” and the “Foreign.” The local knowledge of the West – i.e. the understanding, interpretation and assessment thereof – is combined in a variety of manners with the conceptualizations from Asia, the Arabic world and the world in its entirety. The goal of the project is to record in detail the ways in which the “West” serves as a point of reference by which modernization, globalization, values and moral beliefs, religious identifications, gender constructs, patterns of consumption and personal ways of life are negotiated and transformed into actions.

The ethnological project pursues this empirical study in three culturally varied regions of Indonesia to address the question of how firsthand experience in the West and direct encounters with “Westerners” along with knowledge of the “West” from other sources are connected with discursive practices shaped by local culture. Which images of the “West” become apparent, how are they propagated and how are they realized? The intended regions of study are 1) North Sulawesi (Manado), a Christian region with a pro-Dutch tradition; 2) South Sulawesi (Makassar), where strong tendencies of Islamization are currently to be documented; 3) Yogyakarta, as a centre of culture and education.


  • Yulianto, Ita Vissia (2017): Reframing Modernities in Contemporary Indonesia: An Ethnographic Study of Ideas of Center and Periphery on Sulawesi and Java, Berlin: Regiospectra-Verlag.

Reframing Modernity in Contemporary Indonesia; An Ethnographic Study of Ideas on ‘Center’ and ‘Periphery’ on Sulawesi and Java

PhD candidate: Vissia Ita Yulianto, M.Hum
Department: Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology
Funding:                         Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD)
Funding for field research: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) (6 months) 
and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (3 months)
Field research period: 15 July 2010 - 29 April 2011

This project intends to investigate how modernity interacts with local practices – or rather how local agents interact with modernity – and will explicitly examine how contemporary Indonesians perceive and act themselves into their cultural existence. The intended fieldwork areas are Yogyakarta, a centre of progressive student activism on Java, and Manado, a Christian region on Sulawesi. The main focus will be on Manado/Minahassa on Sulawesi as it offers a focus on a significant region outside the Indonesian “centre” constituted by the island of Java, which has long been the centre of political policy making and modernizing influences. At the same time, Manado has a distinct history of modernization and political autonomy, and currently is responding to global influences, seemingly distancing itself from Java and the Indonesian capital. These factors suggest that an ethnographic investigation in the regions may offer new and different insights not only into current changes occurring in Indonesia but also into broader theoretical issues.

The project will identify specific social groups across sections of social strata in both rural and urban contexts in Java and Sulawesi. The main research questions are:

  1. What do research participants regard as “Self?” Which significant “Others” do they identify? What is the primary focus for those concerned with foreign influence?
  2. How do people see the “Foreign?” And how is it connected to everyday actual behavior?
  3. What operates as the Indonesian “Centre” in framing the attitudes of research participants?
  4. What is seen as modernity? How is modernity characterized? What is seen as the western, eastern, and global world? What is the perceived relationship between the West and modernity?
  5. How do people discuss modernity? How does the discussion differ between people in Yogyakarta and Manado?

Making local governments more responsive to the poor: Developing tools and indicators to support sustainable livelihood under decentralization
Project Director: Prof. Dr. Stefan Seitz
Department:                    Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the Universty of Freiburg, Germany
Cooperation: Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)  

This interdisciplinary project on the impact of decentralization reforms in Indonesia regarding the wellbeing of Dayak communities in Kutai Barat, East Kalimantan, was based in a comprehensive survey conducted jointly by the district government of Kutai Barat and the CIFOR–BMZ Poverty and Decentralization Project. Various poverty and wellbeing indicators were assessed covering more than ten thousand households in over two hundred villages of the district. In contrast to a single poverty figure, the project examined multiple dimensions of poverty and wellbeing spheres (health, wealth, knowledge; natural, economic, social and political environments; infrastructure-and-services).

"Survival strategies among Negrito on Mount Pinatubo after the Volcanic Eruption"

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Stefan Seitz
Department:            Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Freiburg, Germany

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) 

The project examined the various survival strategies of the Aeta in Zambales, Philippines, a marginal group who were hit directly by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo Volcano in 1991. The research program studied how their traditional economic and social behaviour in some measure determined their adaptation to the radically altered physical environment, as well as how the extent and intensity of interethnic interaction with the lowland population worked in the period of incipient consolidation and gradual stabilization after the dramatic changes.

Department of Economics

Decentralization and Public Service Delivery in Indonesia

PhD candidates: Bambang Sjahrir Putra and Antonio Farfán Vallespín
Department:          Department of Economics
Funding: BMBF (November 2009-November 2012) and Promotionsstipendium nach dem Landesgraduiertenförderungsgesetz (LGFG) Baden-Württemberg (May 2008-November 2009)

This research project analyzes the impact of decentralization on the evolution economic and social development in Indonesia.  The development and distribution of public service delivery is a relevant policy issue in a developing country as big and as diverse as Indonesia.  Theoretically, decentralization can be beneficial for a country with heterogeneous preferences and sufficient resources mobility.  Decentralization brings decision-making power closer to the constituents and therefore can make public services more efficient if we assume that local governments are benevolent.  In a developing country such as Indonesia, however, resources are not fully mobile, a sufficient monitoring system is not yet in place and accountability mechanism is far from being effective.  These factors can hinder decentralization from being beneficial and make it prone to corruption and elite capture.  The impact of decentralization is evaluated by observing the quantity and quality of public services. This research attempts to provide theoretical and empirical evidence that would show how decentralization can affect the dynamic of public service delivery and socio-economic development.  Ultimately the study will try to answer whether Indonesia has benefitted from decentralization and what are the determinants of the success or the failure and how Indonesia can improve or benefit more from it.


  • Kis-Katos, Krisztina and Suharnoko Sjahrir, Bambang (2017): The Impact of Fiscal and Political Decentralization on Local Public Investments in Indonesia, Journal of Comparative Economics 45(2): 344-365.
  • Schulze, Günther G. and Suharnoko Sjahrir, Bambang (2014): Decentralization, Governance, and Public Service Delivery, in: Hal Hill (Hrsg.) Regional Dynamics in a Decentralized Indonesia, Institute for Southeast Asian Studies Press: Singapore, 186-207.
  • Suharnoko Sjahrir, Bambang,  Kis-Katos, Krisztina, and Schulze, Günther G. (2014): Administrative Overspending in Indonesian Districts: The Role of Local Politics, World Development 59: 166-183.
  • Suharnoko Sjahrir, Bambang,  Kis-Katos, Krisztina, and Schulze, Günther G. (2013): Political Budget Cycles in Indonesia at the District Level, Economics Letters 120 (2): 342-345.

Department of Islamic Studies

A nation state as an actor in the religious field: The Indonesian Ministry of Religion (Kementerian Agama) and the quest for interpretive authority over the Qur’an

Project Director:

Prof. Dr. Johanna Pink

Reseach Fellow Fadhli Lukman
Duration: March 2016 - March 2019

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

The Indonesian Ministry of Religion is an active participant in the country’s Muslim religious discourse by means of publishing an official translation of the Qur’an and an equally official Qur’anic commentary. These works originated in the 1960s and have since been revised repeatedly in ways that reflect the changing political circumstances. Both the translation and the commentary were produced and revised by large committees of scholars which makes Indonesia the first Muslim country to publish authoritative exegetical works that are no longer discernible as the writings of individual scholars. The Qur’an translation by the Ministry of Religion has an extremely broad reach and dominates the market. The printed copies of the Qur’an that are distributed for free by Saudi Arabia also follow this translation, albeit with slight modifications that reflect dogmatic differences.
This project, by analysing the Qur’an translations and commentaries published by the Indonesian Ministry of Religion, aims at contributing to a better understanding of nation states’ quest for gaining interpretive predominance in the field of Muslim exegesis of the Qur’an. Recent research has increasingly acknowledged the fact that nation states and their institutions do not limit themselves to controlling the budgets, structures and staff of religious institutions, but also aim at directly influencing Islamic religious discourses; it is this influence that the project wants to elucidate.

Based on a case study of an official, collectively produced Qur’an translation, the project wants to shed light on the process through which a Muslim-majority state, despite its self-conception as religiously neutral, actively participates in religious discourse; it furthermore looks closely at the contents that this participation produces. By focussing on works that cannot be ascribed to individual scholars any longer, but must rather be seen as products of institutional collective action, it helps to better understand the changing circumstances under which religious authority is constructed in the context of modern nation states.

At the same time, the project wants to contribute, both with respect to content and methodology, to the study of Muslim Qur’an translations in the 20th and 21st centuries, by using the Indonesian case in order to analyse mechanisms of exegetical decision-making. It seeks to determine at which places these decisions become obvious, why this is the case and what impact they have on the understanding of the text. This, in turn, enables us to find out whether, or where, the Ministry of Religion favours specific interpretations, currents of thought or opinions while marginalising others and to what extent, in contrast, it strove to maintain an ostensibly balanced, harmonising or neutral position.

More Information here.

Department of Geography

Marketization of sand in Cambodia: global networks, conflicts and materialities (working title)

Project Director:

Prof. Dr. Annika Mattissek

Research Fellow

 Robert John


1.November 2018 - 31. October 2021


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Sand is not a resource that many people associate with conflicts. Accordingly, the increasing exploitation of sand due to processes of globalization is rarely the object of scientific and public debates. But despite the common perception that sand is neither rare nor precious, it has evolved into the most important building material and a scarce resource in many regions of the world, especially those characterized by rapid population increase and urbanization. In South-east Asia, a region marked by an intensive boom in the building sector, vast quantities of sand and gravel are used in the construction of buildings, infrastructure and land reclamations. Thereby, sand has developed into an increasingly valuable economic resource that is extracted extensively and traded over long distances. However, the expanding sand extraction remains not without consequences, but leads to massive ecological damages and conflicts with the affected sections of the population. The commodification of sand can be interpreted as part of larger processes of the marketization of natural resources which in human geography is discussed as “neoliberalization of nature” (Bakker 2010). Respective studies demonstrate that capitalist logics of resource exploitation often have negative social and ecological effects. At the same time, they argue that processes and mechanisms of neoliberalization or marketization play out differently in different contexts and produce heterogeneous and ambivalent effects. This project analyzes conflicts over the marketization of sand in Cambodia as a manifestation of capitalist market processes and their interactions with the materialities involved.

Drawing on the Global Ethnography approach by Michael Burawoy (2000) and Anna Tsing (2005) and on ideas developed within the debate on New Materialism (Bakker 2010; Mattissek und Wiertz 2014), the project applies a set of qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze three main research questions:
(1) Which global and regional factors influence the constitution and transformation of the Southeast Asian sand market, its respective structural conditions, trading routes and relations?
(2) What role do actors play that are involved in the establishment of sand markets or protest and mobilize against the extraction and trade of sand? How are their respective strategies and practices affected by multi-scale influences and networks?
(3) How do geological, biophysical (non-human) and social processes and entities of the sand-market interact and how do they shape the marketization of sand?


Department of History

The 'West' from the view of Chinese Diaspora: Entrepreneurship in Indonesia

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Sabine Dabringhaus
Associate Researcher: Agni Malagina
Department:                  Department of History


Research Project funded by DFG within the research group "Beyond Occidentalism. Concepts of the 'West' in Asia"
Duration: 15 December 2009-14 December 2012

Chinese transnationalism nowadays depicts one important part of Chinese Diaspora Studies, which examine Chinese migration across the world from an economic, sociological, ethnographical and historical perspective. In many cases, overseas ethnic Chinese acquired a cultural knowledge of ‘the West’ much earlier than the majority of the indigenous population, especially in Indonesia, and have hence played their part in shaping the face of Southeast Asia and local perceptions of ‘the West’ alike. Since the Dutch Colonial period, ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs in Indonesia have operated as intermediary agents, who facilitated local and cross regional commerce through their extensive trade networks and functioned as a gateway to the culturally close ‘East’ as well as the geographically distant ‘West’ at the same time.

The main focus of research aims at examining how the position of Chinese-Indonesians in colonial times has influenced contemporary attitudes of ethnic Chinese towards the West (and towards China/the world)?

Through a combination of qualitative methods, including interviews and discourse analysis, this research project will analyze how these images of the ‘West’ perceived by Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneurs from the colonial period to the present day have changed over time. The research area includes the following regions: 1) Jakarta – early contact with the Dutch Colonial Government, 2) West Borneo – Ethnic Chinese and Missionaries, 3) Atambua – administratively related to the Dutch and culturally related to Portuguese.


Overview of Doctoral Dissertations and Habilitations

You can find a list of Doctoral Dissertations and Habilitations related to Southeast Asia here