Joshua Barker

Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto

Engineers and Political Dreams: Indonesia's Internet in Cultural Perspective

This research program tracks the development of techno-political imaginaries in postcolonial Indonesia. The program has two specific research objectives. First, it aims to analyze the development of fantasies about politics and society as expressed by Indonesia's Internet generation (1990s) of engineers. Second, it aims to trace the ways in which these fantasies have fared when confronted with the political, economic, and technical realities of building complex networks in a context of entrenched political and economic power. The research will result in an account that interweaves descriptions of what the Indonesian Internet represents-as a political and social force-to its key practitioners and visionaries, with an analysis of 'hard wired' politics in post-Suharto Indonesia. The research builds directly on prior research I have conducted on engineers' imaginaries and telecommunications development in earlier periods of Indonesian history. Within this comparative framework, the 'Internet era' is very interesting since it marks one of the few moments in modern Indonesian history when the state has not taken a leading role in shaping techno-political imaginaries. What are the futures that come into focus for technological visionaries when state-led national development is no longer the overarching meaning given to their work? What kinds of politics do these luminaries envision and to what extent does the Internet come to reflect these politics? These questions are very important in a country like Indonesia where leading engineers have historically left a strong imprint on national politics and culture. In addressing these questions, my aim is to combine my earlier research with the present research so as to provide a comprehensive account of the development of postcolonial technological imaginaries in Indonesia. Such a study will function as a direct complement to Rudolf Mrazek's (2002) historical work on the same problem in the period of Dutch colonial rule. It will also contribute to a growing anthropological literature that focuses on the role of engineers and experts in shaping contemporary global politics.

Funding for this research is provided by SSHRC and the Connaught Foundation.

                                                                            The Palapa Satellite over Indonesia