Jessica Hsiang-Chieh Peng

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Pennsylvania, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10021

Approve Date

August 26, 2020

Project Title

Peng, Jessica (Pennsylvania, U. of) "Archipelagic "Potentials": Infrastructures, Labor, and Education in Indonesia"

JESSICA PENG, then a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, received funding in August 2020 to aid research on ‘Archipelagic “Potentials”: Infrastructures, Labor, and Education in Indonesia,’ supervised by Dr. Andrew Carruthers. Amidst the Indonesian government’s stated ambition to become a top global economy by 2045, talk of potensi , or ‘potentiality,’ is everywhere: from policymakers who identify their goals as ‘unleashing the country’s economic potentials’ to rural youth who express their hopes to ‘open their inner potentials.’ Archipelagic ‘Potentials’: Infrastructures, Education, and Labor in Indonesia takes the ubiquitously present and multifaceted concept of potentiality as an analytical entry point into exploring the relationship between everyday practices of speculation and processes of development policy and practice. Drawing on the anthropological literatures on market making, development, and education, this dissertation studies how policymakers, educators, and students at various societal scales in Indonesia engage in everyday practices of evaluative speculation as they take part in the collective actualization of a development vision. Beginning in Jakarta, Part I of the study focuses on a global network of policymakers who regularly declare that Indonesia’s future welfare depends on: 1) realizing the existing, but as-yet undeveloped ‘economic potentials’ of the country’s margins; and 2) ensuring the positive potentials of Indonesia’s burgeoning ‘demographic bonus’ subsumes the negative ones. These policymakers position the vocational ‘skilling’ of rural youth as a necessary means of driving economic growth. Turning next to Bone, South Sulawesi, a so-labeled ‘marginal’ locale, Part II examines the everyday activities at a fisheries vocational high school, where educators respond to national-driven demands to prepare a specific kind of ‘work-ready’ youth: ‘the potentializing student.’ The study concludes by exploring how young people evaluate their own potential futures vis-‘-vis the multi-scalar claims made about the potentials of their nation, their region, and their own lives. Together, the dissertation identifies two key ramifications for the future-potential-oriented societal push observed in Indonesia: 1) the communal deflection of social ethics in the present through justifications for future good; and 2) the social abandonment of societal members who are deemed surplus to achieving the country’s vision of success.