Shifting resource entitlements and governance reform during the agrarian transition in Sumatra, Indonesia

John McCarthy

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    21 Citations (Scopus)


    Decentralization introduces recent governance concerns with getting ‘social capital’, ‘participation’ and ‘community’ to work for policy objectives by placing this policy lexicon at the heart of state policy formulation. Along with many other national polities, Indonesia has sought to apply these concepts to construct localized forms of accountability and representation under decentralization reforms. Based on a field research in a hilly subdistrict of Sumatra that is witnessing the transformation of land uses, the enclosure and commoditization of former customary lands, and a process of agrarian differentiation, this paper analyses how the reforms affected the complex, shifting structure of political, economic and socio-legal relations shaping local resource entitlements. It is argued that, as villagers have acted on longstanding grievances and attempted to re-establish customary entitlements, they have found that the new dispensation opened space for the discussion of grievances, the articulation of aspirations, and the formulation of ad hoc informal accommodations. However, a range of policies and structures induce villages to forego long established indigenous forms of collective action while only providing bureaucratically recognized forms of action that ignore old resource entitlements. At the same time, ad hoc accommodations are readily adjusted to the strategies of dominant groups both within the local “community” and outside it and risk falling over when conditions change. The challenge remains that of meaningfully connecting localized processes of interest articulation and state supported institutional arrangements in a fashion that leads to better outcomes for the rural poor.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)95-121
    Number of pages27
    JournalJournal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law
    Issue number55
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2007


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