On the blockade in a Sumatran plantation zone

Authors: David Gilbert*, University of California, Berkeley
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: agriculturalists, social mobilization, plantations, industrial agriculture, environmental anthropology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As industrial plantations continue their century-long expansion across Sumatra, plantation laborers and agriculturalists that seek to occupy and reclaim land from these plantations often turn to the blockade. For these protesters, the blockade is expression of their discontent as well as tactic of disruption. I review the form, tenor, and effect of two rural workers' blockades of industrial plantations in Sumatra, based on long-term ethnographic and archival research. I consider agriculturalists' anti-plantation discourses and subjectivities that circulated at the blockades, and the way blockades engendered both compassion from observers as well as reactionary response from corporate and state security forces. At their most effective, blockades serve to demarcate a boundary for non-capitalist, collective forms of social organization. Thus blockades are part of rural workers' pragmatic attempts to achieve autonomy from the often exploitative plantation economy. Even when blockades are destroyed by armed corporate and state agents tasked with upholding the dominant order, blockades can have a symbolic affect, generating empathies for rural workers' causes and demonstrating that industrial agriculture can only be maintained and reproduced with the unjust use of force.

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