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Re-imagining the archipelago : the nation in post-Suharto Indonesian women's fiction Budiman, Manneke


This study sets out to investigate the ways in which some fiction by Indonesian women authors produced since the downfall of President Suharto in 1998 explores the notion of ‘nation’ that was established by the New Order during its thirty-two-year rule, and offers alternative perspectives. The New Order’s ideology of the unitary state of Indonesia required, as its foremost prerequisite, the construction of a sense of Indonesianness that was neither fragmented nor centrifugal. The result, however, was not only a Java-centric perspective of a vast archipelago that consists of more than 13,000 islands, but even more narrowly, a Jakarta-centric envisioning of the entire nation. In 1998 the Reformasi started and these women authors, who are situated at the intersection of authoritarianism and democracy, attempted to redefine the nation from diverse perspectives as women, while at the same time struggling against the pull to reinscribe the New Order’s discourse of a monolithic national identity. Different authors offer a range of viewpoints: from spatial angles that encompass urban, archipelagic, and cosmopolitan outlooks, to cultural dimensions that include Islam, adat, and ethnicity. These strategies of representation are analyzed using various feminist theories and approaches, especially those which are concerned with the notion of “symbolic space” as a “para-site” located in the margin of the dominant power, as proposed by scholars such as Ien Ang (2001), Rey Chow (1993), and bell hooks (1990). This study not only opens up a new approach to reading post-1998 Indonesian women’s fiction in the context of constructions of Indonesianness, but also furthers understanding of how cultural production in present-day Indonesia struggles to distance itself from the cultural and political legacy of the New Order, and at the same time is influenced by the long-lasting effects of that legacy.

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