Insurgent Planner: Transgressing the technocratic state of postcolonial Jakarta

Blog by Prathiwi Widyatmi Putri

14 Aug 2019, 10:19 a.m.
Prathiwi Widyatmi Putri



This article reveals an emergence of insurgent agencies that are embedded in the spatiality of Jakarta’s kampungs. ‘Kampung’ refers to informal settlements or agglomerations of not-fully-recognized, self-built houses; a kampung often grows on the periphery of a formally developed urban centre, or undergoes transformation from a rural settlement to a more densely kampung due to its proximity to and inclusion in an urban centre. My research on ‘kampung’ has been going on for a decade, and the initial interest was personal. I was raised in one of Jakarta’s eastern peripheral kampungs, for almost twenty years from the early 1980s. But my interest became political too.


The informal has often been disregarded within the praxis of Indonesian social-political movements – the so-called lumpen proletariat group is deemed opportunist, and far less revolutionary when compared to peasants and labours (see also Asef Bayat’s book on Iranian ‘Street Politics’). There are interrelated historical factors that influence this structural exclusion of the informal. Massive repressions by the militaristic state targeting grassroots organizations during 1965, including the mass-murder of communist-party members and leftish grassroots activists, has enfeebled the traditions of bottom-up and bottom-linked social and political forces to secure community welfare. In parallel to new waves of private investments in extractive and manufacture industries since 1965, agglomerations of informal settlements and numbers of informal workers in urban areas have significantly increased – along with the failure of industries to accommodate the dispossessed rural populations. But there has been no room, and precedence, for the discontented urban poor and informal sector to consolidate towards a robust transformative movement together with other sectoral struggles. Through this article, however, we witness a new story of urban insurgency.


The current literature of insurgent planning tends to focus on ‘planning’ as a set of practices, but it rather leaves the ‘planner’ as a specific type of actor out of the picture. I argue that the notion ‘insurgent planner’ helps to recognize the active agencies of insurgent planning and to assess their unstable, unpredictable, and often ambiguous trajectories in creating insurgent institutions against diverse structural problems of spatial development. My arguments have been developed while sharing the experience of Ciliwung Merdeka, a not-for-profit organization that since 2015 has actively conducted advocacy and litigation against the river normalization project, which caused series of evictions in Jakarta. The organization grows seamlessly out of a distinct strand of the Freirean movement in Indonesia that has focused on the urban poor and informal sector. In this Freirean tradition which emerged during the authoritarian militaristic regime, the alternative architecture movement is instrumental in prolonging the breath of struggles for multidimensional change within the life of urban poor.


A heuristic term ‘grey space’ is used in this article, to understand the kampung sphere from which insurgent planning emerges. It explains the status of kampung communities between illegality and diverse forms of state-recognitions. The term helps reveal the ambiguous everyday presence and persistence of rational planning as the spatial and institutional essence of the modern state. It is within this everyday space that discontent and resistance take shape, to further enact the institutionalization of liberating planning pedagogy.


My article benefitted from the European Research Council Grant: State Formation through the Local Production of Property and Citizenship (Ares (2015)2785650 – ERC-2014-AdG – 662770-Local State).


Read the article Insurgent Planner: Transgressing the technocratic state of postcolonial Jakarta on Urban Studies - Online First.



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