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Whiston, Benjamin (2023) The Political Economy of Decentralisation in Indonesia. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Restricted to Repository staff only until 13 October 2026.


This thesis examines how decentralisation and pemekaran (a process of administrative fragmentation triggered by decentralisation) have impacted upon local elites’ and poorer social groups’ accumulation and livelihoods strategies in Indonesia. The research, carried out between 2007 and 2009, was conducted from the central to the village level, the main focus being at the district and sub-district / village levels in Mamasa, West Sulawesi. The thesis addresses four inter-related central research themes, which are focused on assessing the impact of Indonesian decentralisation on: poverty and the livelihood strategies of poorer social groups; local elite group formation and the part decentralised resources play in their accumulation strategies; localised corruption and its role in local elites’ reproduction (and, in turn, how this crosses-over with poorer social groups’ livelihoods strategies); and, administrative fragmentation (pemekaran) and its interface with the above themes. The detailed examination challenges the mainstream view of how best to understand, and counter, elite capture of decentralised resources, where it has been portrayed as a technical process which can be honed through institutional design and support for civil society and social capital building. In contrast, it is argued that this issue is better understood through a fuller understanding of both the national ‘politics of decentralisation’, and how local elites accumulate through decentralised state resources in the local political economy. Locally, it is argued that a relational, class-based framework, focused on the distribution and capture of decentralised state resources, provides the best lens for understanding the production and reproduction of social groups, poverty and inequality. Taken together, the findings suggest that Indonesian decentralisation is doing little directly to help poorer social groups. The multi-level approach employed in this research is unique and, by employing the pemekaran lens, allows for a comparative analysis of both the dynamics of national-to-local elite capture issues, and the on-the-ground impacts of elite capture through the study of elites’ and poorer social groups’ accumulation / livelihood strategies. The study also breaks new ground through its examination of the crossover between these strategies, decentralised state resources and local corruption. Overall, the framework is useful for critically examining decentralisation in Indonesia and beyond.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Jens Lerche
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2023 17:34

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