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Coville explores changing communication in Indonesia

<t. 23, as part of the Anthropologists on Globalization lecture series, Liz Coville, Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology, delivered a talk entitled “Apakabar on the Internet: Transnational Communication in Late New Order Indonesia.”

Coville, whose main academic interest is linguistic anthropology, teaches courses at Carleton on language, culture and society, as well as on the ethnography of island Southeast Asia. Her talk centered around Apakabar, an Indonesian online mailing list, which Coville argued helped “facilitate the flow of ideas among Indonesians in Indonesia and those abroad – students, emigrants and exiles.”

“Apakabar,” a casual greeting in Indonesian, “What’s up?” in English. The forum was named after the email address of the list’s moderator, John A. MacDougall. Apakabar became especially significant in the 1990s when Indonesia was just emerging Suharto’s paternalistic and authoritarian regime.

Coville argued that Apakabar offered a forum for discussion that was uncensored and included a diversity of views and genres. Through Apakabar, Coville found readers were able to get more detail than through the mainstream press and be exposed to things that would have otherwise been unavailable to them.

Coville also argued that Apakabar created a sense of connectivity, a “sense of being connected to the world while still cut off.” Apakabar allowed people to learn about their own government and what was really going on in different parts of the nation. Topics ranged from religion and human rights to politics, economy and government policy, all topics that Coville said were not discussed in public.

To do her research, Coville used the Apakabar mailing list itself to read postings and communicated through email with key active participants and with the moderator, MacDougall. Coville described her research methodology as unique: she was communicating through email with people she had never met.

The talk also discussed a panel Coville organized in 2002 for the Association of Asian Studies entitled “Pluralism on the Internet.” The panel consisted of Sobron Aidit, Waruno Mahdi, Andreas Harsono and Aboeprijadi (Tossi) Santoso, all participants of the Apakabar list. Through her discussion of these individuals, Coville relayed themes from the Apakabar list: the intersection of the economic crisis, the internet and journalism. Bringing these speakers together allowed for a better discussion and understanding of the function of Apakabar.

The speaker series is organized by Van Dusenbery, who is teaching the “Anthropology and/of Globalization” class this term. He describes the series as “an opportunity to hear from anthropologists whose research and professional activity bears upon or bears the effects of globalization.”

He hopes that the talks aid his students in thinking about their own ventures into anthropology. Throughout the term, the speakers have addressed a range of topics from hip-hop in Cuba to Wal-Mart in China to ornithology in Sri Lanka.

The series has been well received by students. They “provide a real world example of anthropology in action,” Joe Sigrin ‘10 said.

Becca Dougherty ’10 said it was “especially rewarding to hear one of our own professors talk about their research. Unless they integrate it into a class, we never get to see that side of what our professors do.”

The remaining presenters in the term include Jay Levi with a talk entitled “From Local Identities to a Global Movement: Indigenous Rights Today,” on Oct. 30, Tom Williamson with “The Global Health Market in Malaysia” on Nov. 6 and Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg with “Birth, Burial, and Belonging: Linkages in Domestic and Transnational African Diasporas” on Nov. 13. All talks are held in Leighton 330 at 8:30am.

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