Michael Eilenberg

PhD, Associate professor

Michael Eilenberg
See relations at Aarhus University

Research areas

 

Geographic and Thematic Specialization

My primary research interests’ center on issues of state formation, sovereignty, autonomy, citizenship, agrarian expansion and climate politics in frontier regions of Southeast Asia and Africa. In particular I investigate state-society dynamics in the Malaysian and Indonesian borderlands on the island of Borneo. Within this research frame, I have been dealing with different transnational processes such as illicit cross-border trade, labour migration, and other kinds of cross-border movements. Especially the anthropology of borderlands and borders is central to my analysis of the different practices and strategies taking place along Southeast Asia’s borders. My studies are based on extended fieldwork in both Indonesia and Malaysia and archival studies in British and Dutch archives. I have 14 years research experience on issues of state formation in Southeast Asia including a total of 40 month of fieldwork in the region. Additional experience includes international research networking, organization of workshops, internships within international development NGOs and public education and supervision at institutions of higher learning in Denmark, Indonesia, Malaysia and Tanzania. For aditional information visit my personal webpage: www.eilenberg.dk

 

Positions

Associate Professor, Aarhus University (oct 2014-present).

 

Assistant Professor, Aarhus University (July 2010-Oct 2014).

 

Coordinator of the Master's Program in Human Security & International Coordinator (2013-)

 

From October 2011 to March 2012 I was a Visiting Professor at Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto associated with the research cluster "Producing Wealth and Poverty in Indonesia's New Rural Economies" headed by Professor Tania Murray Li.

 

From February to April 2013 I was a Visiting Scholar at Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC Berkeley associated with the "ESPM Land Lab" headed by Professor Nancy Peluso.

 

       

Books
 
At the Edges of States: Dynamics of State Formation in the Indonesian Borderlands
 
Set in West Kalimantan, Indonesian borneo, this study explores the shifting relationship between border communities and the state along the political border with East Malaysia. The book rests on the premise that remote border regions offer an exciting study arena that can tell us important things about how marginal citizens relate to their nation-state. The basic assumption is that central state authority in the Indonesian borderlands has never been absolute, but waxes and wanes, and state rules and laws are always up for local interpretation and negotiation. In its as key symbol of state sovereignty, the borderland has become a place were central state authorities are often most eager to govern and exercise power. But as illustrated, the borderland is also a place were state authority is most likely to be challenged, questioned and manipulated as border communities often have multiple loyalties that transcend state border and contradict imaginations of the state as guardians of national sovereignty and citizenship.

Eilenberg’s rich insights could not have been achieved without years spent developing trust and experiencing firsthand the ambiguity of a border as a zone of opportunity as well as control. The analysis of the border elite who combine traditional authority with bureaucratic ones, charisma with force, and legal practices with illegal ones throws into sharp relief a set of practices that are found not only on the fringes of the Indonesian nation, but on the fringes of its cities as well. Anyone interested in understanding how power works in Indonesia should read this book” - Professor Tania Murray Li, University of Toronto

This pioneering study of state formation ‘at the margins’ forms a perfect demonstration of the promise of borderland studies. Eilenberg argues convincingly that borderlands – and the international borders that run through them – are critical sites for understanding shifting state-society relations. His book provides a powerful analysis of the local historical contexts of resource struggles, state policies and social strategies in what many consider to be a remote and insignificant Indonesian borderland. Eilenberg makes us realize how the unpredictable dynamics of such borderland societies affect entire nation-states” - Professor Willem van Schendel, University of Amsterdam 

 
Book Reviews
 
Journal of Asian Studies: "Eilenberg's compelling analysis demonstrates the value of borderlands as productive sites to explore the complexities of state power. Importantly, he points out that many studies of borderlands overemphasize local populations' resistance to the state. By contrast, the book makes a significant contribution to the literature on state-society relations by illustrating how local elites engage in “networks of collusion” with state authorities to best serve their interests (p. 55). In addition, Eilenberg draws attention to how political decentralization can blur the line between legality and illegality, because local authorities often have a different understanding of wrongdoing than that established by state laws. These discussions will make At the Edges of States helpful to scholars interested in state-society relations and political decentralization in Indonesia and beyond" - Jennifer Estes, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
 
IIAS Newsletter: "Eilenberg’s conclusion offers what may be the greatest theoretical contributions noting that within the study of the borderlands, the notions of illegality and legality are often seen as too rigid. When in fact, as demonstrated by certain cases amongst the Iban community, the notion of what is not only acceptably ‘legal’ but also the ‘laws’ that should be followed, can diff er substantially from pre-existing state oriented conceptions. Thus, Eilenberg closes with a provocative call to re-examine the blurred notions between what is ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ practice amongst the Iban borderlands of Kalimantan and Sarawak that stretch along the Indo-Malay state border on the island of Borneo" - William B. Noseworthy, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
 
 

Current Research

Borders, Borderlands and the State

The aim of my current research is twofold: First to provide a local perspective on the rapid changing social and political environment in the borderland of West Kalimantan, Indonesia, and second, to create and understanding of the often paradoxical and conflicting relationship between border people and their states. 

Research on the political, economical, and social processes along international borders have primarily taken a top down approach, mostly focusing on state level activities, and how nation-states deal with their borders and border people. Much less attention has been given to the local agency of borderland communities, and how these communities are continually engaged in negotiating the political and cultural significance and status of borders, through different transnational cross-border practices and relations.

My research rests on the premises that borders such as that between Indonesia and Malaysia offer an exciting study arena that can tell us important things about how marginal citizens relate to their nation-state and in particular how alliances, with their competing and multiple loyalties, are managed on a daily basis. Recent processes of decentralization have dramatically changed local political configurations in Indonesia. In particular, the remote regions at the edges of the state have, in the name of regional autonomy, experienced new spaces for maneuver. By stressing the unfolding relationship between border communities and the state I examine how local-level politics has taken its special configuration in the remote border region of West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

 

 

 

Rule and Rupture

Political power is established through the production of the fundamental social contracts of property and citizenship. We conduct research on how this takes place, by examining what political authority is actually exercised rather than measuring how governments fall short of theoretical ideals. In developing countries with legal and institutional pluralism, no single institution exercises the political authority as such. Different institutions compete to define and enforce rights to property and citizenship. We believe this is most visible at the local level and after moments of political rupture. Eight country studies with rural and urban field sites will be conducted in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This interdiciplinary research programme (2016-2020) is directed by Christian Lund at University of Copenhagen, and funded by the European Research Council (ERC). http://ruleandrupture.dk

 

 

Science and Power in Participatory Forestry (SCIFOR)

The SCIFOR project (2014-2017) is a partnership between four institutions in Denmark, Tanzania and Nepal. In Denmark, the Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen comprises one of the largest research environments on natural resources management and livelihoods in Europe, and this is bolstered with additional expertise on institutional ethnographic approaches by the partnership with the Department of Culture and Society, Aarhus University. The project is funded by Danida and led by associate professor Jens Friis Lund, and will study the so-called scientific forestry plans in Tanzania and Nepal and their role in granting – or not granting – rural people forest management rights. The aim of the project is to develop and promote participatory forestry approaches that, in practice, support equitable, environmentally sound, and economically rational forest management. Read more about SCIFOR: Science and Power in Participatory Forestry.

 

 

Agrarian Expansion and the Politics of Territoriality on the Indonesian-Malaysian Frontier

This project (2011-2014) studies the drive behind rapid agrarian expansion in frontier regions of developing states in Southeast Asia (video link). Specifically, it seeks to develop an integrated understanding of how the current expansion of state-sponsored plantation development along the Indonesian-Malaysian frontier is interlinked with national policy regimes of national development, issues of territorial sovereignty, and global market demands. The project is funded by a Sapere Aude - Young Elite Researcher Grant from the The Danish Council for Independent Research - Social Sciences.

 

 

 

Climate Politics and Carbon Economy (CliPo)

Deforestation and degradation of forests in the tropics is depicted as a major source of emissions of CO2. It is estimated that between 12 and 20 percent of total world emissions of CO2 come from deforestation. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is seen as one of the tools that can help to ensure more effective forest conservation and reduce the proportion of CO2 emissions. The REDD program was launched in 2009 by the UN and is part of the Copenhagen Accord (COP-15). REDD funds is proposed to create economic incentives for developing countries to maintain and strengthen the management of their forests and thus help lower global emissions of CO2. Under this initiative, developing countries can refrain from deforestation and be credited for the amounts of CO2 that are left untouched. These credits can then be sold to industrialized countries that need to reduce emissions to meet their own targets.

This project (2012-2014) examines the paradoxical outcomes of the global and local negotiations over the value of forests and investigates the mechanisms behind the implementation of REDD as a specific value scheme in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. A main assumption is that when REDD initiatives and discourses of carbon trade are attempted implemented on the ground these global discourses will combine with local terms and practices producing unexpected effects or ‘friction’. Critics argue that REDD policies can be manipulated and threaten to generate land grabs, displacement, conflicts, corruption and impoverishment. REDD seems riddled with conflicts of interest. These can make the initiative very difficult to regulate without a combined understanding of the various interests at stake, and the relationships of power in which they are embedded. This project is funded by the Aarhus University Research Foundation.

 

 

 

Property and Citizenship in Developing Societies (Procit)

This research unit, directed by Professor Christian Lund, University of Copenhagen, investigates the process of state formation and fragmentation in developing societies. We study this apparently incongruous process through a focus on local politics and the social production of property and citizenship.

Conventional state theories, modeled after developed societies, see state institutions as a source of hegemony. We investigate how hegemonic struggles over the power to determine the parameters of property and citizenship create moments of sovereignty and form different institutions with state quality. It is in the creation of the political delineations of two fundamental aspects of social life: what we can have, and who we are - property and citizenship - that state quality is produced.

The focus is the political, social and developmental consequences where states have limited empirical sovereignty and where states have been forced to cede ground to competing non-state forms of authority. We undertake field research in rural, peri-urban and urban contexts in Benin, Ghana, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.

1st Conference of the Procit research Network,  28-31 May 2013

 

 

 

 

 

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