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Rubber Erasures, Rubber Producing Rights: Making Racialized Territories in West Kalimantan, Indonesia


  • Nancy Lee Peluso

    1. is Professor and Chair of the Division of Society and Environment, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, 137 Mulford Hall, University of California, Berkeley, California, 94720–3114, USA. Her research is on forest and agrarian politics in Java and West Kalimantan, Indonesia, focusing on property, resource access and political ecology.
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  • I am grateful to a number of people for providing comments on various drafts of this paper, including Kate Brown, Mary Somers Heidhues, Denise Leto, Tania Li, Nick Menzies, Kit Olivi, Scott Prudham, Simon Takdir, Peter Vandergeest, Arthur Van Schaik and Hui Few-Yoong. The suggestions of participants in the Bornholm Property Workshop (September 2006), as well as those of colleagues and friends at the University of Toronto and the Ohio State University Geography Department, where I presented earlier versions of this paper, have also had a role in shaping the article. The usual disclaimers apply.


This article makes connections between often-disparate literatures on property, violence and identity, using the politics of rubber growing in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, as an example. It shows how rubber production gave rise to territorialities associated with and productive of ethnic identities, depending on both the political economies and cultural politics at play in different moments. What it meant to be Chinese and Dayak in colonial and post-colonial Indonesia, as well as how categories of subjects and citizens were configured in the two respective periods, differentially affected both the formal property rights and the means of access to rubber and land in different parts of West Kalimantan. However, incremental changes in shifting rubber production practices were not the only means of producing territory and ethnicity. The author argues that violence ultimately played a more significant role in erasing prior identity-based claims and establishing the controls of new actors over trees and land and their claims to legitimate access or ‘rightfulness’. Changing rubber production practices and reconfigurations of racialized territories and identity-based property rights are all implicated in hiding the violence.