Property and Authority in a Migrant Society: Balinese Irrigators in Sulawesi, Indonesia


  • Dik Roth

    1. is a social anthropologist and Assistant Professor in the Law and Governance Group of Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands (e-mail: Among his research interests are socio-legal studies and anthropology of law, natural resources governance and management, and development policy. He has published, among others, on the politics of regional autonomy in Indonesia, the role of legal complexity in land and water rights, and flood policy in The Netherlands.
    Search for more papers by this author


Multiple definitions of resources as property lead to competition over legitimate authority between state and non-state organizational and institutional arrangements. This article focuses on the overlapping and competing domains of the water users’ association, WUA, and the ‘traditional’ Balinese irrigators’ institution, subak. While the former is backed up by the power of state regulation and administration, the latter derives legitimacy from Balinese irrigators. The author presents a case study of the establishment and transformation of property rights in an irrigation-based Balinese migrant society in Indonesia; he concludes that, in the ongoing process of competition for authority and mutual adjustment, both institutions undergo important transformations.