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Protest and State Reaction: An Intra-Regional Comparison (Indonesia, Vietnam)

Do democratic and authoritarian political regimes (re-)act differently to certain forms and contents of protest? This is the core question behind this pilot project, which conducts an intra-regional comparison between Indonesia and Vietnam. The research belongs to the H2020 consortium CRISEA (Competing Regional Integrations in Southeast Asia), coordinated by Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO).
EC, Horizon 2020, 2017-2021

Research Questions

The project investigates the follwoing research questions:
- Do democratic and authoritarian political regimes (such as those in Indonesia and Vietnam) (re-)act differently to certain forms and contents of protest?
- Or do those states (re-)act in similar ways and can this be explained by the assumption that in both polities there is a “state in a capitalist society”?
- Does regime type matter?

Contribution to International Research

This project, which is part of a larger EU project on Regional Integrations in Southeast Asia (CRISEA), is kind of a pilot project. Data come from selected issues of four national print editions of newspapers (from Indonesia: “Tempo” and “Kompas”; from Vietnam “Tien Phong” and “Tuoi Tre”) whose reporting on protests and state reactions during 2016 and 2017 is systematically analyzed. Methodological speaking, “Protest Event Analysis” (PEA) is applied. Also, we use individual data concerning the continuation of protest and state (re-)actions in two policy areas (infrastructure and ecology) from various newspapers. Analysis of our data set and of those additional data, using methods of descriptive statistics and the interpretation of the data, is designed to provide confirmation, at least in principle, of our leading hypothesis. Roughly shortened this says that although governed differently, the state in Indonesia and Vietnam (re-)acts in rather similar ways and forms vis-à-vis protest. This is because both are “states in capitalist societies” (Jessop).
The project pursues two empirical aims:
- To identify any protest event where the protest targets the state/government, and where such a form of (conflicting) interest articulation and subsequent state reactions involves more than three people.
- To cover different forms of state (re-)actions. Whereas repression of protest has been widely researched, accommodation and ignorance, especially as regards (re-)actions the state in authoritarian regimes shows vis-à-vis protest, do seem to be under-researched.
From a theoretical perspective the project wants to answer the question how potential similarities and/or differences can be explained in a theoretically substantial way.

Research Design and Methods

The project uses theoretical approaches which focus on the state-society nexus and in-built biases of the capitalist state. More specifically, it draws on Poulantzas’ idea of the state as a “social relationship” and “material condensation of relationships of forces”, but also on Jessop who further developed this perspective on the “state in capitalist societies” and called his approach “strategic relational approach” (SRA). This stresses that structures are not equally constraining or facilitating for all agents. Rather structure offer opportunities that vary by agent; agency, in turn, depends on strategic capacities that vary according to the actors involved but also by structure.

Preliminary Findings

Those theories help to explain similarities and differences of state (re-)actions in Indonesia and Vietnam and lead to the conclusion that Indonesia’s and Vietnam’s respective state may govern protest in slightly different ways and (re)-act vis-à-vis protest to a certain extent and at times differently. But both state’s (re-)actions nevertheless and ultimately indicate similarities if not sameness in that their (re-)actions are intended to help maintain existing patterns of political, economic and socio-cultural domination and the accumulation of capital, the basis of the capitalist economy. Regime type and its presumed influence on state (re-)actions to protest are less important, if they play a role at all. Rather it is about capitalism and the “state in a capitalist society”.

The research results will be presented at an symposium on “Vietnam’s Dilemmas of Development and Global Integration”, to be held at ISEAS-Isak Yushof Institute, Singapore, June 21-22, 2021, and published in early 2022 in a volume with the same title edited by Tuong Vu (University of Oregon) and the ISEAS- Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. Authors and title of the contribution to the conference/the article: Wischermann, Joerg/Dang Thi Viet Phuong/Sirait, George Martin: The state in a capitalist society: protests and state reactions in Vietnam and Indonesia.


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