Dr Vira Riyandari
Dr Vira Riyandari

Dr Vira Riyandari

Principal supervisor: Associate Professor Elske van de Fliert

Associate supervisor: Associate Professor Pradip Thomas

Thesis title: Participation and Disciplinary Power: Governmentality in the Agricultural Sector in Contemporary Indonesia (available here)  

Thesis abstract

This study examined the application of a participatory approach in media development within the Indonesian national agricultural research system (NARS) as a way to achieve improved impacts from agricultural research and development endeavours. It employed a comparative case study and participatory action research (PAR) as strategies of inquiry that guided the research process. Two province-based Assessment Institutes for Agricultural Technology (AIATs) in Banten and West Nusa Tenggara (WNT) were selected as the cases of this study. The participatory action research was conducted in collaboration with AIAT research teams in both locations with the purpose to facilitate and at the same time examine the use of participatory communication in the agricultural research and development. This study adopted a wide range of data collection methods, including document analysis, participant observation, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. For data analysis, this study applied a theoretical thematic analysis approach.

The theoretical framework applied in this study consists of three main perspectives: Weber’s concept of bureaucracy, the theory of participatory development communication, and Foucault’s works of power/knowledge and governmentality. Weber’s seminal work was useful for examining the role of bureaucracy in the governance of agricultural sector and the nature of the bureaucracies that exist in the NARS organisations, particularly in the era of political decentralization and regional autonomy. The key principles of participatory development communication were applied through the implementation of PAR in both AIATs that facilitates and analyses the development and field-test the framework of participatory media development. Foucault’s concept of power/knowledge and governmentality was used as an analytical tool to examine the possibilities and limitations of participatory approaches in the governance of agricultural sector particularly in the research and development.

This study demonstrates that the complexity of decentralization in Indonesia, has affected the low performance of AIATs in providing effective services to the immediate users of agricultural technologies. As a result of decentralization, the Ministry of Agriculture has placed the province-based AIATs as the focal point for administering the implementation of the national agricultural development programs. This responsibility is not compatible with AIATs’ capacity, resources and mandates. These conditions have affected the effectiveness of AIATs to provide services to technology users.

The increased use of participation in the governance of agriculture including in the NARS is not unaffected by the relations of power. When viewed through the lens of governmentality, the findings of this study demonstrate that the practice of participation in the agricultural research and development was a form of governmental technology that was used to discipline the conduct of farmers through regulatory practices. The expansion of discipline through participatory research and community-based training was supported by the use of bureaucratic surveillance as a powerful form of administrative control. These disciplinary technologies interplayed with the historical legacy of paternalism that manifests in the construction of Javanese cultural norm of bapak-ism (father-ism or father knows best). The ‘making’ of farmers through these technologies constitutes technologies of the self whereby farmers self-regulate and discipline their actions. As shown in this study, the inclusion of farmers in participatory media development was part of the training that aimed to discipline and control farmers’ practices. Participation, in this way, becomes manipulative and instrumental. It loses its radical connotation and transformative capacity to bring about change.

This study also contributes to the contestation of PAR, particularly its strengths and limitations when applied in the context of government bureaucracy. This study found that PAR provides an approach to facilitate institutional change for the improved practice in media development that was not available in AIATs. However, its application in the context of AIATs demonstrates that the production of knowledge as a form of power through the implementation of PAR run the risk of reinforcing existing state domination and inequality.

Finally, this thesis argues that the three main theories employed in this study (participation, Weber’s bureaucracy and Foucault’s governmentality), which all centre on power relations, connect with and complement each other, and when combined into a theoretical framework, these three different perspectives offer very useful constructs for studying the governance of the agricultural sector in contemporary Indonesia. Furthermore, the resulting analysis provides a significant contribution to the theories and debates related to concepts of power, knowledge, bureaucracy, participation and development in the context of non-Western countries.

Life after graduation

Since graduating, Vira has been working as a researcher and communication consultant based in Jakarta, Indonesia. She also provides participatory research and evaluation, as well as communication training for development projects. She has more than fifteen years of professional working experience with various international organizations and projects, including UNDP, WWF-Indonesia, AUSAID/DFAT, USAID and DFID.

She is currently a Senior Communication Consultant for DFID’s Low Carbon Support programme to the Ministry of Finance, Indonesia, and Research Communication Mentor for DECI-2 project funded by IDRC. Read more about her experience working in these positions here.

Vira's expertise includes:

• Research. This includes development of research design and proposal, data 
collection and analysis, final report writing, and research dissemination 

• Evaluation of communication design and implementation 

• Communication strategy development and management of communication 
implementation 

• Communication capacity building 

• Writing, editing and translating 

• Bilingual writer and speaker (English / Indonesia)

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