IILJ Working Paper 2006/2 (Global Administrative Law Series)

Neo-Liberal Strategies of Government through Community: The Social Development Program of the World Bank in Indonesia

Tania Murray Li

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For more than two centuries experts both inside and outside the state apparatus, at home and abroad, have engaged in the practice Foucault called “government:” the attempt to reform human conduct by calculated means. In this spirit the World Bank’s social development team in Indonesia set out to make community development planning more participatory and transparent, to relieve poverty, manage conflict, empower villagers, and reform the state apparatus from below. Their strategies are neo-liberal. Rather than regulate conduct directly, they set conditions, structure a field of possible of actions, and use incentives to foster new habits of entrepreneurship and responsibility, competition and choice. The program the team devised has been implemented in tens of thousands of Indonesian villages with one billion dollars of loan funds. It has been adopted as a “golden arches” or franchise model, and replicated from Timor to Afghanistan. I examine the origins of the program and situate it in the context of post-Suharto reform. I explore the experts’ diagnoses of what was wrong with Indonesian society, and their prescriptions. How did they attempt to render problems such as poverty and violence technical and manageable? What were the contours of their intervention, and its limits?