The Production of Disaster: State, Capital and Civil Society in the Lapindo Mudflow Eruption in East Java, Indonesia

Author: Achmad Uzair

Uzair, Achmad, 2015 The Production of Disaster: State, Capital and Civil Society in the Lapindo Mudflow Eruption in East Java, Indonesia, Flinders University, School of History and International Relations

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Since it first erupted on 29 May 2006, the Lapindo mudflow has gained continuous coverage both in the press and in other publications. Not only were its damaging effects unprecedented, its links to capital interests was also in the spotlight from the beginning. Attention has been particularly focused on the fact that Lapindo Brantas, the company whose mining practices were behind the disaster, is controlled by the Bakrie Group, which in turn is owned by Aburizal Bakrie. The latter is, or was, Indonesia’s richest indigenous tycoon, who at the time was (ironically) serving as Coordinating Minister for Public Welfare. This liability as well as Bakrie’s political connections were factors that have attracted wide attention.

With the backdrop of liability issues and contestations to have the company held responsible for the disaster, this thesis aims to investigate the origins of the mudflow disaster, the struggle of various parties either to demand compensation or to defend corporate interests from damaging liabilities, and to see how the state has tried to mediate these conflicting interests as well as to gain benefits for its own sake. By investigating the disaster’s origins, this thesis expands existing knowledge of the mudflow from being limited to what happened at the drilling site to the wider context of national economic growth and decentralization.

By investigating the struggle of various interest groups, this thesis explores perceptions and actions about disaster-related matters from multiple sites (including the corporate viewpoint), an approach which has been less travelled by previous researchers. Investigating the state’s involvement in the mudflow mitigation issues not only highlights its role in serving public interests but also the unintended consequences of its authority being used to serve the interests of individuals and corporate actors as well.

Employing the concept of “production of disaster”, this thesis offers a theoretical contribution to the existing literature on disasters in Indonesia in general, and on the Lapindo mudflow in particular, by building a comprehensive structural linkage from before the “disaster trigger” struck to a time when new or modified social political relations were becoming established. Using this theoretical approach, the thesis revisits the limited spectrum of existing disaster understanding in which attention has been narrowly applied to either the disaster event or the disaster impacts.

Keywords: Lapindo, Bakrie, corporate liability, mudflow eruption, production of disaster, disaster politics, environmental politics, environmental justice, Sidoarjo East Java

Subject: International Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2015
School: School of History and International Relations
Supervisor: Dr Priyambudi Sulistiyanto