Doreen Lee, "Activist Archives: Youth Culture and the Political Past in Indonesia" (Duke UP, 2016)


Activist Archives: Youth Culture and the Political Past in Indonesia (Duke University Press, 2016) is a book about Indonesian youth activism both before 1998 and after. But it is no ordinary chronological study, a story told in halves with Soeharto's end days in its interval. Rather, following a cue from her interlocutors, Doreen Lee enfolds the past into the present by attending to how urban activists in the post-New Order and post-reformasi eras have created a sense of belonging here and now by being historically situated. Youth activists don't just preserve and produce their own collective histories; they identify as the subjects of history, giving rise to powerful impulses to document, record and encode struggle visually and in writing. The activist as archivist, Lee shows, deploys material practices and cultural styles that emphasize the persistent relevance of radical politics even as these politics are at risk of being domesticated, or swept away by newly emergent forces. Her Activist Archives is not only a rich and at times moving ethnographic study of both the potential and ambivalence of youth politics in Southeast Asias most successfully democratized country; it also is exemplary in its careful use of theory to illuminate and enhance case study research on social movements. Doreen Lee joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to discuss pemuda fever, the street as archive, the asymmetry of state violence and student counter-violence, and the persistence of youth activism in democratic Indonesia.
Nick Cheesman is a fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University and in 2016-17 a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He can be reached at

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Nick Cheesman

Host, Interpretive Political and Social Science; sometimes contributor, Southeast Asian Studies
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