Gillian H. Bogart

AnthropologyUniversity of California / Santa Cruz

Award Information

2017 IDRF Program

AnthropologyUniversity of California / Santa Cruz

Edge Effects: Salt Making Landscapes of Indonesia

This project examines how salt's material qualities and cultural capacities shape efforts to produce it as a strategic commodity for the Indonesian state. While salt is becoming an artisanal good in places across the globe, state intervention in Indonesia has meant a sharp turn towards industrialization and standardization. With the aim of achieving self-sufficiency and sovereignty, Indonesia's central government has deemed salt a "strategic commodity". I take "strategic commodity" to be a combination of state power and capital, and understand it as a category that summons forth the performance of the state. However, this performance and responses to it, may not be readily apparent. To perceive it requires watching shadows for movement, to be seen and sensed in the particularities of salt-making practices, the response of salt workers instructed to harvest at industrial production sites, the enthusiasm with which politicians discuss development plans, or the disappearance of fish from government operated salt ponds. By attending to everyday encounters, this research investigates how different kinds of salt are enmeshed within social worlds, ritual practices, and state apparatuses that shape Indonesian landscapes. I adopt the categories of "vernacular salt" and "state salt" as heuristics to trace the kinds of conceptual and chemical transformations salt undergoes across sites and scales. I will conduct research with salt producers and government officials in Timor and Savu, target regions for the national initiative, as well as Madura, long a site of large scale salt production and final link in the commodity chain that transforms "vernacular salt" produced by small holders into "state salt" ready for industrial markets.