The Ecopoetics of Social Life: The Legacy of James J. Fox

This preconference symposium, to be held on 25 July 2016, preceding the sixth International Symposium of the Journal of the Anthropology of Indonesia (Jurnal Antropologi Indonesia), 26-28 July 2016. It is intended to honour the contributions made by Professor James J. Fox in his various roles as researcher, teacher, and, perhaps above all, supervisor and mentor for postgraduate students from Indonesia, Australia and throughout the world. While we are seeking to recruit as many of his former students as possible for this symposium, it is open to any and all potential contributors and audience members who have been influenced by the work of Professor Fox. It is intended as a forum for papers that have been inspired by and / or build upon the contributions of Professor Fox, as well as those that pose critiques and complementary modes of analysis. We hope thereby to demonstrate his enduring legacy through papers presenting contemporary work that engage with the themes and approaches that have characterised his own oeuvre.

As Professor Fox has made enduring contributions across a wide range of topics both within anthropology and beyond, this preconference symposium is organised according to four widely encompassing themes that represent facets of his research:

Understanding the Structural Bases of Society: The Dynamics of Precedence
One of Professor Fox’s most enduring theoretical contributions has been his exposition of the underlying cultural principles and dynamics of precedence, a term his work elevated into a major tool of analysis for understanding Austronesian social structure, reconceptualising the study of alliance and descent in eastern Indonesia and beyond. This conceptualisaton has been elaborated, exemplified and critiqued in numerous publications, most notably the books and papers from the Austronesian Project in the former School of Pacific and Asian Studies of the Australian National University and the collection Precedence: Social Differentiation in the Austronesian World, ed. Michael P. Vischer (Canberra: ANU ePress, 2009).


  1. Between Precedence and Hierarchy: Matrilineality in Ende in Flores [Satoshi Nakagawa]
  2. A System of Exchanges between Kawas and Humans among the Austronesian-speaking Amis of Taiwan [Shu-Ling Yeh]
  3. Comparative View to the Concept Precedence of Eastern Indonesia [Lintje H. Pellu]
  4. Reinterpretation of Cultural Practices: The Case of Ngaben in Santhayana Crematorium [I Gde Pitana & Ni Nyoman Sri Natih]
  5. Origin and Ideology of Precedence After Christianity: Religious Change, Landscape, and Discontinuity Among Kayan-Kenyah in Central Borneo [Imam Ardhianto]

Un/Recovering Structure through Language: Semantic Parallelism in Ritual Language, the Poetics of Performance, and the Linguistic Reconstruction of Socioecological Structures
In carrying forward the insights of Roman Jakobson and other linguistic and anthropological theorists concerned with the underlying symbolics of language, Professor Fox and his students havebroken new ground in the study of dyadic parallelism and other aspects of the semantic structuring of ritual language and the poetic power of ritual chanting, as evident in numerous essays and monographs, including the collection To Speak in Pairs: Essays on the Ritual Languages of eastern Indonesia, edited by James J. Fox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988 [2006, paperback edition]). However, his linguistic work has also encompassed the insights to be gained from literary analysis of metaphor in ritual language and social life and the comparative analysis of Austronesian kinship terminologies and terms related to agricultural usages.


  1. How Does Poetry Weave Life through Time? Changes in Verbal Performance and Social Concerns among the Lio, Flores [Eriko Aoki]
  2. Screeching Parrots, Squawking Cockatoos: Exploring the Metaphoric Couplets of Sumba [David Mitchell]
  3. The Language Ecology in Routa Sub-district, Konawe Regency, Southeast Sulawesi [Asrun Li]
  4. The poetics and politics of contemporary UabMeto ritual language performance in West Timor [Barbara Dix Grimes]
  5. Looking Beyond: An academic stance within a local perspective (A Case Study of Reading the Timorese Name) [Gregor Neonbasu]

Ecology and Development: Traditional Adaptations, Emergent Impacts and Responses
Complementing Professor Fox’ research on the symbolic and structural dimensions of social life has been his work, both academic and applied, on the ecological bases and sociopolitical impacts of traditional and emergent livelihoods. This work has ranged from his investigation of the environmental history of the dependence of the Rotinese on lontar palm sap in his monograph Harvest of the Palm: Ecological Change in eastern Indonesia (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press) to his applied work contributing to the emergence of Integrated Pest Management (Pengendalian Hama yang Terpadu), including is treatment of the geneaology of rice varieties used in intensification programs, in Indonesia to his current and continuing work on pest resurgence in Java and elsewhere. His work on Bajau incursions into Australian waters can be also be seen in the light of the wider sociopolitical context of livelihood pursuits, while his preparation of an English translation and edition of Mauss’s and Beuchat’s Seasonal Variations of the Eskimo: A study in social morphology (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979) deals as well with the interface of social structure and ecological adaptation.


  1. Distilling livelihoods in Timor-Leste: Fataluku ecologies of practice [Andrew McWilliam]
  2. Transborder Illegalities: Dilemmas Faced by the Bajau Laut at the Peripheries of their Marine Domain [Greg Acciaioli]
  3. Locating Traditional Marine Tenure in the Indonesian Fisheries Management [Dedi Supriadi Adhuri]
  4. Integrated Pest Management after 30 Years since the Presidential Instruction (1986—2016): Where to Go? [Yunita T. Winarto]
  5. Harvest of the palm in Timor-Leste [Andrey Damaledo]
  6. No Longer for Peasant  Welfare: The Impact of Political Reform and Market on the Village Land Distribution [Bambang Hudayana]

Islam in Indonesia: Contemporary Practices, Sociohistorical Roots
Professor Fox has supervised numerous students working on Islam in Indonesia, many of whom have risen to influential positions in the Ministry of Religion and elsewhere. His own work has concentrated on such practices as pilgrimage (ziarah) to saint’s tombs and contemporary Islamic social movements, such as Hizbut Tahrir and more militant organisations such as Jemaah Islamiyah. As in other other aspects of his work detailed above, his research in this field has sought to attain a balance between historical contextualisation and contemporary innovations, with close attention to the language of such practices, movements and organisations as well as their social practices.

These four themes will be the basis for organizing papers into the various sessions of the presymposium, as the organisers will sort the abstracts that are received from potential contributors into sessions that are largely differentiated according to these foci. In addition, we are endeavouring to arrange a screening of the ethnographic film ‘The Water of Words’ (‘Air Kata Kata’), which visually integrates many of these foci of Professor Fox’s work on ritual language, ecology and social structure.


  1. Making sense of religion: The legacy of Professor Fox in the study of Islam in Indonesia [Muhammad Adlin Sila]
  2. Islamising Urban Space: Salafi Mosque and Propagation in Purwokerto, Central Java [Luthfi Makhasin]
  3. Anthropological Tradition in Religious Studies  and the Significance of formulating Islamic Anthropology to understand the Message of Islam [Lukmanul Hakim]
  4. Understanding Islam in Indonesia [Kathryn Robinson]
  5. Pesantren and Pluralism: Promoting Pluralism In Ngalah Pesantren Pasuruan East Java [Muhammad Muntahibun Nafis]
  6. Muslims in Kampung Airmata, Kupang: Preserving Aswaja (Ahlusunnah wal Jama’ah) Tradition and the Diarchic Structure of Kampung Imam and Kampung Raja [Stella Aleida Hutagalung]
  7. The Dynamics among Traditionalists in Response to the Development of Modern Indonesian Islam [Endang Turmudi]
  8. Still Remembering the Origins: The Continuity of Non-standard Islam among the Gumay (Gumai) in South Sumatra [Minako Sakai]

Panel coordinator:
Greg Acciaioli (The University of Western Australia)
Dedi Adhuri (Indonesian Institute of Sciences/LIPI)
Kathryn Robinson (Australian National University)
Yunita T. Winarto (Universitas Indonesia)