Dislocating “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”

Stefani H.S. Nugroho (Universiti Brunei Darussalam)


The presentation explores how the tension between unity and diversity is experienced and perceived by young people in Kupang and Banda Aceh. In the hegemonic discourse of Indonesia, as exemplified by Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, “diversity” mainly refers to essentialized traditions and cultural artifacts that originate from entities formed by a twisted overlap of ethnicity and geo-political units (i.e. provinces). In so doing, it disregards the immensely diverse lived worldviews and dynamic practices.It reduces “diversity” to mere ethnic/regional characteristics, and also unproblematically considers these “cultures” to be national possessions. To counter this, it is imperative to understand how people in marginalized places understand this hegemonic notion of diversity. Based on the data obtained during my doctoral research, the presentation will outline a number of narratives. The first is the rejection of administrative entities such as provinces and the nation-states as sites of distinctive cultures, the second is the rejection of Java-centrism, and the third is the notion that the different predispositions, habits, and customs within Indonesia can be incommensurable with each other. The most important point that can be taken away from these narratives is how, despite the perceived lack of an invented tradition, the nation-state remains relevant, as the absence of the “romantic” base of nationhood is replaced by instrumental or pragmatic nationalism.