This paper aims to contribute to the theorising of urban citizenship in the global South by drawing attention to the everyday politics of citizenship struggles and city-making practices of unregistered, poor riverbank settlers in Jakarta. These slum dwellers are threatened by a dual risk: regular flooding, and the threat of evictions—the latter are commonly presented by policymakers as flood interventions.
The article offers a description of the power struggles that exist in Jakarta, by exploring a case in which different types of urban divides—called juxtapositions—are sometimes reinforced, and other times challenged, blurred or penetrated. In order to shed light on these dynamics, the article traces the practices of different groups of Jakartan residents that are, all for different reasons, involved in the issues of flooding and evictions. These groups are (1) riverbank settlers threatened by both floods and flood responses (evictions), (2) policymakers that develop and implement interventions around these issues and (3) a fragmented group of more resourceful inhabitants of Jakarta that seek to support riverbank settlers in their resistance against evictions.Footnote 1
Analysing the dynamics between and within these groups, I combine an emphasis on juxtapositions with a revelatory approach to disaster (Solway 1994). In line with other papers in this special issues, juxtapositions or juxtacities refer to the side-by-sidedness of, and productive interaction and friction between, differences within the urban social, economic and spatial environment (De Boeck and Plissart 2004; Appadurai et al. 2008; Simone 2010; Hammar and Millstein 2016). The notion of juxtapositions enables me to recognise, investigate and understand the dynamic qualities of multiple urban divides in Jakarta.
The revelatory lens or approach is inspired by the work of Jaqueline Solway in Botswana, who showed how a drought allowed for a shift in communal entitlements and hierarchies (Solway 1994, p. 472). Solway argues that these social dynamics were not arbitrary. Instead, the crisis of a drought accelerated dynamics that were already in progress, laid bare the patterns and, in addition, disrupted conventional routine sufficiently to allow actors to undermine normative codes and create new ones (Solway 1994, p. 471). Similarly, I argue that floods have created and still deepen social, spatial, and legal divides between different groups of Jakartan citizens: primarily a group of poor, unregistered slum inhabitants on the one hand, and political decision-makers, architects and planners on the other. Floods thus expose and deepen these juxtaposed differences in the city of Jakarta, but at the same time they offer a temporary chance for individuals and groups to create social change. As disasters like floods shake up daily routine, they open up room of manoeuvre for actors to change things in the society. In this particular case, they enable a challenging of ideas on citizenship, and blur distinctions between what is considered legal and illegal, rightful and unjust, and formal and informal.
Hence, we might say that the disaster of flooding provides an enlarging lens that offers a better insight into the way in which juxtapositions are produced within and between the actors in my case study. This combined approach helps to unpack and understand everyday urban citizenship.
The narrative about the risk of floods and evictions that follows this introduction reflects multiple juxtapositions of both materially distinct infrastructures and class-based forms of life and livelihoods. Examining these intersecting divides as active and productive spaces, as prompted by the juxtacities approach, provides insights into how authorities aim to shape the city and citizenship according to a modernist ideal and, most particularly, deal with informal spaces and residents that do not fit into this view. At the same time, the analysis (provided after the case introduction) shows how the power of authorities is challenged by poor residents, after they receive support from a group of more resourceful academics and other city inhabitants. This support was triggered after the issue of floods and evictions was highlighted in Indonesian media. It eventually enables poor residents to contest the views of authorities and claim space and rights in the city that challenge such views.
The analysis of this paper shows the various and dynamic ways in which Jakarta’s urban poor claim rights. In doing so, the article sheds light on the underlying factors that influence acts of urban citizenship. Later in this paper, I will argue that although citizenship is traditionally understood as an assemblage of rights and obligations tied to its membership to a state, it goes well beyond legal ascriptions of nationality. It constitutes an enactment of political subjectivity that involves the claiming of rights and the right to have rights. According to Abdoumaliq Simone (2011: 359), urban citizenship is ‘the practice of remaking notions of urban life itself’. This remaking of life is a constantly evolving, messy and fairly unpredictable process. It might be useful to envisage the city as a space, in which many various agents are constantly negotiating the usage of this space, as well as their economic, social and political rights in this space. By constant contesting, cooperating, challenging, influencing and negotiating, ‘various agents are able to make claims on, for and through urban space’ (Cohen and Margalit 2015: 668).
This paper shows that the described struggle by urban poor to claim basic rights is partly fraught by external factors—a specific context of poverty, plus a dynamic political context. Moreover, the act of claiming rights is influenced by internal factors—in this case, the changing, inner experiences of slum dwellers, who, through cooperation with more resourceful and powerful actors, turn into more knowledgeable and self-confident activists. This latter point is extremely relevant for an analysis on rights-making, as ‘existing literature on urban citizenship…tend to focus on external factors that contribute to the rights-claiming struggle, such as structural and spatial factors…Only a few delve into the everyday lives of urban poor themselves, and their organisations’ (Savirani and Saedi 2017: 180).
Therefore, this paper tries to explicitly take notice of the everyday practices by which the urban poor, and the organisations that represent them or try to support them, claim rights. These practices may include negotiation, protest or insurgency, seeking of favours, pity, reciprocity and clientelism (Bénit-Gbaffou and Oldfield 2014, p. 487). In this line of thinking, this paper is heavily influenced by authors such as Holston (2008) and Chatterjee (2004), whose analytical views on citizenship went way beyond a limited interpretation of formal citizen participation. They showed that for many people in this world, especially people in the South, these formal routes are not accessible nor the most effective. Thus, by focusing on everyday practices of citizenship, rather than (only) on practices that may be easily recognized as being ‘political’ or follow formal or traditional pathways towards inclusive decision-making, I want to draw attention to (also) more informal practices by which citizens try to participate in decision-making, claim space or rights. However, as this case will make clear, my analysis in fact also includes formal citizen participation. It shows that slum dwellers do not stick to only alternative practices of citizenship; instead, they use a variety of all sorts of practices that may help them claim their rights to space.
The case of Jakarta thus sheds light on the complexity and messiness of everyday urban politics, in a context of disaster and poverty. Jakarta is an illustrative case of such complexity. On the one hand, it is a city that is not only highly unequal in an economic sense—with pro-elite and neoliberalist housing policies marginalising hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers, and with an estimated 60% of Jakarta’s population living in low-income areas. It is also as a city that is run by state and corporate actors, whilst average citizens (among which, most obviously the city’s poor masses) typically tend to be excluded from decision-making processes (Hellman et al. 2018). Over the past decades, hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers have been evicted from unregistered neighbourhoods, often built alongside rivers. In most recent years, this happened despite political promises by the former governor and later president Jokowi, and related high expectations of civic society that Indonesia’s political system would become more inclusive, as well as protective of the poor. It also happened despite the fact that Jokowi was able to facilitate a relatively open political atmosphere (Savirani and Saedi 2017: 186). This paper will offer one case in which such promises were made and broken, but for now it is useful to get a broader idea of the political context in which this occurred.
Before he ran for president in 2014, in his 2 years of Jakarta governance, Jokowi promised a different approach to the urban poor. He did so in a period where elections were becoming more direct, and, as a result, it was becoming more important to win broad popular support. He sought cooperation with several civic and urban poor organisations to mobilise communities and win votes (Törnquist and Djani 2017: 121). In exchange, overt promises were made to these organisations and communities, including the promise that poor communities would be protected from evictions from land belonging to state-owned enterprises. In this exchange, some civic society and urban poor organisations managed to strike favourable deals with their new, populist-oriented leaders (Törnquist and Djani 2017: 121). As Törnquist and Djani (2017) remark in their analysis of Jakartan and Indonesian politics, ‘Jokowi projected himself as being in favour of direct links with popular and civic partners in society, rather than party bosses and their clienteles’ networks’ (p 127). However, in the years that followed, he wasn’t able to effectively introduce new leadership, nor to stick to promises made to the urban poor. This was due to the fact that Jakarta’s civic and popular partners were relatively weak to start with (as compared to the situation in Solo, where his policies had been more successful), plus the fact that Jokowi’s government was unable to foster them. It also had to do with the fact that Jokowi, once in office, gave priority to transactional politics (through clientelist/populist relations), primarily within the elite. By the end of 2016, the government was rightly accused of neglecting the plight of the poor (Törnquist and Djani 2017: 122), and tens of neighbourhoods had been evicted—with more to come.
Whilst evictions have been framed by authorities as a much-needed disaster response that should avoid further flooding, critics point out that the increasing intervention in Jakarta’s urban form reveals a desire to exert greater control over the city’s space. This is seen as suiting the modernisation agenda of Jakarta’s middle class and elite to ‘clean up’ or ‘develop’ the city’s slums (Simone 2010). The form this ‘development’ takes is moulded by modernist planning ideals, which shape the ways in which the Indonesian government sees the ‘ideal city’ and, most particularly, spaces of informality: as spaces of disorder, anarchy, dirt and criminalisation.
However, on the other hand, it is by no means the case that people in informal areas have no say in how the city is ‘being made’ (Simone 2010). Indeed, squatters and street sellers, as well as civil society and grassroots organisations have always been important and decisive in shaping Jakarta’s spatial and socio-economic environments (Simone 2010; Hellman et al. 2018; Hellman 2015; Wilson 2015). Hence, whilst it is true that there exist social, spatial and legal divides in the city, these divides are sometimes blurred and, to some extent, penetrable. Through practices of citizenship and through negotiating and claiming, or simply by living, working and using Jakarta, even the urban poorest are often able to create and recreate ‘cityness’ (Simone 2010).
This paper pays explicit attention to the ‘blurry’, penetrable divides between formal and informal spaces. It shows that flooding interventions reproduce or even deepen already-existing inequalities, but it also shows that riverbank settlers’ contestation of these policies eventually leads to a rebalancing of urban power. Furthermore, the paper seeks to show that whilst resisting citizenship practices of riverbank settlers can be and sometimes are related to formal institutions and a national state, this is by no means always the case. This finding is in line with what other scholars before me have concluded: as the urban poor typically defy policies imposed on them from above, they often get access to resources and environments not just through formal institutions, but also through resistance and insurgency. Indeed, as Miraftab and Wills (2005, p. 287) note, ‘when formal channels fail, the poor use extremely innovative strategies, which create alternative channels and spaces to assert their rights to the city, negotiate their wants, and actively practice their citizenship’. The paper thus describes several innovative strategies that Jakarta’s poor use to claim space and citizens’ rights, most notably the right to housing. However, as noted, the paper goes beyond these ‘alternative’ strategies and also sheds light on several occasions in which these poor inhabitants have been able to claim space and rights through formal channels and more traditional strategies of citizenship.
Citizenship literature, traditionally, sprang from a (Western) idea that citizenship is defined through membership in the state and a national community and through formal institutions. This idea has been challenged through new forms and practices of urban citizenship, observed in cities all around the world. Similarly, early work on (Western) citizenship has been contested by academics whose thinking stretches beyond a limited interpretation of formal citizen participation, instead drawing attention to the ways in which urban space, rights and citizenship are being negotiated and claimed particularly in the global South (Chatterjee 2004; Holston 2009, 2011; Yiftachel 2012; Bénit-Gbaffou and Oldfield 2014; Millstein 2017). Over the past decade or so, an increasing body of work has thus shifted its focus beyond the historical embeddedness in Western experiences. It has focused rather on the politics of urban citizenship in other parts of the world, which shapes residents’ access to resources and more broadly the construction of their urban citizenship, including everyday practices of negotiation, protest, seeking of favours, pity, reciprocity and clientelism (Bénit-Gbaffou and Oldfield 2014, p. 487). This paper builds upon the work of these scholars. My analysis aligns, for instance, with the observations of James Holston (2009, 2011) and others, that whilst ongoing urbanisation has worsened poverty and inequality in cities worldwide, the struggles of low-income or otherwise marginalised residents for the basic resources of daily life and shelter have also generated new types of citizenship, with people claiming rights to resources, rights to the city and rights to rights (Bénit-Gbaffou and Oldfield 2014).
The data on which the following narrative is based were collected during long-term anthropological fieldwork in the research area conducted by the author between 2010 and 2015. Further data was derived up until June 2019 through maintained personal contact with respondents: visits from and to former respondents, follow-up phone interviews and informal chats through social media channels.