Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Anthropology

First Advisor

Andrew M. Carruthers

Second Advisor

Kathleen D. Hall

Abstract

Amidst the Indonesian government’s stated ambition to become a top global economy by 2045, talk of potensi, or “potentiality,” is everywhere: from policymakers who identify their goals as “unleashing the country’s economic potentials” to rural youth who express their hopes to “open their inner potentials.” This dissertation takes the ubiquitously present and multifaceted concept of potentiality as an analytical entry point into exploring the relationship between people’s descriptions of latent capacities, warnings of threats, and aspirations for particular futures and processes of development policy and practice. Drawing on the anthropological literatures on valuation, market making, and education, this dissertation studies how policymakers, educators, and students at various societal scales in Indonesia engage in everyday practices of valuation as they take part in the collective actualization of a development vision.

Beginning in Jakarta, Part I focuses on a global network of policymakers who regularly declare that Indonesia’s future welfare depends on (1) realizing the existing, but as-yet undeveloped “economic potentials” of the country’s margins; and (2) ensuring the positive potentials of Indonesia’s burgeoning “demographic bonus” subsumes the negative ones. These policymakers position the vocational “skilling” of rural youth as necessary means of driving economic growth. Turning next to Bone, South Sulawesi, a so-labeled “marginal” locale, Part II examines the everyday activities at a fisheries vocational high school, where educators both respond to national-driven demands as they prepare a specific kind of “work-ready” graduate: “the potentializing student.” The part concludes by exploring how young people evaluate their own potential futures vis-à-vis the multi-scalar claims made about the potentials of their nation, their region, and their own lives.This dissertation contributes to discussions about development by highlighting the complex cultural work that goes into enacting policy visions. Furthermore, it identifies two key ramifications for the future-potential-oriented societal push observed in Indonesia: (1) the communal deflection of social ethics in the present through justifications for future good; and (2) the social abandonment of societal members who are deemed surplus to achieving the country’s vision of success.

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Available to all on Sunday, September 14, 2025

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