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Welcome to the homepage of the 2011 Conference on Decentralization and Democratization in Southeast Asia




Conference Report: 

Decentralization and Democratization in Southeast Asia  


Nestled in the green foothills of the Black Forest, among the “Bächle” of Freiburg’s medieval streets, an international and multidisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners assembled for three days in June to assess the status of “Decentralization and Democratization in Southeast Asia.” The conference was sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and held under the auspices of the Freiburg University’s Southeast Asia Studies Program Konferenzberichte 85 ( entitled “Grounding Area Studies in Social Practice”. With a special section on a decade of decentralization in Indonesia, the conference highlighted the importance of the region’s dynamism within a globalized context of decentralized democratization. In the wake of the Cold War, ten years after the pioneering “big bang” programs in the Philippines, newly democratizing Indonesia embarked on even bolder decentralization reforms. Simultaneously, Vietnam’s incremental decentralization process contrasts with the recent military coup and political unrest in Thailand, and decentralization programs primarily in service of neo-patrimonialism in Cambodia. The regional diversity of decentralization and its complex entrainment with central bureaucracies, entrenched militaries, and money politics provided key areas of focus for the conference. In particular, the ten year anniversary of the implementation of Indonesia’s decentralization offered a critical moment to evaluate the achievements and shortcomings of these economic, historical, political, and cultural processes.

An evening reception hosted by the City of Freiburg offered an opportunity for the conference committee chairs, Günther Schulze, Jürgen Rüland, and Judith Schlehe (University of Freiburg) to welcome more than 150 conference participants from Europe, North America and Southeast Asia and to introduce the conference topic. The following Thursday morning, an opening statement by Günther Schulze on a decade of decentralization in Indonesia highlighted the dynamism, diversity, and relative under-theorization of decentralization in Southeast Asia as a fundamental justification for creating the conference and crafting its international and interdisciplinary design. In the first of three plenary sessions that followed, historian and anthropologist Henk Schulte Nordholt (KITLV, Leiden) presented “Decentralization and Democracy in Indonesia: Strengthening Citizenship or Regional Elites?” This session initiated the first of a lively series of discussions originating from questions about anti-corruption measures, cultural democracy, geographical factors, social networking technology, and the entrenchment of local elites within decentralization processes. The session made clear that decentralization and democratization do not always coincide, an insight corroborated by other conference contributions. Following two plenary sessions from Marcus Mietzner (Australian National University, Canberra), “Indonesia ten years after decentralization: local identity and the survival of the nation-state,” and Neil McCulloch (University of Sussex, Brighton) “Does better local governance improve district growth performance in Indonesia?” two afternoon parallel sessions included a total of more than forty individual presentations within six separate panels. These panels approached decentralization from interdisciplinary perspectives ranging from issues of local government proliferation (pemekaran), disaster risk management, public service delivery, fiscal decentralization, economic growth, local identity, political discourse, forest usage, corruption, and religion.

Braving a typical evening June rain shower and a brief cable car journey to the foothills of the Schwarzwald, participants found scenic and delicious refuge in the 86 ASIEN 121 (Oktober 2011) Restaurant Dattler with a dinner speech by The Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to Germany, his Excellency Dr. Eddy Pratomo. On Friday morning, a third parallel session offered seven panels with more than thirty individual presentations ranging from topics of “Decentralization and Local Elites” to “Culture and Media.” A late morning Round Table discussion, “Past Experiences and the Future of Democratization and Decentralization in Indonesia” prompted a provocative debate from panelists Jörg-Werner Haas (GIZ Indonesia), Heru Subiyantoro (Indonesian Ministry of Finance), William Wallace (World Bank), and Andy Yentriyani (Commission on Violence against Women, Indonesia). A conference closing speech by Judith Schlehe highlighted the value of an interdisciplinary approach and area studies focus when exploring decentralization from a grounded perspective linked to social practices of democratization. As conference organizers asserted, “the outcome of this renegotiation of governance structures, economic patterns and cultural identifications is by no means clear.” Nevertheless, this transnational gathering of academics and practitioners generated timely analysis and created much-needed debate charting developments in decentralized and democratic processes within the context of an unpredictable Southeast Asian future.

Eric J. Haanstad

The conference report was published in:
Asien - The German Journal on Contemporary Asia, Nr. 121, Oktober 2011, pp. 84-86   

Please find a Conference Review written by Neil McCulloch here.


Download the 
programme as PDF

The full programme is available as pdf (please click on the image on the right).

The following table provides only an overview of the conference programme.

Download the Conference Guide as PDF

  From 15th to 17th of June 2011 in Freiburg/ Germany

18.30 hours



Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Welcoming Reception by the City of Freiburg in the City Hall, Gerichtslaube















Thursday, 16 June 2011

  • Opening Conference by Prof. Günther Schulze (Building KGI, room 1010)
  • Ten Years of Indonesia's Decentralization: Trends, Achievements and Shortcomings
  • First Plenary: Henk Schulte-Nordholt: Decentralization and Democracy in Indonesia: Strengthening Citizenship or Regional Elites?
  • Coffe break
  • Second Plenary: Marcus Mietzner: Indonesia ten years after decentralization: local identity and the survival of the nation-state
  • Third Plenary: Neil McCulloch (with Edmund Malesky): Does better local governance improve district growth performance in Indonesia?
  • Lunch (Mensa)
  • Parallel sessions A (1-6)
  • Coffe Break
  • Parallel sessions B (1-6)
  • Conference Dinner (Restaurant Dattler










Friday, 17 June 2011

  • Parallel sessions C (1-7)
  • Coffee break
  • Round table: Past Experiences and the Future of Democratization and Decentralization in Indonesia (Building KG I, Room 1010)
  • Conference Closing by Prof. Judith Schlehe
  • Lunch (Mensa)
  • Social & Cultural Programme: Trip to the Black Forest and St. Peter (visit of the monastry and the old library); short walk in the black forest; coffee and cake.
  • Arrival in Freiburg

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Important Dates and Deadlines

Extended abstract submission

  • Deadline for the abstract submission: 15th of February 2011

Notification of acceptance

  • Reply by conveners: 11st of March 2011

Registration period

  • Begin of conference registration period: 11st of March 2011
  • Conference fee:  50 €

Please note: Students (including PhD Fellows) will be exempted from the conference fee provided that they can prove their student status. The fee will be paid in cash at the Conference Registration Office upon arrival.

Paper submission



  • Deadline for the paper submission: 15th of May 2011



Please note: The conference conveners encourage the submission of theory-guided papers that make theoretically and methodologically innovative contributions to the state of the art enriching the empirical and descriptive analysis of the many dimensions of the democratisation and decentralization processes in Southeast Asia. The length of the paper should be between 7.000 and 10.000 words. 

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Call for Papers

Decentralization and Democratization in Southeast Asia
with a special section on 10 years of decentralization in Indonesia

The post-Cold War period has witnessed major shifts in the quest for more democratic and more decentralized governance structures in Southeast Asia. With its “big bang” decentralization program launched in 1991, the Philippines spearheaded these changes. A decade later, in 2001, Indonesia embarked upon an even more ambitious decentralization and democratization process and has now become one of the biggest democracies in the world. Also Vietnam is undergoing a decentralization process since the late 1990s, albeit more incrementally than Indonesia and the Philippines.

Dowload CfP (PDF)
Download CfP as PDF

Yet, democratization and concomitant governance reforms in the region are fragile as the 2006 coup and recent political unrest in Thailand suggest. Decentralization reforms have to contend with the resistance of major veto players ranging from the central bureaucracy to the military and entrenched local elites. This resistance is intertwined with cultural (re)constructions, identity politics and popular representations. The outcome of this renegotiation of governance structures, economic patterns and cultural identifications is by no means clear. It often leads to unexpected results which are not always in conformity with the objectives of the reformers. This conference is devoted to the scholarly analysis of these changes and a debate about the developments ahead.

A special section of the conference is devoted to commemorate – and analyze – 10 years of decentralization in Indonesia. After a decade of decentralization, it is time to evaluate and to assess decentralization’s achievements and shortcomings within economy and political processes as well as for social and cultural discourses.

The conference pursues an interdisciplinary approach and intends to bring together scholars from economics, political science, public administration, anthropology, history, and related disciplines. It is organized by the Freiburg Southeast Asian Study Group at the University of Freiburg (

You are cordially invited to submit an extended abstract (300 words) online by the 15th of February 2011 at this website.

We look forward to meeting you in Freiburg!

Günther Schulze

Jürgen Rüland

Judith Schlehe

(program committee)

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