How Indonesians Argue

There is widespread recognition among scholars that people in different societies engage with and represent themselves to one another in culturally distinct ways. Central to such practices is how they argue publicly both in the sense of formulate argumentation and discuss, debate and dispute matters that they consider relevant.

One reason that such issues are little aired is the fear of inferential racism, which in some form underlay two of the most important arguments in Anthropology: the Primitive Thought Debate and the Rationality Debate. The hegemonic and ethnocentric assumption which fuelled both was that whatever Euro-American canons of academic reasoning were current at the time were the self-evident standard against which everyone else’s should be judged. If, however, we treat such ‘Western’ assumptions as equally cultural, interesting problems and possibilities arise. As the criteria for the critical study of such assumptions presuppose precisely the reasoning that is under interrogation, there is the risk of circularity. What would happen, for instance, if we used others’ criteria of argument to examine the theory and practice of Western rationality, whatever that is? An obvious problem is that proponents of this rationality disagree among themselves as to what it is. More serious still is the reliance on ideal concepts, decontextualized abstractions and broad generalizations divorced from the social circumstances in which practices of reasoning, arguing, discussing, disagreeing and so forth occur. It might indeed be useful to ask how different groups or classes of people - including that diverse category, European academics - argue in different contexts, at which point it becomes clear not only that there are significant cultural differences, but that actual practices of argument remain almost entirely unstudied.

It would be intriguing to explore how styles of argument vary in practice within any particular society under different circumstances and what the roles, say, class, professional and social status, gender, ethnicity, religion, age and so on might play. Another reason that such inquiry is rare is that it requires an unusual depth of knowledge and understanding not only of spoken and written language, but also of social and cultural conventions and how these work in practice in different contexts. The present project concentrates therefore on Indonesia which, being an archipelago comprising hundreds of different societies, is itself extraordinary diverse. So, to give inquiry more coherence, in the first instance we have chosen to examine practices of argument in the widest sense in two closely-related islands: Java and Bali.

The project is open and its results will be available online. Two symposia took place in Oxfordshire in July 2015 and June 2016, as well as a workshop at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta in February 2016. We are organizing a double panel at the EUROSEAS conference in Oxford in August 2017. The obvious priority is to involve Indonesians and to hold workshops, symposia or conferences at Indonesian universities. We hope that these papers will stimulate debate and we welcome comments, suggestions and criticisms.

How Indonesians Argue - Oxford Symposium 2015

Outline - Original proposal

Fox - Tradition as argument

Hobart - Theoretical background paper

Hobart - Beyond words

Picard - The polemics between Surya Kanta and Bali Adnjana

Theodoridou - Basa Bapak-Bapak and what is the point of speaking?

Wakeling - Music as argument - two trees and a rhizome

How Indonesians Argue - Oxford Symposium 2016

Fox - Of families, futures and fear in a Balinese ward

Hobart - Of Popes and soaps

Hobart - Talking to God

Picard - From Agama Hindu Bali to Agama Hindu

Worsley - The games painters play


How Indonesians Argue - EuroSEAS conference Oxford  August 2016 (details)

How Indonesians Argue - Panel proposal

© Mark Hobart 2015