Freedom in Entangled Worlds

West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power

Freedom in Entangled Worlds

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 52 photographs, 4 maps Published: March 2012

Author: Eben Kirksey

Activism, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Australia/New Zealand/Oceania

Eben Kirksey first went to West Papua, the Indonesian-controlled half of New Guinea, as an exchange student in 1998. His later study of West Papua's resistance to the Indonesian occupiers and the forces of globalization morphed as he discovered that collaboration, rather than resistance, was the primary strategy of this dynamic social movement. Accompanying indigenous activists to Washington, London, and the offices of the oil giant BP, Kirksey saw the revolutionaries' knack for getting inside institutions of power and building coalitions with unlikely allies, including many Indonesians. He discovered that the West Papuans' pragmatic activism was based on visions of dramatic transformations on coming horizons, of a future in which they would give away their natural resources in grand humanitarian gestures, rather than watch their homeland be drained of timber, gold, copper, and natural gas. During a lengthy, brutal occupation, West Papuans have harbored a messianic spirit and channeled it in surprising directions. Kirksey studied West Papua's movement for freedom while a broad-based popular uprising gained traction from 1998 until 2008. Blending ethnographic research with indigenous parables, historical accounts, and narratives of his own experiences, he argues that seeking freedom in entangled worlds requires negotiating complex interdependencies.


“[A]n interesting hybrid of an anthropological study crossed with an accessible history of the separatist movement in West Papua, Indonesia. . . . The book provides an engrossing history of the past two decades of this region, as well as a pointed narrative that implicates the Indonesian government and the multinational corporations seeking West Papua's natural resources in grave human rights abuses and promotion of state terror. . . . [A] useful addition to undergraduate collections on human rights and politics, and on contemporary Southeast Asia. Recommended. All academic levels/libraries.” — S. Maxim, Choice

“Kirksey's highly-analytical, richly-detailed account of the international, Indonesian and local power realities that underly the current Papuan People's struggle is groundbreaking. No sound understanding of that struggle is possible without this analysis.” — Ed McWilliams, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network

“[A]n extraordinary and also risk laden piece of fieldwork. . . . [Kirksey’s] banyan is both domination and subversion, growing down toward the dirty but nourishing soil of history and up toward the light of future possibilities,” — Celia Lowe, Kroeber Anthropological Society Journal

“Readers cannot help ask themselves at what point does the consumer of these resources also take responsibility for their first world lifestyle? Eben Kirksey answers that questioning by finishing the book with a call for an ethical and political transformation through the imaging of open-ended possibilities, a powerful lesson he learnt from imbuing the spirit of the merdeka and so the spirit of the land of West Papua.” — C. F. Black, Leonardo Reviews

“The struggle in West Papua is as extraordinary as it is complex. But Kirksey is a gifted narrator and patient guide. Combining metaphor, mysticism and allegory with the hard positivist data of the most rigorous investigator, Kirksey delivers a brilliant read wrapped up with enormous insight. He does the struggle for freedom in West Papua a great service.” — Jason MacLeod, Inside Indonesia

“With its highly creative, mid-range theoretical innovations Freedom in Entangled Worlds will be of special interest to theoretical anthropologists studying social movements. Its brevity and adventurous tone will make the book an excellent fit in a theory class for talented undergraduates or junior grad students. Although I enjoy dabbling in French post-structural literary theory and psychoanalysis it has never been clear to me until now just how we are to connect that to the ethnographic. I felt that I came away from this book with a clearer understanding of some difficult primary authors and an appreciation for how anthropology can be relevant on a global stage.” — Matt Thompson, Savage Minds

“[O]ne of the delights of Kirksey’s book is his determination to see events from multiple angles and to bring together a wide range of well researched materials to tell the political story of Papua from a resolutely human perspective. We are treated to wonderful descriptions of vibrant political characters and detailed descriptions of infamous encounters.”  — Leslie Butts, American Ethnologist

“As an ethnographic account, Kirksey’s analysis is beneficial for an understanding of the complexity of Papuan aspirations...” — Budi Hernawan, Contemporary South Asia

“This very rich combination of personal reportage, history, interviews, and blow-by-blow narration of conflicts will draw its readers closely into the entanglements it describes.” — Andrew J. Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart (Strathern), Journal of Anthropological Research

“[E]xtensively researched…. [I]t will be welcomed by scholars and historians seeking to understand the many entanglements of this part of New Guinea.  It raises important questions about the collusions between corporations and governments, and can help us read between the lines of news articles and annual reports.” — Larry M. Lake, Pacific Affairs

“I would recommend this book to those who are interested in reading about indigenous independence movements, people who are curious about how even remote areas of the world often play an important part in the world system, and to sociologists and anthropologists who are interested in conducting an ethnography that is very informative, scholarly and enjoyable to read.” — Michael A. Long, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

“The persuasive insight and analysis applied to what he learns usefully moves beyond anthropology and draws from debates in political science, cultural studies and human rights discourses to explain events both in their localised context, and in their relationship to wider international phenomena.” — Marcus Campbell, Anthropological Forum

Freedom in Entangled Worlds would be useful not only to students and researchers interested in West Papua itself, but also to those looking at how social movements arise and are sustained, the nature of current, ongoing independence struggles and, above all, the entangled nature of power in the twenty-first century.” — Morgan Harrington, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

“Much of the interest of the book lies in Eben Kirksey’s beautifully rendered accounts of his encounters with Papuan activists and leaders, and in his analysis of key events.” — Edward Aspinall, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Freedom in Entangled Worlds is an impressive and poignant study of the fight for self-determination, the interplay of collaboration and imagination, and what it means to inhabit a world of hope... Freedom in Entangled Worlds is essential reading for anyone interested in the political history of West Papua.”  — Judith Bovensiepen, PoLAR

“Freedom in Entangled Worlds is an excellent ethnographic investigation of the independence movement in West Papua and of its finding "freedom in entangled worlds" after the fall of Soeharto in 1998. It is courageously and rigorously researched, elegantly written, and — with its photographs of West Papua — visually rich.” — Jacqueline A. Siapno, Sojourn

Freedom in Entangled Worlds offers fresh insights into political, cultural, and colonial conditions in West Papua; it is much more than an explication of indigenous activism and Indonesian rebuttals. Kirksey does much to improve our understanding of the entangled worlds at war in West Papua as political activists encounter the Indonesian reform movement, government security forces, and global capitalists.”   — Jenny Munro, Contemporary Pacific

"A clear understanding of the international diplomatic history that brought West Papuans under Indonesian rule, and of a widespread desire to escape that rule through performing sovereignty claims for outsiders."  — David Webster, Comparative Studies in Society and History

"An amazing book by an activist ethnologist is a place to learn more about West Papua and how it has struggled to achieve its goal of independence from Indonesia." — Matthew da Silva, Happy Antipodean blog

“Here at last is the account I can unreservedly recommend to anyone interested in the courageous people and fragile geography of West Papua. Eben Kirksey makes accessible the unique imagery of West Papuans long subject to racism, corporate exploitation, and a brutal military. Marshaling impeccable scholarship, he transcends conventional political ideology to define a form of conflict resolution relevant to many ‘entangled worlds.’ Bravo!” — Max White, Amnesty International USA

"In a page-turning blend of cultural analysis, human rights reportage, and ethnography, Eben Kirksey documents the West Papuan freedom struggle. In the process, he provides keen insight into the movement's dynamics and the desires that have led West Papuans to rise up against seemingly insurmountable odds. Kirksey clarifies the possibilities and predicaments they face, and he makes sense of the multiple times, mundane and messianic, in which many West Papuans seem to live." — Danilyn Rutherford, author of Laughing at Leviathan: Sovereignty and Audience in West Papua

"In this remarkable book, Eben Kirksey attends to West Papuan indigenous thinkers and activists as they craft practical, surprising, and generative freedom projects in the fissures of power exercised by Indonesian occupiers, global financial interests, and foreign governments. Freedom in Entangled Worlds is shaped by explorations of complex messianisms, attention to the pragmatics of unexpected collaborations, and Kirksey's own unassuming and sustained commitment to the worlds and dreams of his West Papuan teachers." — Donna Haraway, University of California, Santa Cruz


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eben Kirksey is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Deakin University in Australia.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface: Flying Fish, Flying Tourists, September 1994 ix

List of Key Characters xv

Introduction 1

Part I: Breakout, 1998–2000

Interlude: The King Has Left the Palace, Java, May 1998 23

1. The Messianic Multiple, July 1998 29

2. From the Rhizome to the Banyan, 1998– 2000 55

Part II: Plateau, 2000–2002

Interlude: Freeport Sweet Potato Distribution Inc. 83

3. Entangled Worlds at War, 2000–2001 90

4. Don't Use Your Data as a Pillow, June 13, 2001 125

5. Innocents Murdered, Innocent Murderers, August 31, 2002 138

Part III. Horizons, 2002–2028

Interlude: Bald Grandfather Willy 175

6. First Voice Honey Center, 2002–2008 182

Epilogue: The Tube, 2006–2028 210

Acknowledgments 221

Notes 225

Bibliography 283

Index 301

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5134-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5122-1
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