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15. Location technologists: the politics of digital media in a ‘special region’ of Indonesia

March 16, 2015

Chapter proposal to Location Technologies in International Context, Rowan Wilken (Swinburne Uni of Tech), Gerard Goggin (U of Sydney) & Heather Horst (RMIT), eds.

John Postill
RMIT University
16 March 2015

As noted in the book’s Introduction, there is a growing technical literature on the proliferation of ‘location technologies’, particularly in North America and Europe (e.g. Goswami 2012, Williams et al 2011). Largely missing from this literature, however, is a conceptual vocabulary that can place these and other location technologies in different cultural and political contexts, especially in the global South. The aim of this chapter is precisely to contribute to this theoretical advancement. It does so by shifting the focus of inquiry from the technologies to the technologists (cf. Postill 2014) involved in contemporary location practices, thereby opening up a space to address questions of local power and historical agency. To this end, the chapter proposes the concept of ‘location technologists’ – those human actors with a stake in the use of digital technologies for local politics (broadly defined), e.g. local engineers, journalists, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, politicians. Drawing from anthropological fieldwork in the ‘special region’ (daerah istimewa) of Yogyakarta, a cultural and tourist hub in central Java, Indonesia, it maps out the space of possibilities within which location technologists employ social and mobile media to struggle over local issues. The analysis compares four recent local campaigns – ‘Jogja Istimewa’, ‘#SaveFlorence’, ‘Visual rubbish’ and ‘Behind the hotels’ – and places them on a matrix along two axes: ideology and geography, finding a correlation between the ideological orientation of a campaign and its geographical reach. That is, whilst the two social justice campaigns found mostly local audiences, the ‘Jogja’ branding/reputation campaigns reached national audiences, at least for a short while. The remainder of the chapter seeks to explain this correlation, and its implications for our comparative understanding of location technologies, in post-Bourdieuan, field-theoretical terms (Fligstein and McAdam 2012, Postill 2011, 2015, forthcoming).

Back to Freedom technologists series…


Fligstein, N., & McAdam, D. (2012) A Theory of fields. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goswami, S. (2012). Indoor location technologies. Springer Science & Business Media.

Postill, J. (2011) Localizing the Internet: An Anthropological Account. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

Postill, J. (2014). Freedom technologists and the new protest movements: a theory of protest formulas. Convergence 20 (3), 402-418.

Postill, J. (2015). Fields: Dynamic configurations of practices, games, and socialities. In V. Amit (ed.) Thinking Through Sociality: An Anthropological Interrogation of Key Concepts. Oxford: Berghahn.

Postill, J. forthcoming. Field theory, media change and the new citizen movements: the case of Spain’s ‘real democracy turn’, 2011-2014.

Williams, G., King, P., & Doughty, K. (2011). Practical issues in the selection and use of GPS tracking and location technologies to support vulnerable people at risk of becoming lost or threatened. Journal of Assistive Technologies, 5(3), 146-151.

Biographical note

John Postill is Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University, Melbourne (2013-2016), and Digital Anthropology Fellow at University College London (UCL). His publications include Localizing the Internet (2011), Media and Nation Building (2006) and the co-edited volume Theorising Media and Practice (2010, with Birgit Bräuchler). Currently he is conducting anthropological research on new forms of digital activism and civic engagement in Indonesia, Spain and globally. He is also writing a book on the new protest movements as well as the co-edited volume Theorising Media and Change (with Elisenda Ardèvol and Sirpa Tenhunen).



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