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Axel Fredholm

Axel Fredholm

Senior Lecturer | Director of Studies

Axel Fredholm

Beyond the Catchwords : Adjustment and Community Response to Participatory Development in Post-Suharto Indonesia


  • Axel Fredholm

Summary, in English

The emphasis on people-centred development is distinctive in today’s development discourse. This is noticeable in catchwords like democratic decentralisation, participation, and empowerment, which are highly esteemed among NGOs, donors, and policymakers in recipient countries.

The benefits of participatory approaches are several. When people influence the process of development, policies and projects become more effective since they reflect beneficiary perspectives on local needs and utilisation of resources. In the political field decentralisation is believed to have similar advantages. When power is relocated from central to local level and citizens are allowed to elect local representatives, decentralised decision-making may raise the level of accountability and induce institutional responsiveness to local needs.

While this assumes that people are predisposed to reap the benefits of participation and take part in politics and planning without restraint, the capacity and willingness to participate is a debated issue. There is evidence that the utility of participation is difficult to integrate with the conditions at local level and that the behavioural assumptions are unpredictable. The concept is allegedly a utopia that takes for granted that all human beings are inclined to capitalize on participatory programmes and policies.

With reference to Indonesia, this study explains what happens when people participate in irrigation management and community-driven development. Based on interviews and field observations in Bantul Regency, Java, it examines the extent to which farmers, water users, and rural dwellers fulfil the behavioural assumptions. It also highlights how participation influences agriculture and rural development in material terms, e.g. how it affects water distribution, cultivation techniques, road constructions etc.

The study concludes that the residents in Bantul make the most of the opportunity to participate. As a result, water management, agriculture, and community development work efficiently. The participatory spirit may be explained by the prevalence of reciprocal attitudes towards community development at local level. Further explanations are the ecological foundations of irrigation which create incentives to participate, and the impact of supportive elements in the organisational approach to participation. However, the enthusiasm may also be a consequence of the authoritarian legacy in Indonesian politics. Since participation in community development was compulsory under Suharto, it is difficult to know if people participate to appease the authorities or if they do it on a voluntary basis. Taking this into consideration the outcome is contradictory and may undermine the capacity of autonomous decision-making.


  • Sociology

Publishing year





Lund Disserations in Sociology 82

Document type



Department of Sociology, Lund University


  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • community development
  • agriculture
  • irrigation
  • reformasi
  • Indonesia
  • decentralisation
  • Bantul
  • participation
  • Java
  • sociology
  • sociologi




  • Göran Djurfeldt
  • Katarina Sjöberg


  • ISSN: 1102-4712

Defence date

16 May 2008

Defence time


Defence place

Kulturens auditorium


  • Taylor Peter (Doctor)