Dissertation Abstracts

Trade In Magic amongst Indonesia Middle Class Indonesians In Modern Society

Author: Haryanto, Bangun Sentosa Dwi, bangunsentosadh@gmail.com
Department: Faculty of Arts and Bussiness
University: University of The Sunshine Coast, Australia
Supervisor: Phillip Abblet
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Trade in Magic , Magic , Middle Class Indonesians , Jakarta Indonesia
Areas of Research: Religion , Social Classes and Social Movements , Regional and Urban Development


This thesis aims to investigate the significance of magic in modern Indonesian society, particularly amongst the middle-class in Jakarta. It describes and analyses both a life-style and ‘market’ that have developed around the trade in magic occurring in the Indonesian capital. In doing so, it addresses the paradoxical problem of the relationship between the use of magic, typically associated with traditional communities, and the modernity of middle-class Indonesian society. The latter is a social grouping that strongly identifies with a “modern” ethos, that is rational, educated, scientific and, in the Indonesian context, religious. The research data was mostly generated through in-depth qualitative interviews and direct field observation that have been developed into ethnographic case-studies. These methods were informed by a methodological approach derived from the ‘structural constructivism’ of Pierre Bourdieu, whose concept of “cultural capital” was employed to theorise the findings and frame the argument. Accordingly, it is contended that magic, rather than being a pre-modern residue, constitutes a vital and distinctive form of cultural capital that is a concomitant and constitutive feature of Indonesian modernity. Moreover, the uniqueness of Indonesian modernity in the social field of Jakarta warrants a further specification of the types of cultural capital at play and the decisive role performed by what is characterised in this thesis as “magical capital”, which serves as a potent resource for empowering practitioners and clients alike.

The idea of magical capital enhances and extends both Bourdieu’s theory and the current sociological understanding of magic in modern Indonesia. Sociologically, magical capital does not stand apart from society but is a form of cultural capital that valorizes magic (magical goods and services) as a major means for accumulating, monopolizing and exchanging other forms of capital to optimize an actor’s position and opportunities within the social field. It is shown that in Jakarta, magic is an integral feature of urban people’s habitus; based in an embodied, historical and everyday-life experience of spiritualism and supernaturally-oriented practices that have long been considered an effective strategy for obtaining life goals and needs. In the context of rapid globalization and the development of consumer capitalism in modern Indonesia, the competitive demands for material resources, careers, prestige, affection and other life-purposes has also driven upwards the demand for magic as one of the practical ‘means’ available for realising such purposes.

Finally the thesis shows why for middle-class Indonesians there is no contradiction between either religion or science and magic. This is because magic, as with both science and religion, is seen as occupying a discrete space, and having its own function in the structure of Indonesian society. This is a space that operates according to an analogous logic and ‘market’ demands as can be found in the political and economic domains of Indonesian society. Within this structure, magic continues to play its uniquely powerful and culturally specific role in negotiating the unrelenting demands of global capitalist modernity in everyday-life.

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