The Journal of Asian Studies

Research Article

Rumors, Pamphlets, and the Politics of Paranoia in Indonesia

Nils Bubandt

Abstract

This paper analyzes the role of rumor as a mobilizing agent in communal violence. Taking as its point of departure a series of violent clashes in North Maluku in Indonesia during 1999 and 2000, it shows that rumor often took a written form. Outlining the contested origins and composite effects of a particular rumor—as it appeared on the political scene in leaflet form—I argue that these “hardcopy rumors” became social agents in the paranoid politics of the “Maluku wars.” Recent scholarship has rightly stressed the mobilizing role of rumor. This paper demonstrates how the affectivity of rumor, usually attributed to its spontaneous and anonymous nature, may in fact be boosted by the authority of writing. It suggests that “xeroxlore,” the circulation of written and photocopied rumors, may play an essential role in generating the murky political atmosphere in which sectarian violence is instigated, enacted, and justified.

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