Friday Forum: Doreen Lee

Trust, Theft, and Risk in Jakarta

Doreen Lee

Associate Professor of Anthropology
Northeastern University

October 23, 2020
NOON – 1:30 P.M.
Online presentation followed by Q&A


This paper describes the complex landscape of trust, credit, and finance in Jakarta’s new economy from the perspective of ordinary Indonesians who feel simultaneously empowered and constantly defrauded. Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, is considered the infrastructural and economic laboratory for Indonesia’s new economy. As e-commerce and financial technologies alter consumption patterns and shape the urban aspirations for millions of Indonesians, the risks and advantages associated with increased financialization have had a profound impact on ordinary citizens. Indonesians are increasingly drawn into minor transactions that habituate and concretize the practice of speculative consumption and trust-based interactions with anonymous strangers. Yet the financialization of everyday life has also yielded victims of financial fraud and deceit, in particular through scams (modus) that rely on legal and regulatory gaps to succeed.  Tracking the connections between speculation and fraud, this talk analyzes the hidden points of vulnerability in celebratory narratives of financial innovation and economic growth and explores the reasons why Indonesians often feel defrauded by a boom economy.


Doreen Lee is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Northeastern University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociocultural Anthropology from Cornell University. Her first book Activist Archives: Youth Culture and the Political Past in Indonesia examines the strong tradition of youth activism in 20th-century Indonesian politics through a cultural, urban, and historical lens. Activist Archives was awarded the 2019 Benda Prize in Southeast Asian studies from the Association of Asian Studies. Her current research focuses on urban precarity and grassroots economies in Jakarta, Indonesia.