Archipelagic "Potentials": Education, Labor, and Infrastructures in Indonesia
Jessica Peng

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

In the sprawling archipelagic nation of Indonesia, education policymakers in the country's mega-metropolitan capital and youth attending a remote fisheries vocational school in South Sulawesi are connected by a common thread: their everyday engagement with the concept of potensi, or ``potential.`` Framed by the central government's commitment to ``develop Indonesia from the margins`` by leveraging the ``economic potentials`` of the country's poorest areas and ensuring adequate human capital are available to support localized development efforts, this ethnographic study attends to the activities of vocational education and workforce development across three interconnected domains: (1) national education policymaking; (2) education-to-work public-private partnerships; and (3) vocational schooling. The study discerns how linkages between new infrastructures, emergent markets, and novel educational practices shape conceptualizations of potentiality at different levels of Indonesian society. It further explores how these conceptions of potentiality guide the terms through which social actors pursue their futures in the areas of education and labor. In the aggregate, the study shows how various ideas of potentiality?formed through people's descriptions of latent capacities, warnings against undesirable outcomes, and aspirations for particular futures?give vocational education new cultural meanings in contemporary Indonesia. It also offers broader theoretical insights into how potentiality serves as a key mechanism through which education problems, solutions, and visions are formed.
About Jessica Peng
Jessica Peng is a joint Ph.D. candidate in Education, Culture, and Society and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, with a concentration in International Education Development. She has broad research interests in the social production of difference, processes of social and geographic mobility, and the workings of education reforms. Her current research examines Indonesia's efforts to become a top global economy, key to which is a focus on developing ``skilled`` youth labor forces across some of the most marginal areas of the country. The study analyzes how the vocational training of young people have come to be viewed as an ``infrastructural`` prerequisite for national development and, more specifically, how efforts of national policymaking and local implementation orient youth to pursue particular kinds of futures. This project has been supported by a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, an American Institute for Indonesian Studies-Council for American Overseas Research Centers Fellowship, and a University of Pennsylvania Graduate and Professional Student Assembly-Provost Fellowship for Interdisciplinary Innovation. Prior to her doctoral studies, Jessica taught as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and a Vassar Maguire Teaching Fellow in Indonesia. She has also served as a research specialist for several large-scale education projects in Indonesia, including the USAID Higher Education Leadership and Management Project, Asian Development Bank's Polytechnics Education Development Project, and Room to Read's Digital Library program. She earned her B.A. in International Studies at Vassar College and her M.S.Ed. in Education, Culture, and Society at the University of Pennsylvania.

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