In January 2021, a case that became known as ‘digital-nomad-gate’ gripped both Indonesia’s social and conventional media channels and was also reported around the world. An American woman living in Bali was deported following a series of tweets in which she described her enviable and ‘elevated’ lifestyle there, encouraging others to follow. Amid a pandemic that had hit Bali’s economy particularly hard, her tweets went viral and led to a public backlash condemning her for a lack of cultural sensitivity and awareness of her own privilege. The woman was eventually deported for flouting immigration rules, although she claimed the true reasons were related to her sexuality and race.
This is just one of many cases in recent years which, due in great part to the prevalence of social media, have caught out foreigners in Indonesia for breaking laws and flouting or ignoring social and cultural norms and sensitivities. These range from taking inappropriate photos at sacred sights to ignoring pandemic protocols and refusing to abide by laws and acknowledge the right of local authorities to enforce them.
At the same time, in order to boost economies ravaged by the pandemic, government authorities have sought to attract more foreigners as so-called ‘digital nomads’ or ‘mobile professionals’ to live and work in Bali and elsewhere in the country.
So, who are these new expatriates and what is their motivation for coming to Indonesia? What can the history of expatriates in Indonesia tell us about these more recent conflicts related to cultural awareness and privilege? And do the recent tensions reflect the stresses brought by the pandemic, or are we witnessing a real shift in how Indonesians perceive foreigners living and working in their country?
In this week’s episode of Talking Indonesia, Dr Jemma Purdey chats to Anne-Meike Fechter, Reader in Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex, and author of ‘Transnational Lives: Expatriates in Indonesia’, Ashgate Aldershot, 2007. Her article ‘Expatriates, privilege and racism’, is published in Inside Indonesia, Apr-June 2021.
In 2023, the Talking Indonesia podcast is co-hosted by Dr Jemma Purdey from Monash University, Tito Ambyo from RMIT, Dr Elisabeth Kramer from the University of New South Wales and Dr Jacqui Baker from Murdoch University.