Nine-Tenths of the LawEnduring Dispossession in Indonesia

Nine-Tenths of the LawEnduring Dispossession in Indonesia

Christian Lund

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780300251074

Publisher: Yale University Press


The old aphorism “possession is nine-tenths of the law” is particularly relevant in Indonesia, which has seen a string of regime changes and a shifting legal landscape for property claims. Ordinary people struggle to legalize their possessions and claim rights in competition with different branches of government, as well as police, army, and private gangs. Some people acquire land, but more seem to lose it when their lack of wealth, knowledge, language, connections, and organization leaves them vulnerable. Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but the last tenth, recognition, still matters a great deal. Moreover, recognition often takes the form of legalization, through efforts to make claims and decisions appear legal. And, crucially, this very plausibility of legality can have the effect of law. The book is about how and why people and institutions work to make claims stick by legalizing them: the relationship between legal recognition and possession. The book explores the relationship between possession and legalization across Indonesia, examining the imaginative and improvisational interpretations of law by which Indonesians navigate dispossession.