Lunch Talk: Visibility as Threat: The Targeting of Micro-Sized Groups in Indonesia


Why do very small groups become targets of mobilization and repression? Most theories of ethnic and religious conflict expect groups that are less than 1% of the national population—what I call micro-sized groups—to be ignored, as these groups do not pose an economic, political, or security threat. Yet, micro-sized groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kazakhstan and the Nirankaris in India have long been persecuted. Drawing on archival data and over 135 interviews collected over 15 months of fieldwork in Indonesia, I argue in this talk that the threat of micro-sized groups is constitutive in nature and that these threats become credible when they are publicly visible. Political entrepreneurs instrumentalize these constitutive threats when it is in their interest to do so, but only succeed if these threats can be seen and if entrepreneurs can make them seen. As the threat becomes more visible to larger audiences, violence against micro-sized groups multiply. I develop this argument through a subnational comparison of Ahmadiyah communities in Indonesia, which are frequent targets of repression and violence. By identifying why and how micro-sized groups become targets, this study draws attention to the importance of visibility and public space in shaping conflict processes. It also highlights the process by which the seemingly mundane become politically relevant.



Jessica Soedirgo is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. Her substantive research focuses on ethnic and religious conflict, with a focus on Indonesia. She has also written on qualitative research methods.