Understanding sukses: A case study of Indonesian rural youth, by Rara Sekar Larasati

Rara Sekar Larasati is one of the most recent winners of a Kākano Award, which helped her to conduct fieldwork for her MA in Cultural Anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington. Rara's research is about how Indonesian rural youth understand the notion of sukses (success) and she is due to submit it in March 2018. In the piece below, she reflects on the ways that her presence affected the young people she worked with during her fieldwork.

My most memorable moment from fieldwork was the deeper realisation of the impacts of doing research. During fieldwork, I spent a great deal of my time in the village hanging out with my youth participants, mostly while snacking and chatting about life and relationships. One day, Widya, Bila* and I were hanging out on the rooftop of Bila’s house while watching arak-arakan (parade). Suddenly the topic moved to healthy living which I assumed was a response to something they saw on Facebook. They knew that I am a vegetarian so they asked why I became one. “I walk a lot and sometimes I do yoga too,” I said in answering their question. “Well mbak (sister), I just want to get rid of this acne and also lose some weight down here!” said Widya while pointing at her thighs. We ended the conversation with some good laughs and an agreement that none of us will lose any weight if we keep on snacking and eating more rice.

Later, Widya and Bila invited me to go for a morning run the next day. I accepted their invitation with mixed feelings. Did I make them do this? I decided that I was overthinking it and went for the morning run. It was Widya and Bila’s first ever morning run. Before the run, Widya told me that she had a big argument with her grandmother who disagreed with Widya’s idea to go for a morning run. “Working out is only for old people! Young people are healthy. Just go to the farm and you’ll stay fit”, said Widya’s grandmother. “It’s hard when you have an argument with the elders, mbak. It’s just hard.” Widya lamented. It was their first and perhaps, their last morning run. The morning run made me feel guilty for a while, pondering on how my presence somehow created a little friction in this family. But it is from this experience that I realised how impossible it is to not acknowledge some level of intervention in doing intensive fieldwork, especially when it is built on trust and relationships.

Researching the meaning of success for these rural youth also greatly impacted me as the researcher. I was especially struck by how much my participants emphasised the happiness of their parents, who have gifted them life, as a major part of their success. This finding made me reflect deeply on the things I value in my life and how very individualised I have become in understanding and achieving success. My participants made me realize that life is about relationships and that success is relational. That success is supported by relationships and is for relationships. This knowledge of success for me, is not only part of my success, but also a gift that must be returned. Perhaps not by going for morning runs together, but by tending the relationships we have built, and maybe becoming part of each other’s success.   

*All names are pseudonyms.

By Rara Sekar Larasati