Dr Ward Berenschot (1977) has been appointed professor by special appointment of Comparative Political Anthropology of South and Southeast Asia at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The chair was established on behalf of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.
Berenschot’s research focuses on a comparative understanding of the dynamics of state-society interaction, focusing on topics such as citizenship, communal violence, clientelism, access to justice and collective action in, particularly, India and Indonesia. He combines in-depth ethnographic fieldwork with the organisation of collaborative, quantitative research efforts, such as a large-scale expert survey for a study on clientelism and governance. Berenschot: ‘Much of my research focuses on informal dimensions of politics, on the social networks connecting politicians and voters. I study how such networks can play a positive role, by helping people get access to public services. But I also do research on the dark sides of political networks, as these informal connections also played an important role in fomenting violence between religious communities in both India and Indonesia.’
At the UvA, Berenschot will teach courses related to political anthropology, and he will work on a new NWO-funded research project on the conflicts caused by the expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia. Berenschot: ‘The rapid expansion of palm oil usage is generating conflicts between the companies producing it and rural communities who have lost access to land on which their livelihood depends. In response, rural communities are mobilising and engaging in demonstrations and blockades, as well as litigation and mediation. For this project we will work together with a number of Indonesian NGO’s to document the trajectories and outcomes of a large number of these conflicts. For the first time we will be able to study general patterns of these conflicts and, for example, whether and how conflict resolution mechanisms are effective.’
Since 2015, Berenschot has been a senior researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. He was previously a researcher and project manager at the Van Vollenhoven Institute (Leiden University) and a lecturer in Conflict Studies at the UvA. He obtained his PhD from the UvA in 2009.
He is the author of the monographs Democracy for Sale: Elections, Clientelism and the State in Indonesia (with Edward Aspinall) and Riot Politics: India’s Hindu-Muslim Violence and the Indian State, as well as various articles on identity politics, governance, citizenship and access to justice. He is the co-editor of the books In Search of Middle Indonesia and Citizenship and Democratization in Southeast Asia.