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Tracy Wright Webster

Start date

Mar 2006

Submission date

Jul 2010

Curriculum vitae

Tracy Wright Webster CV
[doc, 77.82 kb]
Updated 27 Oct 2010

Tracy Wright Webster

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Pergaulan Bebas and Gendered Youth Culture in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.


In contemporary Indonesia there is a moral panic about the behaviour of young people. This moral panic identifies the issue as one of pergaulan bebas (literally, free socialising). Pergaulan bebas is also the issue of greatest concern to Indonesian youth. It can be defined as social interactions and behaviours deemed ‘outside of the norms of society’ or ‘free of rules’. Pergaulan bebas is a negative, condemnatory discourse, used to express disapproval of a range of behaviours carried out by young people. Behaviours considered pergaulan bebas include premarital sex, alcohol and drug consumption, clubbing, consumption of pornography and cybersex, smoking, going out at night and gang fighting. Since many of these behaviours, in particular premarital sex, alcohol use, smoking and going out at night, are condoned for male youth, the discourse of pergaulan bebas settles most heavily on young women. This discourse reinforces existing socio-sexual and spatial taboos for female bodies in new and arguably sinister ways. This is particularly so in the context of dramatic global technological and market changes. As a social discourse played out on ever-younger gendered, sexed bodies, the discourse of pergaulan bebas requires negotiation by youth, whether or not they practise the behaviours implied in pergaulan bebas, for all youth are constructed as ‘at risk’.

Since the demise of the New Order in 1998, the Indonesian nation-state has been experiencing an existential crisis. The crisis represents conflict, contestation and redefinition of the notion of Indonesian culture. Youth are at the centre of this conflict, as market liberalisation and Islamisation have brought about rapid socio-cultural change and a heightened sense of moral panic.

In Java, where the social principle of rukun (social harmony) underpins social interactions, rukun – at the level of the nation and in its nucleus, the family – is perceived as under threat by youth who engage in pergaulan bebas. This dissertation deconstructs the binary that privileges prescriptive, idealised, gendered social norms for youthful bodies, over those practices considered to breach them. It demonstrates the contestation of the hegemony of this binary in mainstream youth pop cultural forms and social worlds. It is set in the city of Yogyakarta, amidst public debate over recently introduced anti-pornography laws and a yearning among youth to experience the possibilities that a cosmopolitan lifestyle offers in the twenty-first century.

This dissertation contributes to our understandings of contemporary Indonesian youth culture, gender and sexuality. The cultural construction of gendered desire is the focus here. As a key site for communicating and defining what is desirable, mass media are pivotal to the ongoing construction of masculinities, femininities and codes of sexual conduct for young Indonesians. Through presentation of a bricolage of mainstream youth popular cultural forms, including music, advertising, film and youth events, I examine the discourses of gendered desire in mainstream media targeting a youth audience. Increasingly, advertisements and product sponsored events seduce young people through images of an idealised western middle-class, sexually expressive femininity and a carefree masculinity. Through film, these ideals are often shown to be unrealistic and undesirable. In commercial mainstream media, liberal discourses of sexuality and the shift towards new sexual cultures and identities are ubiquitous. My aim is to disentangle some of the privileged and emergent discourses of gendered desire that permeate these media, and to explore how these discourses are negotiated in practice by youth in Yogyakarta

Why my research is important

This thesis contributes to the understanding of Indonesian youth in the first decade of the post-Suharto period. Through ethnography and discourse analysis this work highlights the intensification of the sexual double standards, particularly through the ‘liberal’ messages and representations of the mainstream media, and the new subjectivities that have emerged among the present gaul generation.