Infrastructures of Impunity: New Order Violence in Indonesia (Cornell University Press, 2024).

In Infrastructures of Impunity Elizabeth F. Drexler argues that the creation and persistence of impunity for the perpetrators of the Cold War Indonesian genocide (1965–66) is not only a legal status but also a cultural and social process. Impunity for the initial killings and for subsequent acts of political violence has many elements: bureaucratic, military, legal, political, educational, and affective. Although these elements do not always work at once—at times some are dormant while others are ascendant—together they can be described as a unified entity, a dynamic infrastructure, whose existence explains the persistence of impunity. For instance, truth telling, a first step in many responses to state violence, did not undermine the infrastructure but instead bent to it. Creative and artistic responses to revelations about the past, however, have begun to undermine the infrastructure by countering its temporality, affect, and social stigmatization and demonstrating its contingency and specific actions, policies, and processes that would begin to dismantle it. Drexler contends that an infrastructure of impunity could take hold in an established democracy.

Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

Association of Third World Studies Cecil B. Currey Book–Length Publications Award for 2007‑08.

Elizabeth F. Drexler analyzes how the Indonesian state has sustained itself amid anxieties and insecurities generated by historical and human rights accounts of earlier episodes of violence. In her examination of the Aceh conflict, Drexler demonstrates the falsity of the reigning assumption of international human rights organizations that the exposure of past violence promotes accountability and reconciliation rather than the repetition of abuses. She stresses that failed human rights interventions can be more dangerous than unexamined past conflicts, since the international stage amplifies grievances and provides access for combatants to resources from outside the region. Violent conflict itself, as well as historical narratives of past violence, become critical economic and political capital, deepening the problem. The book concludes with a consideration of the improved prospects for peace in Aceh following the devastating 2004 tsunami.

Peer Review Journal Articles

Seeing Gaslighting: Photo:-Dialogues and Structural InjusticeVisual Anthropology Review 2023

Extending photovoice methodology, I describe a process of seeing structural injustice through photo-dialogues. In a collective context where state and society collude in normalizing and extending injustice through both law and systemic gaslighting, the problem of exposing injustice with images involves issues of common sense, language, institutions, and access to various forms of power. “Seeing gaslighting” reveals a process that manipulates perception to obscure systemic inequality and injustice and produce complacency and/or inability to perceive complicity in an unjust system. Photo-dialogues engage the sensory and affective rather than evidentiary aspect of images of injustice.

Impunity and Transitional Justice in Indonesia: Aksi Kamisan’s Circular Time” International Journal of Transitional Justice 2022

“Impunity and Transitional Justice in Indonesia: Aksi Kamisan’s Circular Time” argues the Indonesian weekly Thursday silent protests by victims’ families, create sites of justice bringing together technical legal demands with compelling artistic performance to highlight the problem of persistent but invisible impunity, counter the legacies of authoritarian era social stigmatization, and expose the problematic nature of temporality in conventional transitional justice mechanisms.

Speaking truth to power in a post‐truth era: Multidimensional and intersectional justice.” Anthropology Today (2020), 36: 4-6.

Anthropologists have spoken truth to power in many different forms and cases for decades; nevertheless, the terrain of truth is shifting. How do young people understand the post-truth present and what does speaking truth to power look like in this era? How might anthropologists look, not simply at the production of knowledge, but at the reception of knowledge claims? What contributions can anthropologists make to forms of engagement and practice that are suited to the current moment? Shifting from a narrow focus on truth and facts, the author considers problems of emergent propaganda and affective responses to narratives and proposes a framework of multidimensional and intersectional justice.

Victim-warriors and iconic heroines: photographs of female combatants in Aceh, Indonesia,” Critical Asian Studies (2018), 50:3, 395-421, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2018.1487311

Analyzing photos and narratives of the “widows’ battalion” in Aceh, Indonesia that appeared in international and local print media between 2000 and 2002, this article traces how images of female combatants initially provided evidence of a uniformed, armed ethno-nationalist movement motivated by past state violence and linked to historical legends of women involved in armed resistance to colonialism. Subsequently, the heroines were recast as immoral young women pursuing inappropriate sexual relationships with the occupying military. The problems of intelligence gathering, double agents, and the indeterminate zone of overlap in which male soldiers collaborated in the past were rewritten as a problem of sexual or intimate relations that violated religious and cultural norms. Images and narration of the widows’ battalion appear to champion female combatants past and present, but in fact, contribute to the consolidation of the power of male commanders and combatants in the resistance movement. Analyses of human rights photography must consider the affective power of images beyond engaging the empathy of distant spectators to consider their role in conflict dynamics.