Timo Kaartinen: Aesthetics and politics of planting trees

Timo Kaartinen, Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Helsinki, visited our seminar on October 7, 2016, to give a talk entitled: “The aesthetics and politics of planting trees in West Kalimantan, Indonesia”.


Since the 1980s, the politics of nature in Indonesia has revolved around forest access, control and governance. In this paper, I give a brief history of such politics in West Kalimantan and describe several attempts to create the forest as a non-social domain that contrasts with cultivated and settled space. Incentives and programs of tree-planting are a central part of these attempts because they promise alternative livelihoods, and because they appeal to the indigenous model of tree rights in terms of which many people imagine the future consequences of their social and ecological relationships. I argue that tree-planting is part of technological schemes aimed at creating new types of spaces (gardens, estates, and conservation areas) as well as a central element in place-making that creates landscapes of human presence. My question is what the aesthetic choices of cultivating trees can reveal about the intersecting scales of such projects, and what imaginations of “nature” arise from them.