Final conference on Friday 8th of Septmeber 2023

An oil palm plantation with straight rows of palms. In the back ground the plantation compound is visible and in the horizon forested hills.

Value frontiers across locations and landscapes: Anthropological perspectives

Friday 8th of September 2023
9:00 – 17:10 EEST/UTC +3
University of Helsinki main building, room F3005 and online
Program and abstracts (PDF)

Final Conference for the research project New regimes of commodification and state formation on the resource frontier of Southeast Asia, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. Funded by Kone Foundation.

Welcome! Please join us for discussions in Helsinki and online!

The final conference will address questions and concerns about the expanding and accelerating revaluation and transformation of socio-natural landscapes and their interconnections across Southeast Asia and Oceania. It aims to discuss the frontierization of local landscapes in terms of multi-scalar politics of commodification and its implications and variegated expressions across locations. We approach the question of the ‘frontierization’ of landscapes through methodological and analytical frameworks that reflect the valuations of environment and social action, state and corporate formation and effects, the interplay of states and corporations, and human-environment relations in altered environments. Along the lines of our project findings, presenters suggest that the frontier and the process of frontierization illustrates the tensions over who has power, control and access to decide on the configurations and qualities of sociomaterial relations and how they are valued across locations, space and time.

Keynote speakers:
Anna Tsing, University of California, Santa Cruz (online presentation)
Sophie Chao, University of Sydney (online presentation)
Ward Berenschot, University of Amsterdam (onlinepresentation)

Liana Chua, Hannah Fair, Michaela Haug, Isabell Herrmans, Timo Kaartinen, Anu Lounela, Viola Schreer, Pujo Semedi, Kenneth Sillander, Tuomas Tammisto, and Heikki Wilenius


The event is free of charge, but advance registration is required. Please register with the following link by Friday 01.09.2023:

Links for online access (Zoom) will be sent to all registered participants after the deadline. We prioritize on-site discussion, but we will take questions over Zoom when possible.

Project members and conference organizers:
Anu Lounela (PI)
Tuomas Tammisto
Heikki Wilenius

Seminar coordinator:
Eemi Nordström



Opening words: Anu Lounela

9:05 – 11:15
Panel 1: Landscapes, land use and social relations in transition

Keynote: Possession/dispossession: How frontiers become property
Anna Tsing (online presentation)

There are places and times where property, as known by states and corporations, is not yet secure. How is property made in such scenes? This talk explores how the remaking of landscape—and particularly the eradication of swamps—can dispossess Indigenous residents while making property for settlers. My research concerns the frontier city of Sorong in Indonesian Papua. At the heart of settler occupation is the imposition of concrete infrastructure to “develop” what has been a swamp. Concrete is the swamp’s nemesis, and its inverse. The swamp is open and dynamic; concrete blocks and encloses. It’s making requires materials the mining of which smashes up the land. My talk, based on recent and continuing fieldwork in Sorong, explores how concrete injures watersheds, and, in the resulting mess, makes property. The talk offers a view of Anthropocene destruction from the weeds, that is, close to the ground.

Michaela Haug: Oil palm expansion, dispossession and the struggle for a self-determined life in East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Pujo Semedi: Developmental refusal and farmers’ vulnerabilities in Central Kalimantan peatlands.

Anu Lounela: Frontierization of wetlands in Central Kalimantan: dispossession and commodification

Moderator: Heikki Wilenius

11:15 – 12:15

12:20 – 14:30
Panel 2: Mapping and revaluating environmental relations

Keynote: Mapping value: Cartographic conundrums on the West Papuan plantation frontier
Sophie Chao (online presentation)

This paper examines how processes of frontierization reconfigure the material, sociocultural, and moral relationships of humans and other-than-humans in the Indonesian-occupied region of West Papua. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the southern Papuan lowlands, the paper centers the experiences, theories, and critiques of Indigenous Marind communities who in the last decade, have seen vast swaths of their customary lands and forests converted to monocrop oil palm plantations in the name of national food security, economic growth, and regional development. It focuses in particular on how Marind understand the role of state and corporate maps in alternately representing or enacting changing sociomaterial relations, knowledge regimes, and resource use on the Papuan plantation frontier. The paper further considers how Marind’s own forms of “participatory mapping” challenge state and corporate understandings of what merits mapping, how it should be mapped, and on the basis of whose epistemic framework. Ambiguity, friction, and divergent horizons of hope emerge as central to these participatory mapping activities, as Marind struggle to reconcile maps’ strategic value in advocacy contexts with maps’ social significance as cultural artefacts.

Liana Chua: What does care take? Saving and sequestering in orangutan conservation

Hannah Fair & Viola Schreer: Pongo oeconomicus? (De)commodification across the global nexus of orangutan conservation

Isabell Herrmans & Kenneth Sillander: Frontier Life: The frontier dynamic as a source of Dayak counterculture

Moderator: Tuomas Tammisto


14:30 – 14:45
Coffee break


14:45 – 16:55
Panel 3: Land rights and frontier politics

Keynote: Frontier Politics and Rightlessness: Palm oil companies and land dispossession in Indonesia
Ward Berenschot (online presentation)

This lecture discusses the relative ease with which palm oil companies dispossess brural Indonesians of their land. Employing detailed documentation of 150 conflicts between rural communities and palm oil companies, I aim to analyze both the actual processes through which companies acquire land as well as the legal provisions that facilitate these processes. I argue that palm oil companies are succeeding in dispossessing rural Indonesians because of the ways in which formal regulations and informal machinations have produced rightlessness. This rightlessness has three main sources: curtailed land rights, ‘backdoored’ legal protections, and collusive business-politics relationships which enable companies to evade regulations. These particular features of frontier politics – a legal framework full of smoke and mirrors combined with pervasive collusive exchanges of favours between business actors and local authorities – is allowing many palm oil companies to have their cake and eat it too: while they benefit from the legitimacy afforded by state regulations, they regularly manage to evade the obligations associated with such regulation.

Timo Kaartinen: Evolving images of smallholding in West Kalimantan

Heikki Wilenius: Frontier counterpoints: Media imaginaries of landscape transformation in Central Kalimantan

Tuomas Tammisto: Occupying land, closing the frontier: The temporalities of frontier dynamics in East New Britain, Papua New Guinea

Moderator: Anu Lounela


16:55 – 17:05
Discussant: Sarah Green


17:05 – 17:10
Closing words: Tuomas Tammisto & Heikki Wilenius

Human traces in the landscape online exhibition

Online exhibition: Human traces in the landscape
The online exhibition Human traces in the landscape conveys impressions and sentiments from rapidly changing frontier areas in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. (Visit the exhibition at:


On the frontiers of Southeast Asia, far from the centres of power, people’s lives and landscapes are rapidly changing and environmental problems caused by the commodification of nature are common.


These frontiers may seem distant, but through the global market economy, they are directly linked to the lives of people in Finland. Frontiers are the sources of raw materials of daily commodities. For example, cocoa, rubber, and oil palm is cultivated on frontiers – all of them raw materials for commonly used consumer products. The inhabitants of these frontiers produce their own subsistence as well as these raw materials and try to live amidst uncertain markets and environmental changes.


Through photographs and videos, the exhibition showcases life on the frontiers of Central Kalimantan (Indonesia) and Pomio (Papua New Guinea), old and new livelihoods as well as changes brought by natural resource projects.


The exhibition is based on a research project, in which the project members have studied the frontiers through participant observation and digital methods. Findings of the project have been published in scientific articles and books. Researchers Anu Lounela and Tuomas Tammisto have taken ethnographic photographs in Central Kalimantan and East Pomio. Indonesian photographers Agus Kusnadi and Rifky have photographed and filmed life in Central Kalimantan. Anne Mari-Ahonen has designed and curated the exhibition. The cooperation of experienced Indonesian documentarists, Finnish researchers and a professional curator presents unique insights into the life on frontiers.

Ihmisen jäljet maisemassa -valokuvanäyttely

Ihmisen jäljet maisemassa -valokuvanäyttely välittää tuokiokuvia ja tuntemuksia nopeasti muuttuvilta rajaseuduilta Indonesiassa ja Papua-Uudessa-Guineassa. (Tutustu näyttelyyn osoitteessa:

Kaakkois-Aasian rajaseuduilla, kaukana valtion keskuksista, maisemat ja ihmisten elämät muuttuvat nopeasti ja ympäristöongelmat ovat yleisiä luonnon resursseiksi muuttamisen takia. Nämä rajaseudut voivat tuntua etäisiltä, mutta globaalin markkinatalouden myötä ne kytkeytyvät suoraan myös suomalaisten elämään.

Rajaseudut ovat käyttämiemme kulutushyödykkeiden raaka-aineiden syntysijoja. Niillä esimerkiksi viljellään kaakaota, valutetaan kumia, ja kasvatetaan öljypalmua – kaikki raaka-aineita, joita suomalaiset käyttävät usein. Ihmiset, jotka tuottavat näitä raaka-aineita niiden syntysijoilla, yrittävät elää sekä omavarais- että rahataloudessa epävarmojen markkinoiden ja ympäristömuutosten keskellä.

Näyttely esittelee valokuvien ja videoiden avulla Keski-Kalimantanin (Indonesia) ja Pomion (Papua-Uusi-Guinea) rajaseutujen asukkaiden elämää, vanhoja ja uusia elinkeinoja sekä luonnonvarojen laajan kaupallisen hyödyntämisen tuomia muutoksia.

Näyttely perustuu tutkimusryhmän jäsenten pitkäjänteiseen osallistuvan havainnoinnin ja digitaalisin menetelmin tehtyyn tutkimukseen näillä alueilla. Tutkimustuloksia on julkaistu tieteellisesti arvioiduissa lehdissä ja kirjoissa. Tutkijat Anu Lounela ja Tuomas Tammisto ovat ottaneet näyttelyyn etnografisia valokuvia Keski-Kalimantanin ja Itä-Pomion maaseudulla. Indonesialaiset kuvaajat Agus Kusnadi ja Rifky ovat ottaneet valokuvia ja videoita Keski-Kalimantanilla. Näyttelyn on kuratoinut ja rakentanut Anne-Mari Ahonen.

Call for Papers: Temporal perspectives on state formation and commodification on frontiers

Anu Lounela and Tuomas Tammisto convene a panel on the temporalities of state formation and frontier dynamics at the Biennial Conference of the Finnish Anthropological Society held on August 29–30, 2019 in Helsinki.  The deadline for paper proposals is on the 1st of April.

The panel explores temporalities of state formation in the frontier areas where economies are growing rapidly at the expense of their natural environments. Frontiers are experiencing rapid transformations shaped by new dynamics involving investors from China and other countries. The pace of change is fast, with high-tech special economic zones, extractive mining and large-scale agro-industrial land concessions contributing to the complexities of state formation These processes and especially their fast pace raise questions of about time. We welcome papers that explore the temporalities and temporal trajectories of state formation and commodification of nature. Panelists can explorethe commodification of nature in relation to various “boom and bust” cycles, the temporal dynamics of frontiers that are opened, closed and often re-opened and how time figures in state formation and related corporate activity. Panelists can look at the long histories preceding current processes as well as the imaginations of and plans for the futures evoked by different actors.