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Adjunct Associate Professor (with Department of Asian Studies)

Email: aragon2(@)

Phone: (919) 843-7562

Fax: (919) 962-1613
Office: 409A Alumni Building

Area of Interest:

Anthropology of religion, intellectual property law, and arts production; (post)colonialism, ethnic minorities and state relations; global connections and heritage nationalism; migration and conflict; language and media; subsistence and exchange; ecology and relationality; health; gendered experiences; Southeast Asia, Indonesia.


Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Illinois, 1992

M.A. Communications, University of Pennsylvania

Professional Background:

Lorraine V. Aragon is a cultural anthropologist who has conducted long-term research in Indonesia, and comparative fieldwork in other Southeast Asian nations including Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia. Her professional interests include the intersection of religious practice, local arts, ecology, and state institutions governing ethnic difference and property law. She has worked in museum as well as academic and NGO settings. She is the author or co-author of numerous articles and books including Fields of the Lord: Animism, Christian Minorities, and State Development in Indonesia (2000) and Beyond the Java Sea: Art of Indonesia’s Outer Islands (1991). She has received research awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, US Fulbright, the National Science Foundation, The American Council of Learned Societies, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

During the  2016-2017 academic year, Professor Aragon was a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) working on  a book about the global expansion of hybrid intellectual and cultural property laws  to regulate traditional cultural expressions in Global South nations such as Indonesia.

A related 2012 article titled, “Copyrighting Culture for the Nation? Intangible Property Nationalism and the Regional Arts of Indonesia” is published in the International Journal of Cultural Property 19(3): 269-312. Other articles based on the 2005-2007 Indonesian team research include, “Arts and Owners,” (co-authored with James Leach) in American Ethnologist 35(4): 603-631, October 2008; and, “Where Commons Meet Commerce: Circulation and Sequestration Strategies in Indonesian Arts Economies” Anthropology of Work Review 32(2): 63-76, 2011.

Lorraine Aragon’s books include Fields of the Lord: Animism, Christian Minorities, and State Development in Indonesia (Hawaii, 2000); and Beyond the Java Sea: Art of Indonesia’s Outer Islands (Washington D.C. and N.Y.: National Museum of Natural History and Abrams Press, 1991) which she co-authored with Paul M. Taylor.

Dr. Aragon’s ACLS proposal title was

“Partial Enclosures: Copyright, Creativity, and Traditional Cultural Expressions in Southeast Asia.”

Project Abstract

The global expansion of copyright law threatens conventional legal assumptions about individual originality and exclusive property rights, as well as common conceptions of static and homogenous tradition. Based on long-term fieldwork in Indonesia, this project investigates property law and custom as alternate rubrics that guide artists in Southeast Asia. Whereas copyright law focuses on original product, commercial productivity, and ownership rights, traditional artists focus on expressive or ritual process, community continuity, and social relationships. Indonesia’s sui generis copyright provisions, which award the state copyright to traditional cultural expressions, clearly conflict with existing approaches. Indigenous producers who create drama, music, dance, carving, and textiles assert personal authority and expertise, yet acknowledge collaborative contributions and ancestral traditions. Indonesian artists’ frequent refusal of authorship and proprietary claims to shared cultural knowledge prompts new analyses of how creativity and customary arts commons can work within, and beyond, the framework of copyright law.

Significance of Project

The ethical sharing or proprietary ownership of intellectual expressions is fundamental to the humanities and a timely topic for social science research. This project examines the tension between globalizing intellectual property (IP) models, which assign individual or corporate ownership over cultural expressions, and the creative practices and narratives of Southeast Asian arts producers who assert neither solo authorship nor proprietary group ownership claims. Theirwords ask us to question familiar concepts of personhood, creativity, and ownership. What cultural processes drive imitation or innovation in particular ethnic communities? How are copying and innovation evaluated and regulated without IP law? What do distributed ownership or alternative forms of creative authority look like in varied cultural landscapes?

Indonesia is an exemplary site for this study because copyright’s core idea of authorship runs counter to most art producers’ collaborative ethics and experience. Indonesian artists’ words defy the expectations of legal theorists concerned with creators’ rights and equitable international laws, as well as indigenous rights activists concerned with asserting claims to customary arts in an increasingly privatized cultural commons. In the absence of authorship claims, Indonesia’s copyright law awards copyright over “people’s cultural products” and “traditional cultural expressions” to the state. The law draws on both World Trade Organization mandates and UN doctrines to usurp local creators’ customary authority, even as it promotes new proprietary claims over culture. As social change escalates worldwide, cultural heritage concerns heighten too. Laws over creative expression concern everyone. Partial Enclosures aims not to be just a descriptive work about the porous cultural enclosures that we term “custom” and “law,” but an analytic enterprise that inserts indigenous analysis into a contrapuntal debate with one-size-fits-all legal and business models.

Link to ACLS Website profile:

Research & Activities:

I am a cultural anthropologist who specializes in religion, regional cultural expressions, and the expansion of intellectual and cultural property laws into postcolonial nations. My primary geographic region of specialization is Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. My research is organized around questions about changing processes and practices of cultural expression, especially how local norms are transformed or sustained in response to the extension of categories and political institutions from power centers to the periphery.

I began fieldwork in Sulawesi, Indonesia, researching the consequences of Protestant missionization and conversion of upland swidden rice farmers whose descendants live in what is currently the world’s most populous Muslim nation. These highlanders taught me how land and local knowledge was not owned outright by individual humans. Rather, they were subject to distributed authority, differential patterns of use, and ritual relations with non-humans. Beginning in1998, I investigated and analyzed Indonesia’s regional tensions and religious conflicts, which are based in long-standing inequities as well as more recent economic and political policies.

I am currently working on articles and a book drawing on Indonesian fieldwork that I began between 2005 and 2007 with an international team of legal scholars, performance artists, ethnomusicologists, and NGO community activists. The research team was tasked to investigate the possible impact of intellectual and cultural property law initiatives on Indonesian regional arts, artists, and community audiences.

This multi-sited and multi-disciplinary research advances an anthropological perspective on intellectual and cultural property models as they become adopted and unexpectedly melded outside of their Euro-American origins. New legal doctrines tacitly divide “traditional” from “modern” citizens according to the types of arts they produce and the claims they are willing to make about individual authorship.

In Indonesia, as in much of the world, collaborative creativity in the service of folkloric or “traditional” cultural expressions has, until now, been practiced in what can be called intellectual property’s negative space. My work seeks to reexamine local logics and evaluations of creativity along with the new socioeconomic processes that surround the production of tangible and intangible cultural expressions. I argue that creative expressions such as myths, dances, songs, graphic designs, and textiles are becoming subject to revised nationalist purposes and proprietary legal regimes that stand in unsettling opposition to anthropology’s contemporary efforts to define historically intertwined cultures and their bearers as relational, situated, fluid, and transformative.

Selected Publications:

2017, “Who Owns the World? Recognizing the Repressed Small Gods of Southeast Asia.” In Fairies, Demons, and Nature Spirits: ‘Small Gods’ at the Margins of Christendom, Michael Ostling, ed., Pp. 277-299. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

2014, “Law versus Lore: Copyright and Conflicting Claims about Culture and Property in Indonesia,” Anthropology Today 30(5): 15-19.

2014, “Uncovering the Trauma of Indonesia’s Cold War Killing Fields,” Film review of 40 Years of Silence: An Indonesian Tragedy directed by Robert Lemelson. Current Anthropology 55(4): 493-494.

2013, “Development Strategies, Religious Relations, and Communal Violence in Central Sulawesi: A Cautionary Tale,” In Development Strategies, Identities, and Conflict in Asia, William Ascher and Natalia Mirovitskaya, ed., Pp. 153-182. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

2012, “Copyrighting Culture for the Nation? Intangible Property Nationalism and the Regional Arts of Indonesia.”International Journal of Cultural Property 19(3):  269-312.

2011 “Living without Please or Thanks in Indonesia: Cultural Translations of Reciprocity and Respect,” In Everyday Life in Southeast Asia, Kathleen Adams and Kate Gillogly, ed., Pp.14-26. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

2011 “Where Commons Meet Commerce: Circulation and Sequestration Strategies in Indonesian Arts Economies”Anthropology of Work Review 32(2): 63-76.

2011 “Distant Processes: The Global Economy and Outer Island Development in Indonesia,” In Life and Death Matters: Human Rights, Environment, and Social Justice, Barbara Rose Johnston, ed. Revised 2nd Ed. Pp.29-54. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

2011 Essays on Sulawesi artifacts, in Paths of Origins: The Austronesian Heritage in the Collections of the National Museum of the Philippines, The Museum Nasional Indonesia, and The Netherlands Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Purissima Benitez-Johannot, ed. Pp. 226-235. Singapore: ArtPostAsia.

2011 “Masalah Kepemilikan Budaya: Hak Kekayaan Intelektual Global dan Kesenian Masyarakat Adat di Indonesia” (Problems of Cultural Ownership: Global Intellectual Property Law and Traditional Community Arts in Indonesia). InKegalauan Identitas: Agama, Etnisitas, dan Kewarganegaraan pada Masa Pasca-Order Baru, (Contested Identities: Religion, Politics of Rights, and Citizenship in Post-New Order Indonesia), Fadjar Thufail and Martin Ramstedt, ed., Pp.195-217. Jakarta, Indonesia: Grasindo.

2010 “O commons local como o meio-termo ausente nos debates sobre conhecimentos nativos e leis de propriedade intellectual” (The Local Commons as a Missing Middle in Debates over Indigenous Knowledge and Intellectual Property Law,)” in Do Regime de Propriede Intelectual: Estudos Antropológicos (Anthropological Studies of Intellectual Property Regimes), Ondina Fachel Leal and Rebeca Hennemann Vergara de Souza, ed. Pp. 243-261. Porto Alegre, Brazil: Tomo Editorial (ISBN 978-85-86225-65-9).

2008 Lorraine V. Aragon and James Leach, “Arts and Owners: Intellectual Property Law and the Politics of Scale in Indonesian Arts” American Ethnologist 35(4): 607-631, (Nov issue.)

2008 “Reconsidering Displacement and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Poso,” in Conflict, Violence, and Displacement in Indonesia: Dynamics, Patterns, and Experiences, Eva-Lotta Hedman, ed. Pp.173-205. Ithaca: Cornell University SEAP Publications.

2007 “Elite Competition in Central Sulawesi,” in Renegotiating Boundaries: Local Politics in Post-Soeharto Indonesia, Henk Schulte Nordholt and Gerry Van Klinken, ed. Pp.39-66. Leiden: KITLV.

2006 “Bird Omens and Metaphors in Central Sulawesi Ritual Songs,” in Les Messagers Divins: Aspects Esthétiques et Symboliques des Oiseaux en Asie du Sud-Est / Divine Messengers: Bird Symbolism and Aesthetics in Southeast Asia, Pierre LeRoux and Bernard Sellato, ed. Pp. 613-635. Paris and Marseilles: Connaissances et Savoirs / SevenOrients / IRASEC.

2005 “Mass Media Fragmentation and Narratives of Violent Action in Sulawesi’s Poso Conflict,” Indonesia 79 (April 2005): 1-55.

2003 “Missions and Omissions of the Supernatural: Indigenous Cosmologies and the Legitimisation of ‘Religion’ in Indonesia,” Anthropological Forum 13(2): 131-140.

2003 “Expanding Spiritual Territories: Owners of the Land, Missionization, and Migration in Central Sulawesi.” InFounder’s Cults in Southeast Asia: Ancestors, Polity, Identity, Nicola Tannenbaum and C.A. Kammerer, ed. Pp.113-133. New Haven: Yale SEAP Monograph Series.

2002 “In Pursuit of Mica: The Japanese and Highland Minorities in Sulawesi.” In Southeast Asian Minorities in the Wartime Japanese Empire, Paul H. Kratoska, ed. Pp.81-96. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

2001 “Communal Violence in Central Sulawesi: Where People Eat Fish and Fish Eat People.” Indonesia 72 (October 2001): 45-79.

2000 Fields of the Lord: Animism, Christian Minorities, and State Development in Indonesia (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press).

1999 “The Currency of Indonesian Regional Textiles: Aesthetic Politics in Local, Transnational, and International Emblems.” Ethnos 64(2): 151-169.

1996 “Suppressed and Revised Performances: Raego’ Songs of Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.” Ethnomusicology 40(3): 413-439.

1996 “Twisting the Gift: Translating Precolonial into Colonial Exchanges in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.” American Ethnologist 23(1): 43-60.

1996 “Reorganizing the Cosmology: The Reinterpretation of Deities and Religious Practice by Protestants in Central Sulawesi.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 27(2): 350-373.

1996 “`Japanese Time’ and the Mica Mine: Experiences of the Occupation in the Western Central Sulawesi Highlands.”Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 27(1): 49-63.

1991 Paul M. Taylor and Lorraine V. Aragon, Beyond the Java Sea: Art of Indonesia’s Outer Islands. 1991 Wash, D.C. and N.Y.: National Museum of Natural History and Abrams Press.

1990 “Barkcloth in Central Sulawesi: A Vanishing Technology in Outer Island, Indonesia.” Expedition 32(1): 33-48.


Courses I have planned and taught include:

“Artisans and Global Culture” (HNRS/ANTH 356)

“Anthropological Perspectives on Society and Culture” (ANTH 294)

“Directions in Anthropology” (ANTH 297)

“Literature and Society in Southeast Asia” (ASIA/CMPL 151)

“Popular Culture in Modern Southeast Asia (ASIA 252)

“Culture and Power in Southeast Asia” (ANTH/ASIA/FOLK 429)

“Habitat and Humanity” (ANTH 123)

“Ethnography and Life Stories” (ANTH 285)

“Anthropology through Expressive Cultures” (ANTH 120)

“Global Connections in Southeast Asia” (ANTH 199, sec. 71)

“Anthropology and Religion” (ANTH 142/REL 142/FOLK 142)

“Religious Movements across Cultures and States” (RELI 5000/ANTH 5202) East Carolina U

“Communication across Cultures” (INTL 6005/ANTH 5202) ECU

“Language and Culture” (ANTH 4000/ANTH 5202) ECU

“Cultures of East and Southeast Asia” (ANTH 3005) ECU

“Honors Introduction to Anthropology” (ANTH 1000, sec. 299) ECU

“Introduction to Anthropology” (ANTH 1000; Four-field approach) ECU

“Introduction to Cultural Anthropology” (ANTH 100) University of Illinois

“Peoples of the World: Introduction to Ethnography” (ANTH 200) University of Illinois

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