Tug-of-War: Bones and Stones as Scientific Objects in Postcolonial Indonesia

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This essay examines a controversy that erupted in 2004 over the bones of a human relative discovered in Indonesia, proclaimed to be a new species named Homo floresiensis. It argues that the controversy comprised two inter-twined struggles with roots in Indonesia’s colonial history. Indonesia’s transition to an independent country, it contends, gave rise to a particular set of cultural val-ues, scientific practices, and theories that resulted in scientific objects becoming tied to national identity in ways that shaped the debates. Highlighting the imbalances that can occur in cross-cultural negotiations over the study of human relatives, this essay reveals that the circulation of scientific objects is not a simple process. By focusing on how anthropological objects moved—and the claims of ownership and access embedded in those movements—it illustrates the role of local circum-stances in shaping that knowledge as it contributes to increasingly global science.




Madison, P. (2023). Tug-of-War: Bones and Stones as Scientific Objects in Postcolonial Indonesia. Isis, 114(1), 77–98. https://doi.org/10.1086/723725

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