Michael Eilenberg


I am Associate Professor in Anthropology at School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University. My primary research interests’ center on issues of state formation, sovereignty, autonomy, citizenship, agrarian expansion and climate politics in frontier regions of Southeast Asia. In particular I investigate state-society dynamics in the Malaysian and Indonesian borderlands on the island of Borneo. Within this research frame, I have been dealing with different transnational processes such as illicit cross-border trade, labour migration, and other kinds of cross-border movements. Especially the anthropology of borderlands and borders is central to my analysis of the different practices and strategies taking place along Southeast Asia’s borders. This approach show how seemingly marginal and isolated populations, such as many border people, are shaped in national and transnational dialogues.  My studies are based on extended fieldwork in both Indonesia and Malaysia and archival studies in British and Dutch archives.

I am the coordinator of the Master’s Degree Programme in Human Security at Aarhus University. The Master’s programme is the first of its kind in Europe. During 2 years of cross-disciplinary studies the Master Student will achieve a deeper understanding of social and environmental conflicts around the world, i.e. how to analyze and intervene in a complex of interweaving social, economic and political factors.

My recent book entitled: ‘At the Edges of States: Dynamics of State Formation in the Indonesian Borderlands’ (KITLV Press, 2012/BRILL 2014) rests on the premise that remote border regions offer an exciting study arena that can tell us important things about how marginal citizens relate to their nation-state. The basic assumption is that central state authority in the Indonesian borderlands has never been absolute, but waxes and wanes, and state rules and laws are always up for local interpretation and negotiation. In its role as key symbol of state sovereignty, the borderland has become a place were central state authorities are often most eager to govern and exercise power. But as illustrated, the borderland is also a place were state authority is most likely to be challenged, questioned and manipulated as border communities often have multiple loyalties that transcend state borders and contradict imaginations of the state as guardians of national sovereignty and citizenship.

“Sida ka enda ingatka sejarah lama laun sigi ngulang penyalah aki ini kelia”

(Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Iban proverb)


About Me

Last revised: February 2017

Copyright © Michael Eilenberg 2007