Translating Biofuel, Discounting Farmers: The Search for Alternative Energy in Indonesia

Translating Biofuel, Discounting Farmers: The Search for Alternative Energy in Indonesia

Yuti Ariani (Insitute of Technology Bandung, Indonesia) and Sonny Yuliar (Institute of Technology Bandung, Indonesia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-197-3.ch005


This paper employs the notion of translation introduced in ANT literature to study the current bio-fuel development in Indonesia. Despite the presence of some activities by scientists, businessmen, policy makers, and farmers, diffusion of bio-fuel innovation seems to remain very limited. The paper aims at understanding the bio-fuel development trajectory by seeking to disclose a variety of elements that shape the trajectory. We also make use of the notion of ‘qualculation’, to further diagnose the trajectory. Bio-fuel translations generated by three different scientists are described in the paper. We show that the translations follow specific patterns of qualculation, namely ‘proliferation’ and ‘rarefaction’. We use this to make sense of the current diffusion of bio-fuel innovation in Indonesia. Beside this contextual result, the paper also seeks to contribute to ANT literature by exploring the concept of qualculation in the analysis of technological innovation.
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The Technical And The Social

In the ANT literature, technical and social entities are seen as ‘two sides of a single coin’ (Latour, 1987; Callon, 1986; Law, 2003). The social is conceived as a patterned network of relations connecting heterogeneous materials (Law, 2003). In the very similar way, scientific facts and the functioning of efficient engines draw resources from heterogeneous elements to support their durability (Latour, 1987). The heterogeneous elements include not only human actors, but also non-human actors. ANT proposes the so-called general symmetry principle that says, basically, in the analysis, human and non-human actors need to be accounted equally (Latour, 2005).

Callon (1986) and Latour (1987) propose the notion of translation to trace how an actor-network comes to existence. Thus actors are involved in a chain of translations to define the role of other actors, to set performance on trials. Network durability may result from translations, as well as network collapse. Callon (1986) goes further by analyzing translations into four moments: problematization, interessement, enrolment and mobilization. The conception of moments of translation serves as an analytical tool. Nevertheless, ANT is not a stability-seeking or equilibrium-seeking theory. As emphasized by its proponents, ANT is a descriptive theory. It seeks to describe the process of entity construction, as well as deconstruction.

The use of ANT in addressing technology assessment problems is conceptualized in the Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA) theory (Rip et al., 1995). CTA seeks to integrate social objectives and criteria by looking closely to the co-evolutionary process that connects technology and society. CTA conceptualization stems from the possibility of modulating technology in the course of its development1, though it is not an easy task to accomplish (Schot, 1992, p. 37). In their elaboration of the notion of technology modulation and steering, Fisher et al (2006) call for the “reflexive awareness” of actors to become attentive to nested processes, structures, interactions, and interdependencies, both immediate and more removed, within which they operate. They assert that “reflexive awareness” implies equality and open process in a network.

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