Homeland, Identity and Media: A Study of Indonesian Transnational Muslims in New York City

This dissertation describes an attempt to understand the complex process of how Indonesian Muslims in New York City negotiate their cultural identities. This dissertation gravitates around the concept of transnationalism, which perceives that contemporary immigrants form and maintain multi-stranded social and cultural transnational links to the societies of the country of origin, chiefly thanks to advancement of media, communication and transportation technologies. Applying the non-obvious multi-sited ethnography approach (Marcus, 1999), I explore the dynamic process of how the deterritorialized Indonesians strive to reterritorialize their culture in the new cultural context, such as manifested in the establishment of the Indonesian mosque with its various Islamic activities and the reenactment of Indonesian cultural practices. Subsequently I explain how various forms of media are produced, circulated, and consumed in the Indonesian Muslim community.
The study concludes with several important points. First, media (ranging from the printed to electronic media to the Internet) have not played a central role, largely due to the small number of Indonesian Muslim community members. The negotiation of identity and transnational ties preservation take place in various forms of “smaller media,” such as personal videos and cassettes, photographs, the public gatherings of ethnic and religious associations. Second, instead of using Habermas’ (1989) unitary and singular public sphere, it is more useful to describe the sphere created by media and other venues as, following Gittlin (1989), multiple and fragmented public sphericules, in which the transnationals find their voice, maintain connection with the homelands, and express the struggle against marginalization. Third, the strength of the centripetal force of Indonesian and ethnic identities lead to my questioning of the heuristic ability of the widely used notion of hybridity. Lastly, I conclude that despite the centrality of ummah (the community of believers transcending nation-states and ethnicities) concept, currently it does not translate to a unified and solid sense of community among Muslims. Therefore I suggest that the possibility of the formation American Muslim identity depends on subsequent generations of Muslims.
Subject Headings
Mass Communications
Transnationalism; Media and Identity; Multisited Ethnography; Indonesian Immigrants; Muslim Immigrants; New Your City