Rahardhika Utama

Sociology Comparative Historical Analysis Southeast Asia Photography


I am a sociologist with a PhD from Northwestern University, specializing in comparative-historical research of development. I am currently a researcher at the Atma Jaya Institute for Advanced Research (IFAR Atma Jaya) and a visiting scholar at the Equality Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS) at Northwestern. In my graduate training years, I was as a Global Impacts Graduate Fellow at the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs and a SEAREG Fellow at the Center for International Development, Sanford School of Public Policy - Duke University.

I am passionate about conducting high-impact research that solves real-world problems. My research interests are in the areas of comparative development, corruption, bureaucracy and politics, social policy and inequality, and social determinants of health.

My current research investigates the variation of development among agrarian economies of Southeast Asia. In my book manuscript, Embedded Peasantry: Economic Transformation in the Asian Rubber Belt, I explain why some countries have seen miraculous economic growth while others have not. I received support for my research from the Arryman Program, the Southeast Asia Research Group (SEAREG), Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, and the American Indonesian Cultural and Educational Foundation (AICEF).

My dissertation was honored with the prestigious 2024 Theda Skocpol Dissertation Award for the best dissertation in the field of comparative and historical sociology. My earlier research papers also received recognition: I was awarded the 2021 Hayward R. Alker Graduate Paper Award from the American Political Science Association in 2021, and in 2020, I received an honorable mention for the Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award in Sociology of Development from the American Sociological Association.



  • Embedded Peasantry

    Comparative Historical Sociology of Natural Rubber and Paths of Development in Southeast Asia

    Why have some countries seen miraculous economic growth while others have not? Sociologists of development who have examined this question primarily focus on countries that do not have a large agrarian sector. However, most countries in the developing world are agricultural countries. Through in-depth comparative historical analysis of two similar countries in Southeast Asia, including interviews with 170 agricultural producers and development planners, 15 months of ethnography, and archival analysis in 20 archive centers worldwide, I argue that the answer to diverging development lies in how the Cold War mobilized peasants differently, resulting in either peasant incorporation or suppression during industrialization.

  • Color in Politics

    The Politics of Aesthetics and Culture in Emerging Democracies

    Analyzing changes in power and appearance of public space several towns in Southeast Asia, my study shows the production and utilization of colors as cultural objects in electoral politics. I elaborate on how political actors produce color as an aesthetic object to obtain and maintain power. Three conditions foster the durability of color in emerging democracies: weakened citizens’ collective identity, rejuvenated bureaucrats’ collective memory on authoritarian political color, and augmented authority in the context of decentralized democracy. This research demonstrates the utilization of color as a cultural object to expand and maintain electoral and bureaucratic power.

  • Bureaucratic Clientilism

    Mechanism of Corruption in Decentralized Democracies

    The transition to democracy generates more opportunities for local government officials to misuse public funds for their political interests through bureaucratic clientelism as a mechanism of corruption. It is a phenomenon of exchange based on clientelistic links in which political leaders, per informal rules, induce bureaucrats to misuse public funds for their interest to win elections. This research conceptualizes bureaucratic clientelism and applies the concept to understand the corruption trend in Indonesia using a case study qualitative analysis. Through this mechanism, corruption is deepening after democratization, particularly following a decentralization reform.



My book project aims to contest, refine, and organize existing theories of economic transformation among late developing countries in the Global South, particularly in Southeast Asia. It addresses the variety of development in agrarian economies that sustained a significant agricultural output before underwent industrialization. Despite having to deal with a large agricultural sector at the onset of post-colonial state-building, why did some countries succeed in transforming their economy while others did not?

The book also proposes an innovative solution to the problem of an unsustainable path to economic development. This problem leads not only to environmental degradation but also to three conditions that perpetuate poverty in the Global South: rising inequality, the expansion of a vulnerable urban informal sector, and the endurance of an inefficient agriculture economy. What path of economic transformation should countries in the Global South take to achieve a higher economic level without necessarily following the unsustainable development blueprint of their counterparts in the North?

I demonstrate that political relations between the state and peasantry class molded the path of economic transformation that has resulted in the discrepancy in levels of development, environmental sustainability, and social protection. The arguments in this book contribute to the debate on institutional explanations of development in the fields of sociology of development, political economy, and economic history. For this project, I conducted extensive archival research at 20 libraries and archive centers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom. I also gathered oral history, interviews, and observations from multi-sited ethnography fieldwork in multiple rubber communities Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar.



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