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An intermediary role in the knowledge society

The media and communication researcher Subekti Priyadharma is committed to exchange between Indonesia and Germany.

Esther Sambale, 25.04.2024
Media studies expert Subekti Priyadharma
Media studies expert Subekti Priyadharma © privat

Practising international networking: we present individuals who symbolise Germany’s partnerships around the world. Global challenges can only be overcome by working together.

Ciptagelar is a village six hours by car from Bandung, the capital of the Indonesian province of West Java. It is situated deep in the rain forest - yet has excellent internet reception. “Though farmers there are not allowed to use tractors and rice is traditionally grown according to astronomic constellations, use of media, smartphones and the internet is widespread in all other areas of life,” explains Subekti Priyadharma. For his PhD at the University of Erfurt, the media and communications studies expert visited a number of indigenous communities in his home country of Indonesia. “Through my research, I learnt that digital advances can coexist alongside traditional ways of life.” 

German-Indonesian student network 

This is something that the 41-year-old was recently able to share with students at the University of Erfurt’s Seminar for Media and Communication studies when he spent one summer and one winter semester there as a guest lecturer with the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). He believes that international networking is important. While still doing his PhD at the University of Erfurt in 2015, he and his colleagues initiated a three-year cooperation project with his university in Bandung. 

This involved around 50 students, teachers and researchers from Germany and Indonesia doing excursions to the parliament in Jakarta and to the Bundestag in Berlin, visiting the Indonesian media supervisory authority and the editorial office of a German newspaper, meeting politicians, street artists and representatives of non-governmental organisations and staging seminars and workshops. “Together, we explored the role that media play in the transformation process in Indonesia and Germany,” says Priyadharma. The project led to a conference and a scientific publication, and the university partnership continues to this day. 

Possible cooperation with universities in Brazil and Austria too

As far as Priyadharma is concerned, the network that has evolved as a result is the most important thing. Besides student and academic exchanges, guest lectures are given from time to time by former participants in the cooperation project. Formal and informal networking is pursued at conferences and in expert groups. “This is how we ensure that the partnership continues to thrive, produces new ideas and brings in other universities.” Just recently, possible collaborations with TH Köln - University of Applied Sciences, the University of Salzburg and the Universidad Federal Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro were discussed.

Society is my laboratory.
Media studies expert Subekti Priyadharma

Through his research and his commitment to the German-Indonesian partnership, Priyadharma wants to break with established stereotypes and question the Eurocentric view, including the common definitions of developed and so-called developing countries. “If one looks at the transformation processes in Germany and Indonesia, it is clear that both countries are still in a state of development - with respect to digitisation, for example.” What he observes time and again in his field studies is that people in peripheral areas have skills and knowledge from which the majority in society can learn. “Society is my laboratory. That’s where I gather data, analyse developments, observe behaviours. Through my research, I wish to give something back to the people who give me insights into their lives.” 

Priyadharma himself was born in a small town in Majalengka in West Java and grew up in Bandung. He explains that his focus on marginalised groups and his holistic view are an attitude that defines his life. “When for example I speak to a beggar in my daily life, I am always aware that this person will know something that I do not, and that this knowledge can enrich me.”

There is a large map of Erfurt on the wall of our house in Indonesia.
Media studies expert Subekti Priyadharma

Priyadharma believes it is impossible to pinpoint exactly what the centre and periphery are and where the margins and middle of society lie. “In my opinion, these positions are dynamic and depend to a large extent on the possession of knowledge and power, and on the ability to understand new information. We are all part of the centre and of the periphery at the same time.” 

Before he came to Germany in 2005 after graduating with his bachelor’s degree, initially working as an au-pair here and later becoming a master’s student, doctoral student and DAAD guest lecturer, Priyadharma had never even heard of Erfurt. “These days there is a large map of Erfurt on the wall of our house in Indonesia. One of our daughters was born here and we have made friends. Erfurt has become our second home.”