John Pemberton

John Pemberton

Research Interests

Research Concentrations

Aesthetics and Politics, Ritual and Theater, Modernity, Literature and Translation, Sound Studies


Southeast Asia; Indonesia; Java


John Pemberton’s earlier work pursues issues informing colonial encounters, translation, and the political implications of cultural discourse, with a particular focus on Indonesia. His books, On the Subject of “Java” and Jawa, wrote to disclose the horizons and limits of cultural critique within the Netherlands East Indies and postcolonial New Order Indonesia, as well as within the field of anthropological inquiry itself. More recent work on Javanese exorcism, shadow-puppet theater, narrative, circuitries of voice, and magic, extends this analytical mix of historical, ethnographic, and political concerns, as does his work on emergent technologies and machineries of the modern and late-modern. A continuing interest remains, always, questions of sound—How does one live and move within worlds of sound? How does one think with and through sound?—and matters of music, echoes of that which lies just beyond language and strangely close to the heart.


Cornell University, PhD in Anthropology, 1989
Wesleyan University, MA in Music, 1972
Wesleyan University, BA, 1970

2010. "The Ghost in the Machine." In Photographies East: Histories of the Camera in East and Southeast Asia, edited by Rosalind Morris, 29-56. Durham: Duke University Press.

2008. “Beyond the Screen of Representation: or, When Things Begin to Move on Their Own.” In The Puppet Show, edited by Ingrid Schaffner and Carin Kuoni. Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art.

2007. "Returns of the Repressed: Indonesia's New Order Elections Revisited." In Cultures of Voting: The Hidden History of the Secret Ballot, edited by Romain Bertrand, Jean Louis Briquet, and Peter Pels, 197-225. Paris: Centre d' Etudes et Recherches Internationales.

2003. "Jawa.” Yogyakarta, Indonesia: Benteng.

2003b. "The Specter of Coincidence." In Southeast Asia over Three Generations: Essays Presented to Benedict R. O'Gorman Anderson, edited by Audrey Kahin and James T. Siegel, 75-90. Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program.

1999. "Open Secrets: Excerpts from Conversations with a Javanese Lawyer, and a Comment." In Figures of Criminality in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Colonial Vietnam, edited by Vicente Rafael, 193-209. Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program.

1998. "Disorienting Culturalist Assumptions: 'Java' Doubles." In In Near Ruins: Culture in Question, edited by Nicholas Dirks, 119-145. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

1994. On the Subject of “Java.” Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

1994b. "Recollections from 'Beautiful Indonesia' (Somewhere Beyond the Postmodern)." Public Culture 6, no. 2: 241-262.

1992. "Disempowerment. Not." Public Culture 5, no. 1: 83–88.

1987. "Musical Politics in Central Java (or How Not to Listen to a Javanese Gamelan)." Indonesia 44: 17–29.

1986. "Notes on the 1982 General Election in Solo." Indonesia 41: 1–22.

Courses Taught

Selected Publications

Book cover showing a colored drawing of two figures in a car.


John Pemberton