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Johan LindquistHead of the Department, Professor

About me

Johan Lindquist is Professor of Social Anthropology and previously served as Director of the Forum for Asian Studies at Stockholm University. During the spring of 2020 he was a Fellow at the Stockholm Centre for Organisational Research (SCORE) and a visiting scholar in the School of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, and during 2021 a Visiting Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. He has previously been a visiting scholar at Harvard and Cornell and a visiting professor at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore. He is a member of the editorial board of Pacific Affairs, has published articles in journals such as Ethnos, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Mobilities, Public Culture, Pacific Affairs, and International Migration Review, is the co-editor of volumes such as Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity (University of Hawai’i Press, 2013), and the author of The Anxieties of Mobility: Development and Migration in the Indonesian Borderlands (University of Hawai’i Press, 2009).


Lindquist’s research has most generally been concerned with the relationship between transnationalism and migration, with a particular focus on Indonesia and Southeast Asia, but he has also dealt with themes such as HIV/AIDS, drug use, prostitution, factory work, and documentary film. While his dissertation research dealt with the lives of migrants and tourists on the Indonesian island of Batam—part of a transnational Growth Triangle that connects Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia—he has later focused on the forms of brokerage and infrastructure that shape contemporary transnational migrant mobility from Indonesia to countries across Asia and the Middle East. 

Currently he is working on two projects funded by the Swedish Research Council. The first focuses on Indonesians who produce and sell commodities such as followers and likes on social media platforms such as Instagram, but further attempts to develop methods to describe and conceptualize their relationships with a broader transnational market. A second project, in collaboration with Tekalign Ayalew Mengiste, deals with a critical dimension of the intensification and deepening of circular migration, namely the expansion of “migrant preparatory training,” vocational education in the deployment of low-skilled documented international labor migrants from sending to receiving countries. The project takes the circulation and implementation of these training programs as an empirical entry-point for understanding how the recruitment, preparation, deployment and channeling of documented low-skilled labor migration is evolving through increasingly sophisticated means.

Along with his scholarly work, Lindquist has also worked on other types of projects. He is the director of the documentary film B.A.T.A.M. (, which is a companion piece to his book The Anxieties of Mobility. He also has an ongoing collaboration with US artist and scholar John Freyer at Virginia Commonwealth University about IKEA. See, for instance: In the fall of 2019 he was an ”interpreter” in Tino Sehgal’s work This Progress, which opened Stockholm University’s exhibition space Accelerator (

Research projects


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Care and Control in Asian Migrations

    2020. Mark Johnson, Johan Lindquist. Ethnos 85 (2), 195-207


    This article takes the relationship between care and control as a starting point for ethnographically approaching the dynamics of Asian migrations. The pairing of care and control allows for a description of how migration takes shape through the historical development of entangled relationships - ranging from the supportive to the coercive - rather than strictly through dyadic relationships, social networks, structural forces, or as an effect of push-pull factors. Asian migration is thus approached as a socio-political field that is shaped through emerging forms of care and control which is shaped and constrained, for instance, by the state, market, social relations, brokers, and fellow travellers.

    Read more about Care and Control in Asian Migrations
  • Who’s Cashing In? Contemporary Perspectives on New Monies and Global Cashlessness

    2020. .

    Book (ed)

    Cashless infrastructures are rapidly increasing, as credit cards, cryptocurrencies, online and mobile money, remittances, demonetization, and digitalization process replace coins and currencies around the world. Who’s Cashing In? explores how different modes of cashlessness impact, transform and challenge the everyday lives and livelihoods of local communities. Drawing from a wide range of ethnographic studies, this volume offers a concise look at how social actors and intermediaries respond to this change in the materiality of money throughout multiple regional contexts.

    Read more about Who’s Cashing In? Contemporary Perspectives on New Monies and Global Cashlessness
  • Infrastructuralization

    2018. Biao Xiang, Johan Lindquist. Pacific Affairs 91 (4), 759-773


    This article explores the trend of “infrastructuralization” in state- sponsored programs of low- and semi-skilled labour migration from Asia. These programs increasingly focus on facilitating migration rather than generating actual opportunities for mobility and substantive development. While providing training to develop skills targeting speci c jobs in speci c countries, the programs generally leave complaints about actual working conditions and wages to be managed by the migrants themselves. In this process, labour migration programs are infrastructuralized, meaning that there is an ongoing expansion and intensi cation of the socio-technical platform that makes mobility possible, as facilitation becomes an end in itself. This trend is tied to changes in the general development paradigm, labour and state-citizen relations across Asia, as well as the increasing importance of brokers in facilitating connection. This article  rst probes a number of internal dynamics around which infrastructuralization unfolds in practice. We then highlight how commercial intermediaries and public institutions, the two key actors in infrastructuralization, shape migration by producing context-speci c migrant subjectivities, making aspirational work a central element of infrastructuralization. In the conclusion, we explore research agendas that can be developed further.

    Read more about Infrastructuralization
  • Reassembling Indonesian Migration

    2018. Johan Lindquist. Ethnos 83 (5), 832-849


    This article takes as its starting point the Indonesian government's attempt to license informal brokers - field agents, or petugas lapangan - who recruit migrant workers that are sent to destinations across Asia and the Middle East. The licensing programme utilises biometric fingerprint technology in order to reinforce the boundaries of the Indonesian migration assemblage through the rearticulation of the category of the broker. The article argues that this programme and the attempt to license informal brokers through technology should be conceptualised not strictly in relation to the securitisation of migration, nor as a response to fragmentation in the wake of neoliberalisation, but more broadly in relation to concerns with regulating brokers that lead back to the Dutch colonial era.

    Read more about Reassembling Indonesian Migration
  • Brokers, channels, infrastructure

    2017. Johan Lindquist. Mobilities 12 (2), 213-226


    This article problematizes the dichotomy between fluid mobility and fixed infrastructure through a case study of migrant labor recruitment from Indonesia to the Malaysian oil palm industry. Channels of low-skilled transnational migration must be understood in relation to other forms of mobility, most notably that of brokers, who move along adjacent and overlapping routes. Broker mobility is not only shaped by relatively immobile moorings, but also by more fluid moorings', notably mobile communication, low-cost airlines, and emergent social relationships. In order to understand how the migration process is arranged it is critical to pay attention to the logistical practices that make mobility possible. The article argues that broker mobility, diverse forms of moorings, and logistics come to shape a socio-technical system that can be understood in terms migration infrastructure.

    Read more about Brokers, channels, infrastructure
  • Migration infrastructures and the production of migrant mobilities

    2017. Weiqiang Lin (et al.). Mobilities 12 (2), 167-174


    Since the proclamation of a mobility turn in the 2000s, scholars have populated the field with invaluable insights on what it means to move, and what the politics of movement are. One particularly useful thread revolves around the issue of infrastructures, which have generally been taken to mean the manifest forms of moorings and fixities that help order and give shape to mobilities. Yet, while significant inroads have been made in delineating the morphologies of transport infrastructures, mobilities research has been relatively reticent about the organisational structures, orders and arrangements that give rise to another key mobile phenomenon of our time international migration. In this editorial introduction, we lay down some groundwork on the productive and political nature of infrastructures that likewise affect and inform the way (im)mobilities are contingently created and parsed in migration. Looking through the prism of East and Southeast Asia and its migration infrastructures, we take advantage of the new' infrastructural configurations in an emerging empirical context to point to some directions by which mobilities researchers can more rigorously interrogate migration' as another socially meaningful and specific form of mobility that exceeds a mere displacement of people or change in national domicile.

    Read more about Migration infrastructures and the production of migrant mobilities
  • Of figures and types

    2015. Johan Lindquist. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (SI), 162-177


    This paper takes the broker as an entry-point for considering the problem of exemplification in anthropology. In particular, it approaches this problem by way of the relationship between figure and type, or between example and theoretical exemplar. While the figure is contingent on a specific socio-historical context, the type consciously accentuates particular characteristics in order to form the basis for comparison. More specifically, the paper approaches this relationship by considering the broker as type in relation to two specific figures in the current regime of transnational Indonesian migration, namely the NGO outreach worker and the informal labour recruiter, both identified as field agents', or petugas lapangan, in Indonesia. By way of juxtaposition the paper discusses the oscillation between figure and type in order to consider biases in the anthropological literature on brokers - most notably that the the broker is inherently amoral if not immoral - while suggesting that the broker is an exemplary methodological starting-point for contemporary anthropology.

    Read more about Of figures and types
  • Migration Infrastructure

    2014. Biao Xiang, Johan Lindquist. The international migration review 48, s122-S148


    Based on the authors' long-term field research on low-skilled labor migration from China and Indonesia, this article establishes that more than ever labor migration is intensively mediated. Migration infrastructure - the systematically interlinked technologies, institutions, and actors that facilitate and condition mobility - serves as a concept to unpack the process of mediation. Migration can be more clearly conceptualized through a focus on infrastructure rather than on state policies, the labor market, or migrant social networks alone. The article also points to a trend of infrastructural involution, in which the interplay between different dimensions of migration infrastructure make it self-perpetuating and self-serving, and impedes rather than enhances people's migratory capability. This explains why labor migration has become both more accessible and more cumbersome in many parts of Asia since the late 1990s. The notion of migration infrastructure calls for research that is less fixated on migration as behavior or migrants as the primary subject, and more concerned with broader societal transformations.

    Read more about Migration Infrastructure
  • Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity

    2013. .

    Book (ed)

    The idea of capturing recent transformations of Southeast Asia through vignettes about familiar yet idiosyncratic individuals is brilliant. The everyday experiences and aspirations of people trying to make sense of their lives and dreams convey a complex and often surprising view of contemporary cross-currents, upheavals, anxieties, and struggles in a volatile region. This volume offers a great way for students to understand and empathize with ordinary people and nations in rapid motion.

    Read more about Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity
  • Opening the Black Box of Migration

    2012. Johan Lindquist, Biao Xiang, Brenda S. A. Yeoh. Pacific Affairs 85 (1), 7-19


    This special issue takes the migrant broker as a starting point for investigating contemporary regimes of transnational migration across Asia. The articles, which span large parts of Asia—including China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as New Zealand—show that marriage migration, student migration, and various forms of unskilled labour migration, including predominantly male plantation and construction work and female domestic, entertainment, and sex work, are all mediated by brokers. Although much is known about why migrants leave home and what happens to them upon arrival, considerably less is known about the forms of infrastructure that condition their mobility. A focus on brokers is one productive way of opening this “black box” of migration research. The articles in this issue are thus not primarily concerned with the experiences of migrants or in mapping migrant networks per se, but rather in considering how mobility is made possible and organized by brokers, most notably in the process of recruitment and documentation. Drawing from this evidence, we argue that in contrast to the social network approach, a focus on the migrant broker offers a critical methodological vantage point from which to consider the shifting logic of contemporary migration across Asia. In particular, paying ethnographic attention to brokers illuminates the broader infrastructure that makes mobility possible while revealing that distinctions between state and market, between formal and informal, and between altruistic and profit-oriented networks are impossible to sustain in practice.

    Read more about Opening the Black Box of Migration
  • The Elementary School Teacher, the Thug and his Grandmother

    2012. Johan Lindquist. Pacific Affairs 85 (1), 69-89


    This article considers the emergence of informal brokers in the context of an increasingly formalized regime of transnational labour migration from Indonesia. Following the 1997 Asian economic crisis and the fall of the Suharto regime, there has been a dramatic increase in documented transnational migration to Malaysia at the expense of undocumented migration. In this process, a growing number of private agencies have come to control the increasingly deregulated market for migrant recruitment. These agencies, in turn, depend on informal brokers who recruit migrants in villages across Indonesia to work on palm oil plantations and as domestic servants in countries such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. This article takes these informal brokers as a starting point for considering the current Indonesian migration regime, using ethnographic data from the island of Lombok. Along with offering a description of brokering practices, the article argues that the dual process of centralization of migration control and fragmentation of labour recruitment has created a space of mediation for individuals who can navigate bureaucratic process while embodying the ethical qualities that convince Indonesian villagers to become migrants.

    Read more about The Elementary School Teacher, the Thug and his Grandmother
  • Labour Recruitment, Circuits of Capital and Gendered Mobility

    2010. Johan Lindquist. Pacific Affairs 83 (1), 115-+


    During the last decade there has been a marked shift in the structure of migration from Indonesia with the deregulation of the transnational labour recruitment market after the fall of Suharto and a broader attempt across the region to regulate migrant flows to and from receiving countries in the wake of the Asian economic crisis. In this process, hundreds of Indonesian labour recruitment agencies have come to function as brokers in an increasingly government-regulated economy that sends documented migrants to countries such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. Based primarily on fieldwork on the island of Lombok, one of the major migrant-sending areas in Indonesia, the article considers the gendered aspects of this state market relationship by focusing ethnographic attention on the initial stages of recruitment, as informal labour brokers deliver migrants to formal agencies. Critically, the article describes how capital increasingly flows ""down"" towards female migrants and ""up"" from male migrants i.e., men must go into debt while women do not pay (or are even offered money) to travel abroad thus highlighting the gendered dimensions of the current economy of transnational migration. More generally, the article argues for a renewed focus on the migration industry as a way of reconceptualizing Indonesian transnational migration in the context of contemporary forms of globalization.

    Read more about Labour Recruitment, Circuits of Capital and Gendered Mobility
  • Putting Ecstasy to Work

    2010. Johan Lindquist. Identities 17 (03-feb), 280-303


    This article takes the drug Ecstasy as a commodity located at the center rather than at the margins of social processes, a technology that allows for the temporary engagement with pleasure and displacement of inequality in the context of nightlife and prostitution. It addresses these issues by focusing ethnographic attention on how Indonesian female prostitutes and their Singaporean male clients use Ecstasy in a disco on the Indonesian island of Batam, an export-processing zone located at the border to Singapore. By paying close attention to consumption practices, the article uses Ecstasy as a starting point for illuminating intersections of social mobility and inequality in the context of contemporary forms of transnational capitalism.

    Read more about Putting Ecstasy to Work
  • The Anxieties of Mobility

    2008. Johan Lindquist.


    Since the late 1960s the Indonesian island of Batam has been transformed from a sleepy fishing village to a booming frontier town, where foreign investment, mostly from neighboring Singapore, converges with inexpensive land and labor. Indonesian female migrants dominate the island’s economic landscape both as factory workers and as prostitutes servicing working class tourists from Singapore. Indonesians also move across the border in search of work in Malaysia and Singapore as plantation and construction workers or maids.

    Export processing zones such as Batam are both celebrated and vilified in contemporary debates on economic globalization. The Anxieties of Mobility moves beyond these dichotomies to explore the experiences of migrants and tourists who pass through Batam. Johan Lindquist’s extensive fieldwork allows him to portray globalization in terms of relationships that bind individuals together over long distances rather than as a series of impersonal economic transactions. He offers a unique ethnographic perspective, drawing together the worlds of factory workers and prostitutes, migrants and tourists, and creating a compelling account of everyday life in a borderland characterized by dramatic capitalist expansion.

    The book uses three Indonesian concepts (merantau, malu, liar) to shed light on the mobility of migrants and tourists on Batam. The first refers to a person’s relationship with home while in the process of migration. The second signifies the shame or embarrassment felt when one is between accepted roles and emotional states. The third, liar, literally means “wild” and is used to identify those who are out of place, notably squatters, couples in premarital cohabitation, and prostitutes without pimps. These sometimes overlapping concepts allow the book to move across geographical and metaphorical boundaries and between various economies.

    Read more about The Anxieties of Mobility

Show all publications by Johan Lindquist at Stockholm University