Session: Community and Development in Timor-Leste

Globalization and Culture Stream


Day 2, Parallel Session 2A: 11:00am – 12:30pm

Location: Storey Hall (Building 16), Conference Room 2, Level 7, Room 8

Chair: Associate Professor Chris Hudson (RMIT University)


Emily Toome All in the Mind? The Pathologisation of Trauma in Timor-Leste

  • Author: Emily Toome (RMIT University)
  • Abstract: Given the failure of many peace-building operations to ensure a sustainable peace, it is perhaps not surprising that the prospect of retaliatory violence in post-conflict societies is frequently identified as a security and development concern. Drawing on a critique of the so-called ‘therapeutic security paradigm’ this paper critically examines discourses of traumatisation in Timor-Leste. At one level, it is noted that the bio-psychological model of ‘trauma’ can be incongruous with East Timorese notions of health, widely understood as being socially embedded and relational, rather than biological and individual. On another, the paper argues that there is no one-on-one correlation between experiencing events that might be classified as ‘traumatic’ and going on to suffer a pathological traumatisation. Individual and community resilience should not be underestimated, and the rationale for international supervision of ‘traumatised’ societies should be questioned. Therapeutic interventions, such as the East Timorese Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, may be a pragmatic option given the lack of international support for pursuing criminal justice or financial reparations. However, remedies aimed at the psyche that come at the expense of the material may pose a greater threat to sustainable and secure community than does pathological traumatisation, particularly at this time of acute social change.
  • About the presenter: Emily Toome is a RMIT Master in Social Science (International Development) graduate and has undertaken research in and published on Timor-Leste. Since graduating, she has been working with the Globalism Research Centre and the Centre for Sustainable Organisations and Work at RMIT University, and continues her involvement with the Timor-Leste Research Program.
Damian Grenfell The Redundancy of Assumption: Civil Society and State Formation in Timor-Leste

  • Presenter and main author: Dr Damian Grenfell (RMIT University)
  • Abstract: A survey of any number of policy documents, project evaluations and Aide-mémoire demonstrates that conceptions of civil society remain integral to contemporary state- and nation-building efforts in Timor-Leste. At first read, the use of the term in such documentation and public discourse appears to be caught in a tension where, while there is a supposed necessity in having a civil society as part of the forging of a liberal-democratic state, it is perpetually seen as weak and lacking despite the efforts of its interveners . This paper draws out some of the assumptions located at the base of this tension and in doing so make three arguments: first, rather than emphasising the liberatory potential of civil society in a post-despotic political transformation, much of the effort put into its formation and sustainability in Timor-Leste has been in an effort to create institutional equivalence to carry out the will of a donor community. Second, even in terms of the form of civil society that one can actually speak of, it does not exist in the way or to the extent that it is ‘imagined’; it is neither as evenly constituted nor as embedded in civic virtue as idealised notions might desire. As an effect of these first two, the third argument is that such an approach to civil society engagement is very likely to lead to a dynamic that gets caught in a self-confirming cycle of intervention and resistance in a way that can seriously undermine efforts to secure a sustainable and meaningful post-conflict polity.
  • About the presenter: Damian is Director of the Globalism Research Centre at RMIT University, where he has worked since 2003. His research concentrates on different patterns of social conflict and resolution across the local, national and global. He has worked in a range of international sites, particularly in Timor-Leste where he lived from 2006 until 2010 and has visited many times. Drawing together ethnographically framed fieldwork with social policy and social theory, he has published a wide range of articles, book chapters, reports and opinion pieces and has worked on a range of research projects ranging from Australian Research Council Discovery Projects through to consultancies in local rural communities in Timor-Leste. Dr Grenfell teaches at both an undergraduate and postgraduate level in the Global Studies discipline at RMIT University on courses in Security, Interventions, Peace and Social Theory, and he supervises in a range of related areas.
Sam Carroll-Bell Re-imagining Development in Timor-Leste 

  • Presenters and main authors: Sam Carroll-Bell (RMIT University)
  • Abstract: For almost 14 years Timor-Leste has been home, albeit temporarily, to thousands of Development volunteers, project officers and capacity builders. Backed by some of the world’s largest international Development agencies and institutions these practitioners have traversed almost every corner of the country deploying programs and infrastructure in the hopes of improving livelihoods, empowering women and establishing basic services. While much of this work has been informed and guided by orthodox approaches found elsewhere in the developing world, in response to aid ineffectiveness a small number of agencies have begun to explore alternative modes of Development that take into account local customary practice. Drawing on case studies, this presentation outlines how these agencies are attempting to ‘re-imagine’ the Development praxis in order to secure and sustain positive long-term development outcomes. In so doing, it details how the previously incongruous notions of Development and customary practice, ritual and authority are being brought together to form new and meaningful frameworks for engagement and activity. It is suggested that much may be gained through re-framing the way customary practices are viewed and treated by development, so as to move from being thought of as a series of ‘quaint’ obstacles to acknowledging them as deeply embedded ‘systems of meaning’ which continue to guide East Timorese life.
  • About the presenter: A graduate of RMIT University (Master of Social Science – International Development) Sam Carroll-Bell’s research explores the framing and impact of international development activities. To date this work has centred on the young of Nation of Timor-Leste (AKA East Timor). Prior to his current Coordination role with the Global Cities Research Institute at RMIT, Sam worked with the Global Research Centre and the Centre for Sustainable Organisations and Work (also of RMIT). Sam is the President of the arts advocacy organisation Artists for Human Rights and Action, a founding member of the anti-human trafficking organisation Stop.Traffick (now Agile Development) and a volunteer with Matadalan Ba Malu, a scholarship facilitation program for East Timorese women.