Elizabeth Drexler

  • Associate Professor
  • Director, Peace and Justice


Michigan State University, 326 Baker Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824 USA

Research Interests

    State Violence
    History, Memory, Trauma
    Human Rights, Law, Transitional Justice
    Power and Politics
    Knowledge, Documents, Archives
    Fiction, Film and Photography
    Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Timor Leste

Biographical Info

ELIZABETH F. DREXLER is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of Peace and Justice Studies. She has been working in Indonesia since 1996 focusing on issues of human rights and state violence. Her research projects explore how societies address the legacies of political violence, emphasizing the relationships among institutions, transnational interventions, historical narratives, and contested memories in establishing the rule of law and reconstructing social and political life—or failing to do so. She is particularly concerned with the role that knowledge of past violence, whether acknowledged or denied, plays in the present.

Her ethnography, Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, awarded the Cecil B. Currey Book Award), examines how historical narratives and human rights advocacy compounded the state’s insecurity and how military responses to insecurity penetrated ordinary life and mobilized civilians, transforming state-initiated violence and popular resistance into civil war. As a Fulbright New Century Scholar (2003-04), Drexler initiated a research project exploring the relationships among transitional justice processes, historical narratives, and the social and political legitimacy of post conflict institutions. To explore these issues in comparative perspective, she co-organized a workshop at the Rockefeller Brothers Bellagio Study Center that brought together practitioners working in conflict regions and scholars working on trauma, memory, and justice in post-conflict situations around the world. A series of publications on violence in Timor Leste consider how gray zones of complicity, collaboration and betrayal confound human rights and transitional justice strategies of accountability and repair that rely on exposure and documentation. These pieces explore the complexities of living in a conflict world in which people play both sides and analyze how the dynamics of this system of betrayal continue in post-conflict investigations of the past.

Based on a recent period of eighteen months of field experience funded by the American Institute for Indonesian Studies, Henry Luce Fellowship Grant and a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award, Drexler is currently working on a monograph and series of articles. Her monograph, tentatively titled “Human Rights, Transitional Justice and History in Indonesia,” explores the social life of documents and knowledge of past state violence. This work pays particular attention to how youth are engaged and invoked by differently positioned actors and advocates and how youth themselves contribute to knowledge and memory projects about authoritarian violence. A series of articles consider current developments in human rights discourse, norms and practice in Indonesia through the lens of criminalization and irregularities of law enforcement.

In both research and teaching, Drexler is committed to innovative uses of social theory to address contemporary global issues in ways that can inspire students to be active global citizens. She teaches graduate courses on Violence and the State, Knowledge, Memory and Archives as well as Cultural and Linguistic Theory. Her undergraduate courses include Ethnographic Methods, Globalization and Justice, Human Rights, Peace and Justice Studies, Indonesian Culture and Politics. Drexler is a core faculty member in Asian Studies, the Center for Gender in Global Context, and the Peace and Justice Studies.

She has served as Associate Editor for Southeast Asia for the Journal of Asian Studies as well as a founding editorial board member of the Indonesian Journal of Sociology and Education Policy.


A few recent publications include: Books
  • 2008 Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Award: Association of Third World Studies (ATWS) Cecil B. Currey Book-Length Publications Award for 2007-2008. Click for publisher’s website 
  • Reviewed in  American Ethnologist Volume 36 Issue 1 , Pages 1 - 206 (February 2009) Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State by Elizabeth F. Drexler (p 195-196) ROBERT W. HEFNER Published Online: Feb 24 2009 10:02AM DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2008.01111_11.x  Journal of Asian Studies Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State. By Elizabeth F. Drexler. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. 287 pp. $24.95 (cloth). David Hicks The Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 68, Issue 03, August 2009, pp 1027-1029 doi:10.1017/S0021911809990635 (About doi), Published Online by Cambridge University Press 19 Aug 2009
  • Peer Reviewed Book Chapters and Journal Articles
  •  “Fatal Knowledges: The legacies of Collaboration and Betrayal in East Timor.” International Journal of Transitional Justice (2013) 7 (1): 74-94
  • “The Failure of International Justice in East Timor and Indonesia.” Alex Hinton, ed.,Transitional Justice: Global Mechanisms and Local Realities after Genocide and Mass Violence(2010, Rutgers University Press).
  • “Impunity and Paranoia: Writing Histories of Indonesian Violence.” Kamari Clarke and Mark Goodale, eds., Mirrors of Justice: Law, Power and the Making of History (2009, Cambridge University Press).
  • “Addressing the Le gacies of Mass Violence and Genocide in East Timor and Indonesia.” Alex Hinton and Kevin O’Neill, eds., Genocide: Truth, Memory and Representation (Duke University Press, 2009) pp. 219-246.
  • “The Social Life of Conflict Narratives: Violent Antagonists, Imagined Histories, and Foreclosed Futures in Aceh, Indonesia.” Anthropological Quarterly Vol. 80, No. 4, Fall 2007.
  • “History and Liability in Aceh Indonesia: Single Bad Guys and Convergent Narratives.”American Ethnologist Vol. 33, No. 3, August 2006.
  • Dept. of Anthropology