Tribute to Bob S. Hadiwinata

Bob S. Hadiwinata (1963-2019)


Duncan McCargo



Before I made a chance visit to Parahyangan Catholic University (UNPAR) in mid-1997, I had little idea that lots of Indonesia’s most promising young political scientists were hanging out at the top of Ciumbuleuit. The undisputed intellectual leader of this FISIP group was the brilliant Bob Hadiwinata, just a month younger than me, then still finishing up his PhD at Cambridge. Over the next six years we successfully ran a British Council sponsored Higher Education Link between Leeds and UNPAR, a collaborative venture in which Bob was a leading light, involving a series of short-term exchange visits in both directions. Bob was an unfailingly generous academic host when I travelled to Bandung, always taking me for lunch or dinner to discuss weighty issues of the day, at a time of rapid and exciting political change in Indonesia – and updating me on the latest faculty gossip.

Bob visited Leeds himself in April 2002, and the following year his thesis-based monograph The Politics of NGOS in Indonesia was published in the Routledge Southeast Asia series I edit. It was the first book in the series to be authored by a Southeast Asian: and with more than 175 citations to date, it has been one of Rethinking Southeast Asia’s most influential volumes.

Bob went on to write many other articles and chapters, on topics ranging from Indonesian politics to the Aceh insurgency, electoral violence, civil society and international relations theory. An understated polymath with broad and eclectic interests, Bob was rapidly promoted to full professor and was frequently invited to give talks and conference presentations abroad, notably in Germany and the United States. He was also a much-loved colleague and teacher, extremely popular with his students.

Yet just as Bob was beginning to gain the domestic and international recognition he so richly deserved, his health began to fail him. In the autumn of 2008 I received this alarming email:

I have electrolyte deficiency in my body that affects my peripheral nerves, so I lost movement and was unable to speak for almost 2 months. I stayed in hospital for about three weeks, from early May to mid of June, and I had to stay at home for more than 1 month to recover. Somehow with support from family and friends I managed to recover, and I am back on my feet and teaching again from early September till now.

Although he bounced back and was able, for a time, to resume his travels and publishing, Bob was never really quite the same. The last few years of his life were a struggle: intellectually he remained very sharp, but physically he was gradually shutting down.

I am very happy that I was able to visit UNPAR on 21 September 2018, when I re-connected with Bob for what turned out to be the last time. He sat next to me at lunch, and we reminisced about our long and rich friendship. Afterwards he joined the audience of my public lecture at the Faculty, but for the first time I can remember, he did not have any questions for me at the end.

Bob Hadiwinata has been taken away from us prematurely: we had so much more to learn from him. Despite being one of the outstanding Indonesian social scientists of his generation, Bob was a humble, considerate and caring man, completely lacking in egotism or arrogance. In all the two decades I knew him, I never heard him say a mean-spirited word about anyone. As we celebrate his life, we all know that Bob will be sadly missed: but he will also remain an inspiration to those of us who are constantly striving, not simply to be better teachers and scholars, but also to be finer human beings.