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Train Surfing in Indonesia Essay

Train surfing is practised by many over various countries in the world. It involves riding on the outside of a moving train, and is considered illegal in many countries, but not all. The illegality or acceptance of the act is dependent on the demographics of the country, with it being considered a norm in the more destitute societies of the world (Nazam, 2010) , some of which consider it illegal, and an antisocial behaviour, and criminal activity in prosperous countries.

The behaviour is innately dangerous and is associated with many risks including electrocution, falling and being crushed by the moving locomotive, all of which ultimately result in critical injury or death (Wisegeek, 2012). Despite these risks, and attempts to discourage individuals from engaging in the pursuit by authorities (Hannah, 2013), many continue to par-take in the activity for a multiplicity of reasons and attractions, which extend from economic reasons, to individual motives, such as thrill seeking.

These variances in motivation across countries and amongst individuals may be explained by the criminological theories of Edgework (Lyng, 1990) ; and the Anomie-Strain Theory (Agnew, 1995) in association with Social Learning Theory (Bandura & Mcclelland, 1977) . The motivations behind train surfing tends to be subjective to the culture of those who participate. In countries such as India, Africa and Indonesia, where the activity is quite prominent, those who train surf typically do so due to overpopulated trains, and in some cases, in order to avoid purchasing a ticket.

In central Jakarta, during rush hour, when the platforms are swarmed with individuals pushing their way through the crowds in order to obtain a place on the next departing train, hundreds of individuals climb down from, and back up onto, the roof of the train (Morgan, 2013). Romie, who is amongst the crowd, claims that he must “train surf every day to get work. ” Despite being aware of the risks associated he reveals “he has no choice – there are not enough seats inside during peak hour” (Morgan, 2013).

Clearly, Romie reasons that he must engage in this activity due to the economic disadvantage of the country and lack of space on trains. This is consistent with the idea of Strain Theory, which posits that individuals engage in criminal activity due to an inability to satisfy conventional goals set by society (Agnew, 1994), and the justification that to attain these ambitions and conform to society, they must partake in criminal activity. Whilst Strain theory typically embodies the areas of crime which result in direct monetary benefit, such as theft, it is difficult to immediately ascertain said benefit from train surfing.

However, the value exposes itself when it becomes understood that individuals such as Romie, must train surf as a means of transporting to work to satisfy these goals, which inherently may be associated with the Conformity aspect of Strain Theory (Merton, 1968). The phenomenon may be further understood with the consideration of Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977) in that by transporting on the outside of the vehicle, the negative stimuli of overcrowding during the trip is removed, and the act remains rewarded by the arrival to the destination at the same time as other commuters who have used the train in a legal manner.

Typically Strain Theory may refer to a rapid upheaval and change in society and societal norms (Agnew, 2001), however, Merton (1968) elucidates a theory referred to as Social Structural Strain, which refers to the function of deviance in societies and culturally accepted views, versus accepted means. 23-year-old Ahmad Fauzi, an Indonesian man who, like Romie, train surfs in order to get to work, says “I know it’s dangerous but there’s no other choice. When the train is crowded it’s impossible to squeeze inside. (AFP, 2013). In these cases, ultimately, these individuals utilise the socially accepted means of public transport to travel to work, another socially and culturally accepted aspect of life in Jakarta. However, delving further into the public transport system and ideas about accepted goals versus accepted means, it is clear that the accepted goal in this case is use of the public transport system, and the accepted means being travelling within the vehicle.


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