Negotiating modernity : Europeanness in late colonial Indonesia, 1910-1942
Title: Negotiating modernity : Europeanness in late colonial Indonesia, 1910-1942
Author: LUTTIKHUIS, Bart
Citation: Florence : European University Institute, 2014
Series/Number: EUI PhD theses; Department of History and Civilization
The ‘European’ was a central figure of colonial history, occupying a pivotal position in the social hierarchy. Colonial rulers tended to (self-)identify as ‘European’, rather than as ‘White’ or by national denominators such as ‘Dutch’ or ‘British’. This thesis examines various groups of colonial actors in the late colonial Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia)—administrators, non-governmental elites, lower class Europeans, as well as diverse Indonesian actors—to analyse what each of them associated with being ‘European’ in the colony. The historiography dealing with differentiating practices in colonial Indonesia has tended to overstate the importance of racial delineations. As a result, it has become an accepted truism that colonial societies were obsessed with defining a clear dichotomy between ‘ruler and ‘ruled’, or ‘European’ and ‘Native’. But colonial actors actually preferred to think in many shades of grey. The inclusivity of the ‘European’ group was frequently adjusted and re-imagined, stressing either its exclusivity or inclusivity depending on the context. The consequence was what this thesis calls the ‘Indisch dream’: a powerful promise, however elusive in practice, of a shot at social mobility. This is not to say that colonialism was an open system offering opportunity to all alike. Hierarchization was rigid and often highly oppressive. Nevertheless, those on the lower rungs came to see themselves as stakeholders in the very system that kept them in line. The Indisch dream is therefore an important factor in explaining the surprising stability and longevity of the late colonial state in its final decades. In making the Indisch dream an attractive prospect to colonial ‘subalterns’, the discursive link between ‘Europeanness’ and ‘modernity’ was crucial. In the late colonial period, colonial actors from all walks of life became preoccupied with ‘being modern’. While a small minority of Indonesians advocated an autonomous Indonesian modernity (independent of ‘Europe’ and its colonial representatives), the ‘colonial European’ model held greater promise for the majority. Striving to become a ‘European’ in late colonial Indonesia was ultimately an exercise in living a form of modern life that was at once rigidly hierarchical and oppressive, but also selfconsciously ‘multi-cultural’. To present-day eyes, such a model of ‘modernity’ may well seem highly suspect. Nonetheless, it is vital to appreciate the integral role it has played in shaping twentieth-century notions of both ‘modernity’ and ‘Europeanness’.
Defence date: 10 October 2014; Examining Board: Prof. Dr. Kiran Klaus Patel, Maastricht University (Supervisor); Prof. Dr. A. Dirk Moses, EUI; Prof. Dr. Henk Schulte Nordholt, KITLV Leiden; Dr. Remco Raben, Utrecht University
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