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NIAS Seminar

A “Grammar of Difference”. Colonial entanglements of social norms, labour legislation and education in the Dutch Empire

When 2 November 2017 from 11:15 to 12:15 hrs
Where Conference Room, Jorishof, Korte Spinhuissteeg 3
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Historian Elise Van Nederveen Meerkerk on the ways that ordinary households have responded to, and shaped, colonial connections in the Dutch Empire. 

About the Seminar

This seminar investigates developments in social policies and labour legislation from a colonial perspective. It aims to analyze to what extent state policies and societal norms influenced social policies, especially in the field of labour protection in the Netherlands and the Netherlands East Indies (present-day Indonesia). It compares as well as connects social interventions related to work and welfare in the Netherlands and the Netherlands East Indies from the early nineteenth century up until the Second World War.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, work was seen a means to morally discipline the poor, both in the Netherlands and the Netherlands-Indies. Parallel initiatives were taken by Johannes van den Bosch, who first in 1815 established ‘peat colonies(!)’ in the Netherlands, aiming to transform the urban poor into industrious agrarian workers, and in 1830, introduced the Cultivation System in the Netherlands-Indies, likewise, to increase Javanese peasants’ industriousness. While norms were similar, the scope of changing labour relations was much vaster in the colony than in the metropolis.

During the nineteenth century, labour protection gradually but surely emerged for Dutch working children, women and men. In contrast, only very few attempts to protect labourers in the Netherlands Indies came into being up until the Second World War. Economic incentives (exploiting cheap labour from indigenous men, women and children) were underpinned by ethnic-cultural arguments for the lack of social protection (the fallback on family networks, the principle following from customary law that women and children were used to heavy labour). Assumptions on inherent differences between Indonesian and Dutch workers served to justify the protection of the latter: a fine example of what Stoler and Cooper have called a ‘grammar of difference’.

About Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk

Nederveen Meerkerk Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk is Associate Professor of History at Utrecht University and researcher at the International Institute for Social History (IISH). At NIAS, she is working on a project that explores the ways in which colonial connections shaped household behaviour and living standards in the Dutch Empire.

About NIAS Seminars

NIAS Seminars are aimed to stimulate scientific cross-pollination within the NIAS academic community, but seminars are open to others who are interested. Please  if you wish to attend.

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