This article, challenging the de-industrialization thesis for colonial Java, is a result of Van Nederveen Meerkerk’s NWO-Vidi-project industriousness in an imperial economy. As such, it will form part of the book project (provisional title: Connections and Divergence: Women, Work and Colonialism in the Netherlands and Java, 1830-1940), on which she is currently working at NIAS.
Many historians contend that nineteenth-century imperial policies and economic globalization de-industrialized the global ‘periphery’. European metropoles extracted raw materials and tropical commodities from their overseas territories, and in turn indigenous consumers bought their industrial products, textiles in particular.
This article investigates three of the assumptions of Ricardian trade theory that are often behind the de-industrialization narrative. It is argued that, at least for colonial Java’s textile industry, these assumptions should be reconsidered.
This article demonstrates that Javanese households resourcefully responded to changing market circumstances, in the first place by flexible allocation of female labour. Moreover, indigenous textile producers specialized in certain niches that catered for local demand. Because of these factors, local textile production in Java appears to have been much more resilient than most of the historical literature suggests. These findings not only shed new light on the social and economic history of colonial Indonesia, but also contribute to the recent literature on alternative, labour-intensive paths of industrialization in the non-western world.
Read the full article on the website of the Economic History Review.