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The Children of a Colonial State, the Ancestors of a Future Nation

Organiser:
Tom Hoogervorst
KITLV
hoogervorst@kitlv.nl

Chair:
Tom Hoogervorst
KITLV
hoogervorst@kitlv.nl

Discussant:
Tom Hoogervorst
KITLV
hoogervorst@kitlv.nl

 
At the start of the 20th century, Indonesia’s emerging middle-class became increasingly central to the maintenance of colonial rule. This interdisciplinary panel explores the consumption patterns, mass culture and new lifestyles of this group. Indonesian middle-classes have long been excluded from the historical record, which prioritized dominant colonial categories (“peasants”, “aristocrats”, “Chinese”) and – in post-independence times – nationalists. As a result, the crucial role of these middle-classes within the colonial system remains poorly visible. In redressing this imbalance, Henk Schulte Nordholt examines the visuality of this new mass culture as reflected in advertisements aimed to help shape new lifestyles. A concomitant development was the rise of a new mass audience for moving pictures. Dafna Ruppin explores what brought women from all levels of society to spend their leisure time at the cinema, the films they watched, and to what extent they were (or were not) at liberty to attend movie theatres on their own. She argues that women’s experiences of movie-going in colonial Java differed in accordance with their ethnic and/or class affiliation. Late-colonial Indonesia also witnessed the proliferation of fairs, where the colonized were the main participants and observers. Arnout van der Meer examines the character of these fairs as sites of legitimization of colonialism. For instance, the juxtaposition between Western merchandise and traditional Javanese commodities was intentionally produced. Crucially, these fairs did not merely reflect the broader shift in colonial discourse, but were particularly aimed at and constitutive of a nascent Indonesian middle-class.

 
Paper 1: Mass culture and modernity: The emergence of new urban middle classes in colonial Indonesia

Henk Schulte Nordholt
KITLV
schultenordholt@kitlv.nl

At the start of the 20th century emerging middle classes in colonial Indonesia adopted a new mass culture. The visuality of this new mass culture is reflected in advertisements which helped to shape new lifestyles. These middle classes were for a long time excluded from the historical record because their existence was on the one hand marginalized by dominant colonial categories like “peasants”, “aristocrats”, “Chinese”, and on the other by an exclusive focus on the role of nationalists who monopolized the historiography of the new nation state. As a result one failed to see the crucial role of these middle classes within the colonial system. They were the children of the colonial state and for that matter the ancestors of a future Indonesia.

 

Paper 2: Gender, spectatorship and the emergence of modern movie theatres in colonial Java

Dafna Ruppin
Utrecht University
D.Ruppin@uu.nl

This paper examines the rise of a new mass audience for moving pictures in colonial Java at the beginning of the twentieth century. Focusing particularly on women’s attendance of early movie theatres, it explores what brought women from all levels of colonial society to spend their leisure time at the cinema, the films they watched, and to what extent they were (or were not) at liberty to attend movie theatres on their own. It will argue that women’s experiences of movie-going in colonial Java differed in accordance with their ethnic and/or class affiliation.

 

Paper 3: A performance in contrasts: Fairs, commodities, and the production of difference in late colonial Java
Arnout van der Meer
Colby College
ahvander@colby.edu

Late colonial Java witnessed the proliferation of fairs, exhibitions, and pasar malams that drew hundreds of thousands of visitors from diverse ethnic backgrounds and all walks of life. At these fairs the colonized were the main participants and observers, which raises intriguing questions about the character of these fairs and their place in colonial society. In this paper it will be argued that these fairs played a crucial role as sites of interaction where colonialism was legitimized through a performance in contrasts. For instance, the juxtaposition between, on the one hand, Western merchandise, ranging from gas stoves, bicycles, the latest fashion, and cigarettes, and on the other hand traditional Javanese batiks, wayang puppets, and gamelan instruments, was intentionally produced. Crucially, these fairs did not merely reflect the broader shift in colonial discourse, known as the Ethical Policy, but were particularly aimed at and constitutive of a nascent Indonesian middle class that became increasingly central to the maintenance of colonial rule. In this context, it will be explored how these performances in contrast reshaped colonial hierarchies of race, class, and gender in twentieth century colonial Java.