Grammar of difference? Labour policies and social norms on work and gender in the Netherlands and the Netherlands Indies, ca. 1800-1940

Number: 
58
Author: 
van Nederveen Meerkerk, E.

This paper investigates developments in labour policies and social norms ongender and work from the perspective of colonial entanglements. At the beginning of thenineteenth century, work was seen a means to morally discipline the poor, both in theNetherlands and the Netherlands Indies. A prime example are the initiatives by Johannes vanden Bosch, who first in 1818 established 'peat colonies(!)' in the Netherlands, where theurban poor were transported to become industrious agrarian workers. In 1830, the same Vanden Bosch introduced the Cultivation System in the Netherlands Indies, likewise, to increaseJavanese peasants' industriousness. During the nineteenth century, ideals and practices of themale breadwinner started to pervade Dutch working-class households, and child and women'slabour laws were issued. Instead, legislation in the Netherlands Indies was introduced verylate and under heavy pressure of the international community. Not only did Dutch politiciansconsider it 'natural' that Indonesian women and children worked. What is more, theypresented the inherent differences between Indonesian and Dutch women as legitimation forthe protection of the latter: a fine example of what Ann Stoler and Frederick Cooper havecalled a 'grammar of difference'.