Abstract

This paper investigates developments in labour policies and social norms on gender and work from the perspective of colonial entanglements. 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. A prime example are the initiatives by Johannes van den Bosch, who first in 1818 established ‘peat colonies(!)’ in the Netherlands, where the urban poor were transported to become industrious agrarian workers. In 1830, the same Van den Bosch introduced the Cultivation System in the Netherlands Indies, likewise, to increase Javanese peasants’ industriousness. During the nineteenth century, ideals and practices of the male breadwinner started to pervade Dutch working – class households, and child and women’s labour laws we re issued. Instead, legislation in the Netherlands Indies was introduced very late and under heavy pressure of the international community. Not only did Dutch politicians consider it ‘natural’ that Indonesian women and children worked. What is more, they p resented the inherent differences between Indonesian and Dutch women as legitimation for the protection of the latter: a fine example of what Ann Stoler and Frederick Cooper have called a ‘grammar of difference’.

Abstract

This article delineates new research on the entangled histories of household labour, particularly women’s and children’s work, in the Netherlands and its colonies on Java. It offers suggestions for future empirical studies and how we may disentangle the workings of colonial connections on labour relations. A first analysis of the debates on Dutch and Javanese women’s and children’s work shows many ambivalences and tensions, for instance, between ideology and practice. Despite the ideal of the male breadwinner in the Netherlands, many married women and children still worked in the first half of the twentieth century. Regarding Javanese women and children too, we can discern tensions between the attempts on the one hand to “Westernize” them, and introduce the ideal of domesticity. On the other hand, inherent differences between Dutch and Indonesian women and children were stressed. This “grammar of difference” helped justify why Dutch women and children should not perform (heavy) labour and why their Javanese counterparts could indeed perform it.