Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, Grammar of difference? Labour policies and social norms on work and gender in the Netherlands and the Netherlands Indies, ca. 1800-1940, CGEH Working Papers, 58. July 2014
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’.