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Dutch Colonial Anthropology in Indonesia

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Attempts to assess the results of colonial anthropology in Indonesia faced some problems, which, until recently, have not been dealt with properly. Therefore, in a newly published comprehensive history of anthropology in the Netherlands, several studies focused on the character, rather than on the substance of colonial anthropology. In the case of Dutch colonial representations of Indonesia, 'colonial anthropology' appears to be an assemblage of various disciplines that constituted a fragmented whole (Indologie; Dutch Indies Studies) from which today's Dutch academic anthropology emerged. However, projection of current conceptions of anthropology into the colonial past resulted in a tendency to neglect some major characteristics of early representations that are imperative for the interpretation of these representations. Besides, a rather limited familiarity amongst present-day anthropologists with the way in which Dutch colonial politics became immersed in international discourses resulted in misappraisal of an essential change in colonial knowledge: the shift from local to analytical representations, deeply affecting the portrayal of Indonesian cultures. In colonial knowledge production, emphasis moved from ethnographic particularism to essentialist conceptions like 'Knowledge of the Native'. This shift also had serious consequences for the academic position of ethnology amongst other colonial disciplines. Until recently, this misappraisal could escape notice because students of Dutch colonial anthropology were insufficiently aware of the effects on interpretation of the great variety of disciplinary discourses, so characteristic for Dutch colonial studies. Therefore, we will here concentrate on these effects and on the growing intertwinement of knowledge and politics which was directly related to the international orientation of colonial policy that became increasingly prominent after the mid-nineteenth century.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Arts, Leiden University & Faculty of Law, Utrecht University; 2: Department of Cultural Anthropology, Radboud University, Nijmegen


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