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Open Access Urban Middle Classes in Colonial Java (1900–1942)

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Urban Middle Classes in Colonial Java (1900–1942)

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This study investigates Java’s urban middle classes and their importance in the formation of ‘modern’ lifestyles in Indonesia. They formed the backbone of both the Dutch colonial project and the resultant Indonesian nation-state. By foregrounding lifestyle as the defining factor of middle-class identity, we demonstrate how language and images provide a methodological framework to reconstruct this group’s ambitions and aspirations. Their language, an urban variety of Malay, was key to accessing and, in fact, creating discourses of modernity. This transformation was accelerated by the ‘visual turn’ in the late-colonial Netherlands Indies—and, indeed, globally. Advertisements and other visual messages, typically through the medium of the Malay language, promoted new ways to dress, work, travel, and consume. Yet Java’s middle classes were by no means uncritical recipients of these colonial and global novelties. A counter-discourse soon emerged, which questioned the consequences of being modern and the dangers of losing traditional values.

Affiliations: 1: KITLV/Royal Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies hoogervorst@kitlv.nl ; 2: KITLV/Royal Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies schultenordholt@kitlv.nl

10.1163/22134379-17304002
/content/journals/10.1163/22134379-17304002
dcterms_title,pub_keyword,dcterms_description,pub_author
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This study investigates Java’s urban middle classes and their importance in the formation of ‘modern’ lifestyles in Indonesia. They formed the backbone of both the Dutch colonial project and the resultant Indonesian nation-state. By foregrounding lifestyle as the defining factor of middle-class identity, we demonstrate how language and images provide a methodological framework to reconstruct this group’s ambitions and aspirations. Their language, an urban variety of Malay, was key to accessing and, in fact, creating discourses of modernity. This transformation was accelerated by the ‘visual turn’ in the late-colonial Netherlands Indies—and, indeed, globally. Advertisements and other visual messages, typically through the medium of the Malay language, promoted new ways to dress, work, travel, and consume. Yet Java’s middle classes were by no means uncritical recipients of these colonial and global novelties. A counter-discourse soon emerged, which questioned the consequences of being modern and the dangers of losing traditional values.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22134379-17304002
2017-01-01
2018-06-23

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