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Promise, Pretence and Pragmatism: Governance and Taxation in Colonial Indonesia, 1870-1940

On 2 Juni 2021, Maarten Manse defended his thesis 'Promise, Pretence and Pragmatism: Governance and Taxation in Colonial Indonesia, 1870-1940'. The doctoral research was supervised by Prof. R. Arendsen.

Maarten Manse
02 June 2021
Leiden Repository

Taxation was at the core of colonial exercises of governance, state-building and state-society relations. This dissertation analyses taxation in colonial Indonesia between 1870 and 1940.

In an era of continuous expansion and reform, colonial statesmen envisioned a full-fledged tax state of equivalent and just forms of tax-payment in accordance with fair laws, a transparent administration and benevolent governance. They saw taxation as an important tool in the project of constructing a modern empire, ‘disciplining and improving’ its subjects and unifying and reforming the state. However, despite intricate law-making processes, shrewd strategies of data accumulation and registration, and a sophisticated bureaucratic machinery, the colonial state in Indonesia had limited success in realising its ambitions. On the ground, taxation was controlled by local elites and driven by processes of negotiation, mediation and subversion of the state apparatus. Rather than imposing a Western model of taxation on the colony, the resulting system became an amalgam of Dutch and local interests, while the state itself became increasingly mixed with the local structures and practices it was supposed to change and replace. Instead of a force of extraction and reform, taxation provided an arena for contesting the colonial state.

Based on extensive archival research and traversing the Indonesian archipelago from Aceh to the Moluccas, this dissertation unveils the diverse administrative realities of colonial Indonesia as created by colonial officials, intermediaries and subjects. By focusing on taxation, it demonstrates how colonial governance was experienced as hybrid and malleable, thereby contributing to broader academic debates about colonial statecraft, fiscal policy and the consequences of colonial rule. 

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