Harro Maat (Wageningen University) Local Subversions of Colonial Cultures; Commodities and Anti-Commodities in Global History

Organisator Rural and Environmental History

di 10 juni 2014 12:30 tot 14:00

Locatie Leeuwenborch, building number 201
Hollandseweg 1
6706 KN Wageningen
Zaal/kamer V72
The novel concept of the anti-commodity to indicates a variety of localised productions and countermovements through which peasants and other workers attempted to gain greater control over their livelihoods in the face of colonial pressures to produce commercial crops for the export market. The concept of ‘colonial cultures’ refers to the botanical and scientific understandings, plant transplants and cultivation changes that the new authorities sought to promote while at the same suggesting their rootedness in particular colonial world-views that were at variance with local ways of living and knowing. The anti-commodity perspective offers original insights into the various modes of resistance developed by local peoples as they encountered the new forces unleashed by colonial rule. As contributors to this volume reveal, peasant producers, artisans, and workers devised a range of strategies to resist the attempted colonial imposition of particular commodities: in India, they drew on their superior local knowledge of soil, plants and climate to grow food staples in preference to cash crops and were also able to produce a different variety of the desired colonial commodity of cotton for local use; in Sumatra, smallholders employed accustomed shifting cultivation practices to escape colonial control over their activities, making opportunistic use of the market for their produce when it afforded them attractive prices; in Sierra Leone, emancipated peasants were able, through careful seed selection, to re-orient rice cultivation to locally useful purposes; in Egypt, weavers modified their handlooms so as to be able to use new materials and produce cheaper cloth, guaranteeing their survival in the face of competition from mechanized textile factories; in East Africa, railway workers used the weapon of strike action to articulate a set of demands for an alternative development of the rail network geared to serving the needs of the local economy. As these examples suggest, the anti-commodity can be defined in two senses: first, as an alternative product to specific and deliberately promoted colonial commodities, often involving the refashioning or subverting of the intended commodity, and developed as a means of securing or maintaining local livelihoods; and secondly, as a more general countermovement to processes of commodification manifested in strikes, flight and other everyday forms of popular protest as originally popularized by James Scott (Scott, 1985).