CarnalKnowledge - 1 Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power...

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Unformatted text preview: 1 Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power Gender, Race, and Morality in Colonial Asia Ann Laura Stoler Over the last fifteen years the anrhropology of women has fundamentally altered our under— standing of colonial expansion and its consequences for the colonized. More recent attention to the structures of colonial authority has placed new emphasis on the quotidian assertion of Euro— pean dominance in the colonies, on imperial interventions in domestic life, and thus on the cul— tural prescriptions by which European women and men lived (Callan and Ardener 1984; Knibiehler and Goutalier 1985, 1987; Caliaway 1987; Strobel 1987). Having focused on how col— onizers have viewed the indigenous Other, we are beginning to sort out how Europeans in the colonies imagined themselves and constructed communities built on asymmetries of race, class, and gender—entities Significantly at odds with the European models on which they were drawn. Feminist attempts to engage the gender politics of Dutch, French, and British imperial cule tures converge on some strikingly similar observations; namely, that European women in these colonies experienced the cleavages of racial dominance and internal social distinctions very dif— ferently than men precisely because of their ambiguous positions as both subordinates in colonial hierarchies and as active agents ofirnperial culture in their Own right (Callan and Ardener 1984; Knibiehler and Goutalier 1985; Reijs et al. 1986; Callaway 1987) Concomitantly, the majority of European women who left for the colonies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries confronted profoundly rigid restrictions on their domestic, economic, and political options, more limiting than those of metrOpoliran Europe at the time and sharply contrasting with the oppor— tunities Open to colonial men. In one form or another, these studies raise a basrc question: In what ways were gender in— equalities essential to the structure of colonial racism and imperial authority? Was the strident misogyny of imperial thinkers and colonial agents a byproduct of received metropolitan values (“they just brought it with them”), a reaction to contemporary feminist demands in Europe Ann Laura Stole: is Professor ofAnthropology, History, and Women’s Studies at the University ofMichi— gari, Ann Arbor. Her most recent publications include Race and the Education tnyesire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order oleiings (Duke, 1995); a volume coedited with Frederick Cooper, Tensions qumpirt': Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois I/Vorld (California. 1997), and “Racial Histories and their Regimes Of-Tl‘utll," forthcoming in the journal Political Power and Social Theory (1997). Her earlier book, Capitalism and Coryfrontation in Sumatra’s Plantation Belt (Yale, 1985), won the 1991 Harry Benda Prize for its out- standing contribution to Southeast Asian Studies and was recently republished (Michigan, 1995). [14] Ann Laura Stoler (“women need to be put back in their breeding place”), or a novel and pragmatic response to the conditions of coanest? Was the assertion ofEuropean supremacy in terms ofpatriotic manhood and racial virility an expression of imperial domination or a defining feature of it? F0cusing on French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies in the early twentieth century but drawing on other contexts, I suggest that the very categories of “colonizer” and “colonized” were secured through forms of sexual control that defined the domestic arrangements of Euro— peans and the cultural investments by which they identified themselves. In treating the sexual aud conjugal tensions of colonial life as more than a political trope for the tensions of empire writ small, but as a part of the latter in socially profound and strategic ways, I examiue how gendera Specific sexual sanctions and prohibitions not only demarcated positions of power but prescribed the personal and public boundaries of race. Colonial authority was constructed on two powerful but false premises. The first was the notion that Europeans in the colomes made up an easily identifiable and discrete biological and social entity; a “natural” community ofcommon class interests, racial attributes, polirical affinities, and superior culture. The second was the related notion that the boundaries separating colonizer from colonized were thus self—evident and easily drawn (Stoler 1989). Neither premise reflected colonial realities. Tensions between bureaucrats and planters, settlers and transients, missionaries and metropolitan policy makers, perirs blunts (lower—class whites), and monied entrepreneurs have always made Euro—colonial communities more socially fractious and politically fragile than many of their members professed (see, for example, Cooper 1980; Drooglever 1980; Ridley 1981; Comaroff and Comaroff 1986; Kennedy 1987; Prochaska, 1989). Internal divisions developed out of competing economic and political agendas—conflicts over access to indigenous resources, frictions over appropriate methods for safeguarding European privilege and power, competing criteria for reproducing a colonial elite and for restricting its membership. The markers of European identity and the criteria for community membership were never fixed. Rather, they defined fluid, permeable, and historically disputed terrain. The colonial pol— itics of exclusion was contingent on constructing categories. Colonial control was predicated on identifying who was “white,” who was “native,” and which children could become citizens rather than subjects, designating who were legitimate progeny and who were not. What mattered was not only one’s physical properties but also who counted as “European” and by whar measure. Skin shade was too ambiguous; bank accounts were mercurial; religious beliefs and educarion were crucial but never completely sufficient. Social and legal standing derived from the cultural prism through which color was viewed, from the silences, ackn0wl- edgments, and denials ofthe social circumstances in which one’s parents had sex. Sexual unious based on concubinage, prostitution, or church marriage derived from the hierarchies ofrule; but in turn, they were negotiated relations, contested classifications, which altered individual fates and the very structure of colonial society (Matinez-Alier 1974; Ming 1983; Taylor 1983). Ultimately inclusion or exclusion required regulating the sexual, conjugal, and domestic life of both Euro— peans in the colonies and their colonized subjects. POLITICAL MESSAGES AND SEXUAL METAPHORS Colonial observers and participanrs in the imperial enterprise expressed unwavering interest in rhe sexual inrerface of the colonial encounter. Probably no subject is discussed more than sex in colonial literature and no subject more frequeutly invoked to foster the racist stereotypes ofEuro— pean society (Pujarniscle 1931: 106; Lourfi 1971: 36). With the sustained presence ofEuropeans iu the colonies, sexual prescriptions by class, race, and gender became increasingly central to the politics of empire and subject to uew forms ofscrutiny by colonial states. The salience of sexual symbols as graphic representations of colonial dominance is relatively unambiguous and well—established. Edward Said, for example, has argued that the sexual submis— sion and possession of Oriental women by European men “fairly standsfor the pattern of relative rrsponse to the -r1c manhood -- century but -1 “colonized” n ems of Euros the sexual and " of empire writ . how gender— ' but prescribed first was the biological and ' ai affinities, r-.- fig colonizet is: reflected . missionaries ' - reneurs have it than many Ridley 1981; '.| n. developed .. us resources, - r. competing - all were HCVCF colonial pol— prcdjcated on citizens rather as "European” w a]: religious Inga! standing ... ts, acknowl— S-exual unions 15-1 s ofrule; but sdual fates and '-; E.Ult1mately I of both Euro— rng interest in - .e than sex in .4 yes ofEutO— of Europeans ‘- central to the ---.:e is relatively sexual submisi -.- ern ofrelative Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power [15] strength between East and West, and the disCOurse about the Orient that it enabled” (1978: 6, my emphasis). He describes Orientalism as a “male perception of the world,” “a male power—fantasy,” “an exclusively male province,” in which the Orient is penetrated, silenced, and possessed “2978207). Sexuality, then, serves as a loaded metaphor for domination, but Said’s critique is not -'nor does it claim to be) about those relations between women and men. Sexual images illustrate the iconography of rule, not its pragmatics. Sexual asymmetries and visions convey what is “really” going on elsewhere, at another political epicenter. They are tropes to depict other cen— :ers of p0wer. Sexual domination has been carefully considered as a discursive symbol, instrumental in the conveyance of other meanings, but has been less often treated as the substance of imperial policy. ‘w’as sexual dominance, then, merely a graphic substantiation of who was, so to speak, on the bottom and who was on the top? Was the medium the message, or did sexual relations always “mean” something else, stand in for other relations, evoke the sense of other (pecuniary, political, or some possibly more subliminal) desires? This analytic slippage between the sexual symbols of power and the politics of sex runs throughout the colonial record—as well as through contem— porary commentaries on it. Some ofthis may be due to the polyvalent quality of sexuality; sym— bolically rich and soeially salient at the same time. But sexual control was more than a convenient metaphor for colonial domination; it was, as I argue here, a fundamental class and racial marker implicated in a wider set of relations ofpower. In the sections that follow I look at the relationship between the domestic arrangements of colonial communities and their wider political structures. Part I draws on colonization debates over a broad period (sixteenth—twentieth c.) in an eifort to identify the long—term intervention of :olonial authorities in issues of“racial mixing,” settlement schemes, and sexual control. In exam— ining debates over European family formation, over the relationship between subversion and sex, i look at how evaluations of concubinage, and of morality more generally, changed with new forms of racism and new gender—specific expressions ofthem. Part II treats the protection and policing of European women within the changing politics of empire. It traces how accusations of sexual assault related to new demands for political rights and restricted demarcations ofsocial space in response to them. Part III addresses what I call the “cul— oral hygiene" of colonialism. Taking the early twentieth century as a breakpoint, I take up the :onvergent metropolitan and colonial discourses on health hazards in the tropiCS, race—thinking, and social reform as they related to shifts in the rationalization of rule. In tracing how fears of "racial degeneracy” were grounded in class—specific sexual norms, I return to how and why racial :lifference was constituted and culturally coded in gendered terms. PART I: SEX AND OTHER CATEGORIES or COLONIAL CONTROL 's‘l'ho bedded and wedded with whom in the colonies of France, England, Holland, and Iberia was never left to chance. Unions between Annamite women and French men, between Por— niguese women and Dutch men, between Spanish men and Inca women produced offspring with :lainis to privilege, whose rights and status had to be determined and prescribed. From the early 1600s through the twentieth century the sexual sanctions and conjugal prohibitions of colonial agents were rigorously debated and carefully codified. It is in these debates over matrimony and morality that trading and plantation company officials, missronaries, investment bankers, military high commands, and agents of the colonial state confronted one another’s visions of empire and the settlement patterns on which rule would rest. In 1622, the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) arranged for the transport of six poor but marriageable young Dutch women to java, providing them with clothing, a dowry upon mare riage, and a contract binding them to five years in the Indies (Taylor 1983: 12). Aside from this and one other short—lived experiment, immigration of European women to the East was con— ssiously restricred for the next two hundred years. VOC shareholders argued against female emi— [16] Ann Laura Stoler gtation on several c0unts: the high cost of transporting married women and daughters (Blussé 1986: 161); the possibility that Dutch women (with Stronger ties than men to the Netherlands?) might hinder permanent settlement by goading their burgher husbands to quickly lucrative but nefarious ttade, and then repatriate to display their newfound wealth; the fear that Dutch women would enrich themselves through private trade and encroach on the company’s monOpoly; and the prediction that their children would be sickly and force families to repatriate, ultimately depleting the colony ofpermanent and loyal settlers. The Dutch East Indies Company enforced the sanction against female migration by selecting bachelors as their European recruits and by ptomoting both extramarital relations and legal unions between low—ranking employees and imported slave women. Although there were Euro—Asian marriages, gOVernment regulations made concubinage a more atrtactive Option by prohibiting European men with native wives and children from returning to Holland (Ming 1983: 69; Blussé 1986: 173). The VOC saw hOuseholds based on Euro-Asian unions, by contrast, as having dis- tinct advantages; individual employees would bear the costs of dependents; children of mixed unions were considered stronger and healthier; and Asian women made fewer (economic and emotional) demands. Finally, it was thought that men would be more likely to settle permanently by establishing families with local roots. Concubinage served colomal interests in other ways. It permitted permanent settlement and rapid growth by a cheaper means than the importation ofEur0pean women. Salaries ofEutopean recruits to the colonial armies, bureaucracies, plantation companies, and trading enterprises were kept artificially low. This was pOssible not only because the transport of European women and family support was thereby elimiuated, as was often argued, but also becanse local women pro- vided domestic services for which new European recruits would Otherwise have had to pay. In the mid-nineteenth century, such arrangements were de rigueur for young civil servants intent on setting up households on their own (Ritter 1956: 21). Despite some clerical opposition by the nineteenth century concubinage was the most prevalent living arrangement for European men (van Marle 1952: 485). Nearly half of the Indies’ European male population in the 1880s was unmarried and living with Asian women (Ming 1983: 70). It was only in the early twentieth cen— tury that concubinage was politically condemned. In Asia and Africa, corporate and government decision—makers invoked the social services that local women supplied as “useful guides to the language and other mysreries ofthe local societies” (Malleret 1934: 216; Cohen 1971: 122). The medical and cultural know—how ofloeal women was credited with keeping many European men alive in their initial confrOntation with rropical life (Btaconier 1933). Handbooks for incoming plantation employees bound for Tonkin, Suma— tra, and Malaya urged men to find a bed—servant as a prerequisite to quick acclimatization (Nieuwenhuys 1959: 19; Dixon 1913: 77). In Malaysia, commercial companies encouraged the procurement oflocal “companions for psychological and physical well—being”; to proteCt Euro— pean stafl‘from the ill—health thar sexual absrention, isolatiOn, and boredom were thought to bring (Burcher 1979: 200, 202). Even in the British empire, where the colonial ofice formally banned concubinage in 1910, ir was tacitly condoned and practiced long after (Hyam 198613, 49; Kennedy 1987: 175). In the Indies, a simultaneous sanction against concubinage among civil servants was only selectively enforced; it had little effect on domestic arrangements outside ofjava and no perceptible impact on the EurOpean households in Sumatra’s newly opened plantation belt where japanese and Japanese lzuishoudsrcrs (as Asian mistresses were sometimes called) remained the rule rather than the exception (Clerkx 1961: 87793; Sroler 1985a: 31—34; Lucas 1986: 84). While the term concubinage commonly referred to the cohabitation outside of marriage between European men and Asian women, in fact, it glossed a wide range ofarrangemenrs that included sexual access ro a non—European woman as well as demands on her labor and legal rights to the children she bore. Thus, to define it as cohabitation perhaps suggests more secial privileges than most women who were involved in such relations enjoyed. Many colonized women com— _ _ {Blussé n rlands?) - *flfive but i1 women .it. :19; Blusse hating dis— ..1 of mixed '. and '. of European 71.3.35 were mmen and ' women [31:0- _ m pay: In the .is intent on I.“ on by the i..." , 3n men uh: 13805 was - ntieth cen— ysn'ices that . 11 societies” local women . with tropical protect Euro— ' . - ghr to bring ally banned 4'9: Kennedy '1 servants Was I fiijava and I10 - t I E1 belt Where -.n med the rulfi 84}. - of marriage gements that and legal rights glacial privileges .u women com— Camal Knowledge and Imperial Power [17] bined sexual and domestic service within the abjectly subordinate contexts ofslave or “coolie” and lived in separate quarters. On the plantations in East Sumatra, for example, where such arrangements were structured into company policies of labor control, javanese women picked from the coolie ranks often retained their original labor contracts for the duration of their sexual and domestic service (Lucas 1986: 186). To say that concubinage reinforced the hierarchies on which colonial societies were based is not to say that it did not make those distinctions more problematic at the same time. In such regions as North Sumatra, grossly uneven sex ratios often made for intense competition among male workers and their European supervisors for indigenous women. Vmuwen perkara (disputes over women) resulted in assaults on whites, new labor tensions, and dangerous incursions into the standards deemed essential for white prestige (Stoler 1985a: 33; Lucas 1986: 90—91). Metropoli— tan critics were particularly disdainful of these liaisons on moral grounds—wall the more so when these unions were sustained and affectiver significant relationships, thereby contradicting the racial premise of concubinage as an emotionally unfettered convenience. But perhaps most important, rhe tension between concubinage as a confirmation and compromise of racial hierara chy was realized in the progeny that it produced, “mixed bloods,” poor “Indos,” and abandoned méri‘s children who straddled the divisions of tuler and ruled and threatened to blur the colonial divide. These uoorlefnderen (literally, “children from a previous marriage/union,” but in this colo— nial context usually marking illegitimate children from a previous union with a non—European woman) were economically disadvantaged by their ambiguous social status and often grew up to join the ranks ofrhe impoverished whites (Nieuwenhuys 1959: 21). Concubinage was a domestic arrangement based On sexual service and gender inequalities that “worked” as long as European identity and supremacy were clear. When either was thought to be vulnerable, in jeopardy, or less than Convincing, at the turn of the century and increasingly through the 19205, colonial elites responded by clarifying the cultural criteria ofprivilege and the moral premises of their unity, Structured sex in the politically safe context of prostitution, and w...
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