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The Colonial Bureaucratic Network versus the Metropole: The Origination Story of Land Alienation Prohibition in 1870s East Indies

  • Dr. Upik Djalins
Thursday 9 December 2021
Online; on Zoom

This event is part of an ongoing lecture series organized by the Van Vollenhoven Institute, entitled “Reconsidering the Socio-Legal Gaze.” The lecture series aims to spark critical debates about the visions of justice and positions of power inform Law and Society scholarship at Leiden and beyond. The first semester’s series “Dutch Colonial Foundations” will reflect on the birth of socio-legal scholarship in the context of Dutch colonial administration.

The second semester focuses on “Future Horizons” of socio-legal scholarship in the context of three key values that drive contemporary scholarship: decolonization, diversity, and development. The year-long lecture series is being organized by the Van Vollenhoven Institute Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the first of its kind at Leiden Law School.

The series is open to the public. Attendees may join either virtually or in person.

The prohibition to sell land to non-citizens is the bedrock of contemporary Indonesian land policy. It traces its genealogy to the colonial “Land Alienation Prohibition” (vervreemdingsverbod) enacted in Staatsblad 1875 No. 179. Despite its foundational role, this law’s history remains largely unexplored in contemporary legal scholarship.

This talk is based on my collaborative work with Adriaan Bedner where we trace the origination process of this law, which prohibited the alienation of Native land use rights (gebruiksrecht) to non-Natives. We draw our data from colonial reports, official papers, colonial staff publications, biographies, and obituaries, including those of the Metropole elites. We close read these texts, privileging microhistory method by reconstructing webs of social networks of the actors involved, to gain an understanding of colonial law making at granular level.

We propose a two-pronged argument. First, we argue that the Land Alienation Prohibition was born out of a pragmatic attempt to stop an indiscriminate liberalization of Native’s land use rights.  Second, we argue that a clever exploit of the bureaucrats’ webs of social network and the complex tensions within the liberal faction in the metropole and the colony made the enactment of Land Alienation Prohibition possible.

By deploying microhistory method – a powerful arsenal in socio-legal research—we uncover not only the intrigues in colonial law making, but also the previously undetected network of knowledge makers and shapers, people whose works still define contemporary scholarships.

About Upik Djalins

Upik Djalins is an independent researcher based in Maryland, United States. She finished her PhD at Cornell University, in the field of Development Sociology. Her dissertation examines the constitution of agrarian regime as an integral part of colonial state formation in late colonial Dutch East Indies.

Among her expansive research interests are state formation, knowledge production, law and colonialism, land rights in colonial era, subjectivity and identity, colonialism/postcolonialism, and sociology of property rights. These interests slide in beautifully into socio-legal study with methods from microhistory.

Her most recent project examined Paul Scholten and the founding of Batavia Rechtshogeschool (the paper is available as open access on Digital Paul Scholten Project: paulscholten.edu). Aside of the Alienation Prohibition Project in collaboration with Adriaan Bedner, she is currently researching and working on a paper about Bandar Betsy (North Sumatra) conflict in 1965.

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