The “Culture System” was enforced in Java and other parts of Indonesia by the Dutch colonial government between 1830 and 1870. Under this system, Indonesian farmers were forced to put aside part of their land and labour for growing cash crops such as sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco and pepper so that they could pay their land tax to the Dutch. This paper briefly examines some of the ramifications of this policy and how it supported the interests of the Dutch colonial masters. It also looks at how the policy promoted ideals of rationality, quantification and efficiency in the Indonesian archipelago. This is not to suggest that various forms of calculation and trade were not already well known in Indonesia, but rather that the taxation policy and enforced substitution of cash crops for traditional staple foods by an alien and very distant master (the Dutch) provides a particularly stark example of the imposition of the technology of quantification. In tracing the impact that these ideas brought with them, this paper uses ideas drawn from Michel Foucault, and argues that the Culture System used a particular intellectual and social technology to achieve markets and economic rationality.
This conference paper was originally published as Silaen, P & Smark, CJ, The Rise of Quantification in the Pacific Indonesia 1830–1870, College of Business Symposium, University of Western Sydney, 7-8 November, 2006.