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Ann Stoler. Berkeley: University of California Press, Ann Stoler's book Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power is more a collection of interrelated essays than a progressive narrative, illustrating the complexity of colonial culture and politics. She dedicated more than a decade to research, and her approach questions the traditions of colonial history while introducing an evolution of gender theory.
Focusing on European colonies, with an emphasis on the Dutch Indies, Stoler utilizes an impressive range of Dutch and French archival sources and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary works. As a unique addition, she incorporates photographic images of private life, visually satisfying her "basic commitment to identifying the political stakes lodged in what is defined as public or private, to studying the quotidian shaping of racialized colonial worlds and their disparate sites of production" p.
As a result, the strength of this text is not in its stories of colonial life though well-researched and thoughtfully presented , but in its instructive method of assessing the historian's role in gender studies and the creation of colonial history.
Stoler's approach is immediately apparent in her choice of a provocative cover photograph that offers the reader an initial glimpse of the book's central themes. Three people sit on porch steps, dog in the background; a young blond Dutch girl has her arm around her stoic dark-skinned baboe , gazing at her with a half-smile, while her equally fair-skinned brother sits slightly apart, hands clasped, staring straight ahead. The smooth bare, white feet of the girl occupy more space than the long brown feet of the servant, and the boy is firmly laced into heavy tall boots.
The picture speaks volumes about intimacy, power, masculinity, womanhood, race, belonging, not belonging, and the complex development of these ideas within a fluid colonial atmosphere.
Stoler argues that these ideas are not pre-ordained within the structure, but are careful political constructs that focus not only on the suppression of the colonized, but the "apparatus that kept potentially subversive white colonials in line" p. The seven chapters of this ethnographic history look comprehensively at the intricacies involved in gender and colonial studies, and the multifaceted task of colonial historians.
The approach is inclusive to race, class, and gender and tries to illustrate the multiplicity of issues. The first chapter is an introduction that outlines the book's format, the author's ideas about intimacy in the colonial structure, and the theories and scholarly work associated with colonial studies.
Herein lies the strength of the book, in Stoler's questioning of questions and call for historians to reexamine colonial studies with the idea that these issues were and are open-ended. Chapter 3 examines sexuality, gender, and race, including miscegenation, European womanhood, childrearing and abandonment, rape, morality, and eugenics.
Stoler again takes her analysis and links it to a call for future research: "Ethnographies of empire should attend both to changing sensibilities and to sex, to racialized regimes that were realized on a macro and micro scale Such investigations may show that sexual control was both an instrumental image for the body politic Heavily steeped in theory, one of the most important methodologies that Stoler advocates is the exploration of race, class, and gender in both colonial and post-colonial society.
She encourages scholars to approach renderings of white European womanhood, morality, and indigenous people with the idea that sexual access and domestic arrangements were not only private and intimate, but central to the formation of colonial power structures. Chapters 4 and 5 expand these themes, looking particularly at women and children--European, native, and mixed race-in the colonial structure. Stoler continues to examine the framing of categories and the meaning making processes involved in the creation of racial identity.
She explains the inherent problem of miscegenation: "Discourses of metissage expressed more pervasive if inchoate dilemmas of colonial rule and a fundamental contradiction of imperial domination: the tension between a form of authority simultaneously predicated on incorporating and distancing. Some metis were candidates for incorporation.
Others were categorically denied. In either case, the decision to grant citizenship or subject status could not be made on the basis of race alone as all metis shared some degree of European descent by definition" p.
The chapters give short illustrations of the complexities involved; Stoler looks at court records, marriage laws, political movements, and educational practices, as well as other events that demonstrate the mutual constitutiveness of colonial identities.
Again, the value of this text lies in the author's ability to use her research to promote theoretical and methodological lessons. Like Joan Scott, Stoler advocates the careful evaluation of historically designated categories, and cautions against the casual assumption of traditional colonial divisions.
Chapter 6 explores the application of Foucault to colonial studies. Stoler asks "why Foucault's elusive and suggestive treatment of race still remains so marginal to what colonial historians take from him today" p. As she examines these issues, she establishes the groundwork for the final chapter that changes the direction of her ethnographic history in a literal sense.
The first six chapters focus more on the European-influenced colonial cultural development, but chapter 7 "situates memories of domestic service by those who served against the density of the archives around them" p. As a final call to scholars and writers of history, Stoler's desire to move beyond "assumed categories" is an important idea that resonates throughout colonial and gender studies.
Readers should not pick up Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power looking for a tidy narrative about the social history of Java at the turn of the century.
Instead, scholars and advanced students of history will value its contribution to the theoretical development of colonial and gender studies, as well as its careful presentation of questions inspiring future research. The weakness of this book is its inaccessibility to casual readers or undergraduates, who might find it daunting. The language creates a challenging read "quotidian" and "hermeneutic" are used more than once , and the supposition of theoretical knowledge may intimidate those unfamiliar with historiography.
As a part of a graduate reading seminar, however, it provides an excellent foundation for discussion and critical analysis. Citation: Dawn Ottevaere.
H-Women, H-Net Reviews. June, For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at hbooks mail. Add a Comment. Michigan State University Department of History.
Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule
Ann Stoler. Berkeley: University of California Press, Ann Stoler's book Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power is more a collection of interrelated essays than a progressive narrative, illustrating the complexity of colonial culture and politics. She dedicated more than a decade to research, and her approach questions the traditions of colonial history while introducing an evolution of gender theory. Focusing on European colonies, with an emphasis on the Dutch Indies, Stoler utilizes an impressive range of Dutch and French archival sources and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary works. As a unique addition, she incorporates photographic images of private life, visually satisfying her "basic commitment to identifying the political stakes lodged in what is defined as public or private, to studying the quotidian shaping of racialized colonial worlds and their disparate sites of production" p.
Ottevaere on Stoler, 'Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule'
Ann Laura Stoler. At the same time, she engages with cutting-edge discussions advanced by postcolonial theorists in recent years. By introducing the issues of race, sexuality, and intimacy into the study of colonialism, or the interactions of Europeans with the indigenous populations in their households and in their personal or sex lives, Stoler offers a fresh look at the European colonial experience, in which the line between the colonizers and the colonized becomes significantly blurred. This 'blurring,' or hybridity, is, of course, an important issue in postcolonial theory, yet Stoler's presentation reveals that this hybridity is not only a theoretical question, but also though largely absent from the extant scholarship a reflection of historical reality. Stoler shows that hybridization took place at the personal, quotidian level, where the Europeans interacted actively with the natives, and in the economic arena, where impoverished Europeans were forced to compete with locals for a good living in 'their' colonies.
Carnal knowledge and imperial power: race and the intimate in colonial rule
Carnal knowledge and imperial power: race and the intimate in colonial rule. London, Berkeley: Univ. California Press, If Ann Laura Stoler's latest book is ever so slightly a disappointment, it is only because of the very high expectations raised by her previous book, Race and the education of desire. That study recovered a hitherto more or less unknown Foucault, and in so doing rethought the connections between race, imperialism, and sexuality. She showed how bourgeois sexuality in Europe was discursively and practically implicated in the colonial sexual order, and allowed us a unique theoretical purchase on a simultaneously metropolitan and colonial modernity. Carnal knowledge and imperial power continues to work away at genealogies of the intimate, examining not just sexual relations, but also parenting, pedagogy, and paternalism.
Why, Ann Laura Stoler asks, was the management of sexual arrangements and affective attachments so critical to the making of colonial categories and to what distinguished ruler from ruled? Contending that social classification is not a benign cultural act but a potent political one, Stoler shows that matters of the intimate were absolutely central to imperial politics. It was, after all, in the intimate sphere of home and servants that European children learned what they were required to learn of place and race. Gender-specific sexual sanctions, too, were squarely at the heart of imperial rule, and European supremacy was asserted in terms of national and racial virility. Stoler looks discerningly at the way cultural competencies and sensibilities entered into the construction of race in the colonial context and proposes that "cultural racism" in fact predates its postmodern discovery. Her acute analysis of colonial Indonesian society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries yields insights that translate to a global, comparative perspective.