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Shared Poverty as Ideology: Agrarian Relationships in Colonial Java

Jennifer Alexander and Paul Alexander
Man
New Series, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Dec., 1982), pp. 597-619
DOI: 10.2307/2802036
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2802036
Page Count: 23
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Shared Poverty as Ideology: Agrarian Relationships in Colonial Java
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Abstract

Rice cultivation in 'post-traditional' Java is characterised by very small and relatively equal holdings farmed by their owners; by a high percentage of extra-household labour recruited through exchange agreements; and by highly labour-intensive cultivation techniques. This pattern, which Geertz termed `shared poverty', is usually interpreted as the product of work-sharing and income-redistributing institutions whose function was to provide each member of a rapidly expanding population with a niche in the rural economy. Although this view closely accords with Javanese ideology, an examination of the historical record suggests that the degree of economic equality in the Javanese village has been overstated; while an analysis of those rural labour relationships which apparently epitomise shared poverty-sharecropping and labour exchanges, the recruiting and payment of harvest labour and the retention of the ani ani-indicates that far from distributing work and income, they maximise landowners' incomes by conserving employment opportunities for their households. The rapid abandonment of these practices during the past two decades is not due to changes in Javenese values but to the structural transformation of the rice economy.

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