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Locating the ‘Family-State’: The Forgotten Legacy of Javanese Theories of the Public Domain (17th–20th C.)

Abstract : ‘Javanese culture’ often is associated with ‘patrimonialism’ at its worst, that is, as a prelude to predation. Yet a closer look at some of the well-known court-centred serat (mystical songs) and babad (chronicles) written in Central Java during the late 18th and the 19th centuries provide us with a very different picture. Pujangga (court-poets) crafted sophisticated imaginings of the negara: the State, or rather the domain of both moral and political authority. In territorial terms, they made a distinction between what the ruler could freely dispose of and what he could not alienate. Moreover, the very process of the imperial expansion of the negara under the reign of Sultan Agung (r. 1613–1646) led to the birth of a group of ‘government specialists’: the service nobility of the priyayi. This group held a view of legitimate authority running contrary to any despotic temptation: for the priyayi, exercising power was an art, a craft involving skills that had to be learnt, whereas for the para bangsawan (members of the blood nobility), power was something to be possessed by virtue of the fame of a family name. Yet, during the colonial period, Dutch Orientalists, colonial administrators and high-ranking Javanese Regents came to give a wholly distorted view of this old priyayi conception of power, turning it into the cultural alibi of imperial authoritarianism.
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Submitted on : Friday, October 22, 2021 - 9:48:51 AM
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Romain Bertrand. Locating the ‘Family-State’: The Forgotten Legacy of Javanese Theories of the Public Domain (17th–20th C.). Patrimonial Capitalism and Empire, Emerald Group Publishing, pp.241 - 265, 2015, 9781784417581. ⟨hal-03394462⟩

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