Clifford Geertz

  • The Social History of an Indonesian Town

    Clifford Geertz

    “Modjokuto” is a small Indonesian town. Founded in the mid-nineteenth century, it has experienced an unusual number of crises, all stemming from outside sources, from the heyday of Dutch colonialism in the early twentieth century to the struggle for independence and readjustment to a rapidly changing world.

    Professor Geertz has made a sensitive sociological study of this Southeast Asian town based on his observation during an eighteen-month field study in 1952-1954. More than a mere report, the book is beautifully organized and contains a number of new and original insights into the interaction between an ecological, economic, sociological, and cultural factors which have shaped the social history of the town to give a picture of “a confused, usually vulgar, rarely successful, but yet poignantly serious struggle to become part of the modern world and yet remain oneself.”

    The first part of the work is devoted to agricultural development of the region surrounding Modjokuto and to an assessment of the reciprocal influences of the large Dutch-owned sugar enterprises and the small wet=rice and dry-crop agriculture of the peasants.

    The second, and major, part of the book is concerned with the town itself and its major subparts-the bureaucracy sector, the market sector, the working-class sector-and their gradual, incomplete integration into a single, complex community.

    In these two sections three arguments are posed: (1) That the existing “dualism”-the segregation of “modern” and “traditional” economic, social, and cultural systems into separate and opposed sectors in Modjokuto-is not the result of the influence of “Western activism” on “Eastern passivism” but rather the result of a particular sort of colonial policy. (2) That the urbanization of Modjokuto evolved not through the gradual elaboration of local customs and institutions but rather through the integration of extralocal groups into a novel pattern of social and cultural organization. (3) That this process was only partially successful, so that by the mid-fifties the town was “stranded in a state of continuous transition.” It was neither truly traditional nor truly modern and “seemingly unable to either return to the traditionality it had abandoned or advance to the modernity it sought.”

    The validity of these argument is clearly shown in the Epilogue-a unique. Detailed description of a local election in a suburban village near Modjokuto which outlines “the main conceptual categories in terms of which the inhabitants... perceived their society and their own places in it in paradigmatic form.”

    Although this is an extraordinary intensive analysis concentrating on a single town, the theories and arguments it poses should have meaning not only in Indonesia but in the developing world in general.

    This book should be of interest to social and economic historians, students of anthropology and the theory of culture, and anyone interested in Southeast Asia and Indonesia.

    Published in cooperation with the Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    • Hardcover $12.95