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History as Renegade Politics: An Interview with Ann Laura Stoler

  • Amrit Dev Kaur and Sanne Ravensbergen


In May 2016, Professor Ann Laura Stoler visited Leiden University as the Spring 2016 Global Asia Scholar. On the last day of her stay, Amrit Dev and Sanne Ravensbergen—historians affiliated with the Leiden Humanities Faculty—met Stoler on a sunny terrace situated alongside one of the canals for a conversation about the developments in her scholarly work, career choices, sources of inspiration, and the motivations for doing history. Professor Ann Laura Stoler is Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research in New York. She has published extensively on the colonial history of Indonesia and the sexual and racial epistemologies of imperial politics. Her recent research addresses how colonial histories matter and manifest in the world today.



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1 The United States Agency for International Development is a government agency that provides support for a variety of development initiatives worldwide, including agriculture, education, trade, and political programs.

2 Ben White is Emeritus Professor of Rural Sociology at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS, The Hague, the Netherlands). His anthropological and sociological work focuses on Indonesia in particular.

3 Clifford Geertz, Agricultural Involution: The Process of Ecological Change in Indonesia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966).

4 Ann Laura Stoler, In the Company’s Shadow: Labor Control and Confrontation in Sumatra’s Plantation History, 1870-1979, PhD diss., Columbia University, 1983; Ann Laura Stoler, Capitalism and Confrontation in Sumatra’s Plantation Belt, 1870–1979 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).

5 See, for example, Jacques Leclerc, La pensée des communistes indonésiens: l’indonesianisation du marxisme-leninisme à travers les textes d’Aidit (1962–1965): essai d’approche et d’interpretation (Paris, 1969).

6 Library of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) in Amsterdam. In 2013, the library was closed and its colonial collections transferred to the KITLV (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) in Leiden.

7 Barbara Stoler Miller (1940–1993) was a professor of Sanskrit literature at Barnard College, New York City.

8 Ruth McVey (1930– ) was a founder of the journal Indonesia at Cornell University’s Southeast Asia Program and taught Southeast Asian politics and government at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

9 LEKRA (Lembaga Kebudajaan Rakjat or Institute for the People’s Culture) was a left-wing literary and social movement founded in 1950 and banned in 1965 along with the Indonesian Communist Party.

10 Ann Laura Stoler, “Class Structure and Female Autonomy in Rural Java,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 3:1 (1977): 74–89.

11 Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995); Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

12 The lectures have been published based on the audio recordings. See, for instance, M. Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–76, translated by David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003).

13 Ann Laura Stoler, “‘In Cold Blood’: Hierarchies of Credibility and the Politics of Colonial Narratives,” Representations, Special Issue: Imperial Fantasies and Postcolonial Histories 37 (1992): 151–89.

14 Key publications include Gaston Bachelard, La poétique de l’espace (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1957); Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phénoménologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945); Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham Press, 2005).

15 Ann Laura Stoler, Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

16 Hayden White, The Content of Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).

17 George Steiner, The Poetry of Thought: From Hellenism to Celan (New York: New Directions, 2011).

18 Giorgio Agamben, Qu’est-ce qu’un dispositif? (Paris: Payot, 2007).

19 The study of the application of (international) law within one state in which each population group lives according to its own laws and normative orders. The term was introduced by adat law professor Cornelis van Vollenhoven. For recent literature on this subject, see, for example, Ratno Lukito, Legal Pluralism in Indonesia: Bridging the Unbridgeable (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013).

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History as Renegade Politics: An Interview with Ann Laura Stoler

  • Amrit Dev Kaur and Sanne Ravensbergen


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