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The Floracrats

State-Sponsored Science and the Failure of the Enlightenment in Indonesia

Andrew Goss

Publication Year: 2011

Situated along the line that divides the rich ecologies of Asia and Australia, the Indonesian archipelago is a hotbed for scientific exploration, and scientists from around the world have made key discoveries there. But why do the names of Indonesia’s own scientists rarely appear in the annals of scientific history? In The Floracrats Andrew Goss examines the professional lives of Indonesian naturalists and biologists, to show what happens to science when a powerful state becomes its greatest, and indeed only, patron.
    With only one purse to pay for research, Indonesia’s scientists followed a state agenda focused mainly on exploiting the country’s most valuable natural resources—above all its major export crops: quinine, sugar, coffee, tea, rubber, and indigo. The result was a class of botanic bureaucrats that Goss dubs the “floracrats.” Drawing on archives and oral histories, he shows how these scientists strove for the Enlightenment ideal of objective, universal, and useful knowledge, even as they betrayed that ideal by failing to share scientific knowledge with the general public. With each chapter, Goss details the phases of power and the personalities in Indonesia that have struggled with this dilemma, from the early colonial era, through independence, to the modern Indonesian state. Goss shows just how limiting dependence on an all-powerful state can be for a scientific community, no matter how idealistic its individual scientists may be.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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p. v

List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

This book began in the University of Michigan Library in 1997 when I stumbled across vast numbers of biology journals from Dutch Indonesia, alongside scientific books and pamphlets on Indonesian nature, going back to the 1840s. The scientific journals and books from the Netherlands East Indies were much like those published ...

List of Abbreviations

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p. xiii

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pp. 3-12

The tropical rain forests of Indonesia have lured naturalists for over two hundred years. Ever since Carl Linnaeus sent disciples to the islands that lie between the Pacific and Indian oceans, naturalists have sought fame and glory by building collections from its tropical flora and fauna.1 Most famously, Alfred Wallace explored ...

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1. Apostles of Enlightenment

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pp. 13-32

In the spring of 1848, as Dutch Batavia began to read about the February 1848 Paris uprisings in the European newspapers and the Dutch king’s concession to government reforms, some were confident enough to test the strength of civil society in the Indies. In May of 1848 Baron W. R. van Hoëvell organized a meeting in which ...

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2. Quinine Science

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pp. 33-58

The 1848 convulsions in the Netherlands led to far-reaching political changes, which by 1870 would have greater consequences for colonial Indonesia than the 1848 Batavian uprising. Over the course of the 1850s and 1860s, liberalism dismantled the ancien r

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3. Treub’s Beautiful Science

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pp. 59-76

By the 1860s the apostles of enlightenment’s optimism about transforming the colony through science was in the distant past. The colonial state supported acclimatization research and to a lesser degree scientific education, including medical and agricultural schools. But other sciences had little government support and were ...

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4. Ethical Professionals

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pp. 77-95

At the end of the nineteenth century, new reform proposals began coming out of the Netherlands and the Indies calling for greater political and economic autonomy for the colony. This reflected a sense among colonial elites generally that their lives had been tethered to the Netherlands long enough and that a modern Indies ...

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5. The Nationalists’ Enlightenment

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pp. 96-116

Since the 1840s, generations of apostles of enlightenment in Indonesia have dreamed of using science as a way to provide knowledge that would help the land and its people. In the nineteenth century these apostles of enlightenment were all Europeans. In the twentieth century, Western education for native inhabitants created ...

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6. Technocratic Dreams

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pp. 117-140

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, colonial scholars, including scientists such as Junghuhn and Treub, envisioned a politics in which technical experts, guided by science, would set administrative policies, and thus enact enlightened leadership. With the spirit of frontiersmen, these men held the illusion that ...

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7. Desk Science

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pp. 141-169

In the years after independence, autonomous communities of scientists in Bogor, Bandung, and Jakarta began building new scientific traditions to reflect their Indonesian national identity. First this meant removing the colonial presence from the existing scientific institutions, something the new Indonesian Republic ...

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pp. 170-178

Indonesian professional science, with its long-standing ties to the state, has hardly been unique in colonial and postcolonial Asia and Africa. Scholars of colonial and postcolonial politics have shown convincingly that the state sought out any discipline that could provide theories or practices that simplified the complex ...


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pp. 179-224


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pp. 225-248


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pp. 249-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780299248635
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299248642

Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 704294052
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Floracrats

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Subject Headings

  • Netherlands -- Colonies -- Indonesia -- Administration..
  • Botanists -- Indonesia -- History.
  • Botany, Economic -- Political aspects -- Indonesia.
  • Federal aid to research -- Indonesia -- History.
  • Civil service -- Indonesia -- History.
  • Science and state -- Indonesia -- History.
  • Enlightenment -- Indonesia -- Influence.
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