- Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism
Gender has emerged as one of the primary analytical categories in contemporary colonial studies, which have in recent years become something of a conceptual metropole for an imperializing discipline of cultural history. All of the contributions to this collection employ gender analysis, many in interesting ways that could readily be applied to a wide range of additional subjects. In some of the articles—for instance, Janet R. Horne’s essay on the colonial ideas of reformers in the Musée Social (21–42) and Danilyn Fox Rutherford’s fascinating piece on Dutch fantasies concerning the future of New Guinea in the twentieth century (255–271)—gender analysis appears to be peripheral to the authors’ main concerns, but even in such cases, it adds a useful perspective.
In other contributions, gender is manifestly central. Penny Pattynama presents a reading of Louis Couperus’ classic Dutch colonial novel, The Hidden Force (Amherst, 1990), that is a model of its type in tracing interconnected themes of sexuality, miscegenation, and gender and racial [End Page 305] identity and placing them in a colonial context (84–107). Clancy-Smith and Gouda reveal ways in which images of women and the rhetorical gendering of colonial and colonized populations altered to meet changing political needs in, respectively, French Algeria and the Dutch East Indies (154–174, 236–254). These chapters and many of the others are significant contributions both because of their specific content and because of their varied uses of methodologies that focus on gender categories.
In one respect, however, Domesticating the Empire falls short of its potential. In the introduction, the editors explain that part of the rationale for a book about French and Dutch colonial experiences is the emphasis on the British Empire that pervades recent colonial studies—largely a consequence of the leadership in the field taken by Indian scholars. Not only do the editors want to bring contemporary approaches to bear on the two other large overseas empires of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but they argue that because the Dutch and French empires were in so many ways different from the British (and from each other), this book will serve as a basis for constructing a broader view of the connection between gender and colonialism. Certainly, possibilities for interesting comparisons are apparent in most of the chapters; one gets a clear impression that the cultural settings of French and Dutch colonialism were very different indeed, especially as revealed in gender constructions. But very little of this latent material is made explicit. Neither the introduction nor any of the articles devotes more than a nod to comparison, and no synthesis is attempted.
This is a good book containing many interesting and important essays, but it misses an opportunity to be an even better book that might have a lasting place in its field.