Linking up with current discussions on the complex relationship between science, technology, and the civilizing missions in the former colonies, the author describes how technological romanticism shaped the development of a colonial irrigation technology in the Netherlands East Indies. Based on assumptions of the moral role of engineers in community development and the supposed greater fairness of local irrigation systems, engineers developed numerous hybrid irrigation technologies to support local rice production. The example of the development and almost instant failure of colonial waduk (water tanks) shows just how much engineers relied on the civilizing role of technology to solve differences in access to irrigation water. Currently, Indonesian farmers employ a similar kind of technological romanticism by imagining a fair and just colonial technological tradition that in fact failed—and that was also never introduced in this area. The waduk is now eagerly accepted as a fair way, based on colonial tradition, to solve differences in access to irrigation water. These imagined traditions appear as a legitimation for attempting to decentralize the power of the state and to counter nepotism, represented by local bureaucrats and vested interests.


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pp. 701-726
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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