N.W. Posthumus Conference: Relocating Governance in Asia. State and Society in South- and Southeast Asia, c. 1800-2000

Conference, 22-24 January 2020, Leiden, The Netherlands

Over the last decades, the study of governance in Asia has increasingly expanded to include a focus upon non-state entities. Historians have realized that engagement with local intermediaries, civil society organizations, power brokers, and interest groups has been crucial to the day-to-day administration of European colonies and postcolonial states alike. Historically, colonial regimes contended and interacted with pre-existing political and socioeconomic structures of the regions they occupied and sought to reshape. Simultaneously there has been a continued awareness that ideas, methods and policies did not develop in isolation in each colony, but instead circulated in trans-imperial networks. Similarly, nation states in postcolonial republics from Indonesia to India and Pakistan have been compelled to seek dialogue with non-state actors, even as their solutions to challenges from these quarters have been informed by wider discourses on statecraft.

This conference seeks to bring together these different insights in comparative perspective, to shed light on the many paradoxes, differences and continuities of (post)colonial rule across Asia. We seek to highlight the different sources and brokers of power in colonial and postcolonial societies, and the manner in which these interacted, contradicted, overlapped with and challenged the authority of the state. The aim is to bring this wider context of governance into focus, by crossing regional and temporal boundaries and including colonial and postcolonial states in the same framework of research.

Confirmed keynote speakers are prof. dr. Indrani Chatterjee (University of Texas at Austin), prof dr. Robert Cribb (Australian National University) and dr. Farish A. Noor (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore).

This is a N.W. Posthumus conference co-sponsored by the programme AMT: Asian Modernities and Traditions, the Vereniging KITLV / Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, the Institute for History (Leiden University) and the Faculty of Law (Leiden University).


Day 1. Wednesday, 22 January

08.30-09.15: Registration and reception with coffee and tea.
Let’s start on time! Please make sure to be present in the conference room at

09.30-09.40: Word of welcome. Opening Conference.

09.45-10.45: Keynote 1.
Prof. dr. Robert Cribb (Australian National University).

10.45-11.15: Coffee Break

11.15-13.00: Panel 1. Negotiated and Indirect Rule in Borderlands and Frontier Spaces.

Chair: Bente de Leede (Leiden University)
Discussant: Carolien Stolte (Leiden University)

Sohini Sengupta (Tata Institute Of Social Sciences – Mumbai)
Twelve Brother Archers: Rituals of Rule among Forest Dwelling Communities and Colonial Re-Interpretations in East-Central India.

Scott Abel (Kean University)

Piracy in the Malay World during the 19th Century.

Eric Vanden Buscche (University Of Tokyo)

Colonial Statecraft and Legal Practices in the Sino-Burmese Borderlands, 1902-1940s.

Francesca Fuoli (University Of Bern)

Afghan Itinerant State Builders: Native Intermediaries of the British Empire and the Making of Frontier Governance.

13.00 - 14.00: Lunchbreak

14.00 - 15.30: Panel 2. Business Collaborations & Commercial Intermediaries.

Chair: Sander Tetteroo (Leiden University)
Discussant: Preeti Chopra (International Institute Asian Studies)

David Baillargeon (University of Nottingham)
Spaces of Occupation: The Corporation and the Colonial State in British Malaya, 1895-1958.

Nicholas Miller (University of Lisbon)
Chinese Merchants, Indigenous Monarchs and Euro-American Agents: Governing Migration across the Southeast Asia and the Pacific during the Nineteenth Century.

Santy Kouwagam (Leiden University)
Developing Enclaves in Indonesia: Family, Law and Urban Land Acquisitions.

15.30-16.00: Coffee Break

16.00-17.30: Panel 3. Contested Authority and Relations between State and Local Communities.

Chair: Girija Joshi (Leiden University)
Discussant: Abdul Wahid (Universitas Gadjah Mada)

Grace Leksana (KITLV; Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies)
Continuing Patronage Relation: State, Society and Rural Inequalities in East Java.

Rituparna Sengupta (Housing and Land Rights Network)

Land Contestation and Post-Colonial Trajectories of the Urban in Lumding Railway Township

Maarten Manse (Leiden University)

Conflict, Compromise and Adaptation: the Reciprocal Construction of Tax Policy in The Netherlands Indies, 1870-1927

17.30-19.30: Pub quiz/Drinks

Day 2. Thursday, 23 January

09.00-09.15: Welcome day 2, coffee and tea.
Let’s start on time! Please make sure to be present at 09.30!

09.30-10.30: Keynote 2. Prof. dr. Indrani Chatterjee (University of Texas at Austin).

10.30-11.00: Coffee Break

11.00-12.45: Panel 4. Spiritual and Religious Brokers, Interactions & Institutes.

Chair: Maarten Manse (Leiden University)
Discussant: Farish Ahmad-Noor (Nanyang Technological University)

Pocut Hanifah (Coimbra University)
Call of the Bishops: The Obstruction of Post-Colonial International Diplomacy by the Catholic Dioceses of Timor and Bishops' Conference of Indonesia.

Nicholas Chan (University of Cambridge)

The (Islamic) Management of Savagery: Islam and Counter- Subversion in Colonial and Postcolonial Malaysia.

Anushka Kahandagama (South Asian University)

Buddhist Reformist Movement in the 19th century Sri Lanka under the British Rule: Manufacturing of Buddhist Modern Subjects.

Eka Ningtyas (INALCO)

Javanism and Marriage Law in Indonesia until 1974.

12.45–13.45: Lunchbreak

13.45-15.15: Panel 5. Disasters: (Post)colonial Governance, Societal Action and Local Consequences

Chair: TBA
Discussant: TBA

Sander Tetteroo (Leiden University / Gadjah Mada University)
State, Society and Two Volcanoes: Disaster Relief, Social Activism and Legitimacy in (Post-)Colonial Indonesia, c. 1900-1965.

Eleonor Marcussen (Linnaeus University/Erfurt University)

“And there are Political Earthquakes”: Disaster Governance, Nation Building and State Formation.

Girija Joshi (Leiden University)

Making famines. Ecology and ambition in an agrarian frontier, c.1800-1900.

15.15-15.45: Coffee Break

15.45-17:15: Panel 6. Subaltern Experiences of Governance

Chair: TBA
Discussant: Indrani Chatterjee (University of Texas at Austin)

Jessica Hinchy (Nanyang Technological University)
Child-State Interactions on the Social Margins: Colonial North India, c. 1860-1900.

Niyati Shenoy (Columbia University)

The Rajah, the Rapist and the Resident: Sex and Governance in Early Colonial Rajputana.

Kristina Hodelin-ter Wal (Radboud University Nijmegen)
Using Empire: Tamils as Agents of the British, 1867-1933.

17.15-22.00: Drinks and conference dinner

Day 3. Friday, 24 January

09.00-09.15: Welcome day 3, coffee and tea.
Let’s start on time! Please make sure to be present at 09.30!

09.30-11.00:Panel 7. Diplomacy, Negotiation & Strategies of Colonial Governance.

Chair: TBA
Discussant: Remco Raben (University of Amsterdam)

Tanja Bührer (University of Bern)
The Transition from Intercultural Diplomacy to an Exclusive European International Law and Indirect Rule: European and Asian Intermediaries at the Court of Hyderabad, c. 1770-1815.

Stefan Eklöff Amirell (Linnaeus University)

Coping with Colonialism: Strategies and Perceptions of American Colonial Rule in the Sulu Sultanate, 1904−1906.

Philip Post (Leiden University)

Governors, Regents and Intermediaries: an Exploration of the Practices and Rituals of Colonial Authority in Ambon at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century.

11.00-11-30 Coffee Break

11.30-13.00: Panel 8. (Dis)continuities, Historical Legacies & Narratives of Statecraft.

Chair: TBA
Discussant: TBA

Douglas Kammen (National University of Singapore)

The Colonial Origins of post-1998 Demands for the Creation of New Provinces: Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

Sowparnika Balaswaminathan (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)
Historical Frames and Contemporary Archives: Challenging the Narratives on Governmentality and Caste.

Tyler A. Lehrer (University of Wisconsin–Madison)

Monks, Ministers, and Virtuous Kings: Histories of Early Modern Buddhist Revival in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Southern Asia.

13.00-14.00: Lunchbreak

14.00-14.45: Keynote 3 (Closing Note). Dr. Farish Ahmad-Noor (Nanyang Technological University).

14.45-15.15: Closing conference

15.15-: Optional: museum visit and drinks