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The Making of a Periphery

How Island Southeast Asia Became a Mass Exporter of Labor

In The Making of a Periphery, Ulbe Bosma draws on new archival sources from the colonial period to the present to demonstrate how high demographic growth and a long history of bonded labor relegated Southeast Asia to the margins of the global economy.

Author Information

Ulbe Bosma is senior researcher at the International Institute of Social History and professor of international comparative social history at the Free University of Amsterdam. His publications include Being “Dutch” in the Indies: A History of Creolisation and Empire, 1500–1920 (2008) and The Sugar Plantation in India and Indonesia: Industrial Production, 1770–2010 (2013).


William Clarence-Smith, SOAS University of London:
Ulbe Bosma makes a subtle and convincing argument for a more nuanced approach to the “reversal of fortune” thesis. Primary exports can bring development, and deindustrialisation has been exaggerated. Malaysia, where the colonial authorities remained relatively independent of estates and mines, was less affected than Luzon or Java, where colonial powers taxed and spent too little. Populist policies of independent states need to be taken into account.

Alessandro Stanziani, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences:
Not institutions, but bonded labor and demography are the roots of the reversal of fortune of Southeast Asia (the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaya); these areas are not just the periphery of the West, but a crucial ring in the global commodity chain. By revisiting the major theories and analyses of dependency, Ulbe Bosma provides new insights on the long history of Southeast Asia and well beyond it, he provides an original, decentralized perspective on the rise and transformations of global capitalism.

Audience: Professional and scholarly;