Peddlers and Princes

 

(Clifford Geertz)

 

 

1. Introduction

 

The introduction of the concept of "take-off" into recent discussions of the protest of economic development in non-industrial societies has served two useful functions. First, it has emphasized the discontinuous nature of this process. Second, it has underlined the fact that the characteristic problems facing a national economy change with the phase of the whole process that economy happens to be passing through.1 By dramatizing the fact that when conditions are right, the transition from stagnancy to sustained growth may be so very rapid as to be explosive, the "take-off" concept has sharpened our awareness that the problems of development are quite different in nations just entering the transition (such as China or, probably, India) than in those (such as Mexico or Turkey) which, having successfully passed through it, are well launched into a phase of steady rise in per capita income. The "quantum jump," "step-function," "industrial revolution" view of economic modernization gives at least some degree of determinate form to what is otherwise but a vague and ill-defined process.

 

One of the dangers of this approach, however, is that it is likely to lead u to employ per capita income as an exclusive index of the process of economic development and in so doing cause us to lotus our attention on those points in the process where the changes are most dramatic. In one sense, of course, increasing per capita income is economic growth, not a mere index of it; but in another, it is clear that such increases are but one highly visible resultant of a complex process which they reflect in only a broad and imprecise fashion, so that a simple identification of the pattern of change in per capita income with the pattern of social change which produces it is highly misleading. Though it may be true that, as an economic process, development is a dramatic, revolutionary change, as a broadly social process it fairly clearly is not. What looks like a quantum jump from a specifically economic point of view is, from a generally social one, merely the final expression in economic terms of a process which has been building up gradually over an extended period of time.

 

This becomes particularly apparent when one comes to consider countries whirh have not yet entered the take-off phase but seem reasonably likely to do so in the not-too-distant future. In such countries, per capita income may be increasing little if at all; in some cases it may even be dropping. Yet it is difficult to put aside the impression that fundamental social and cultural changes which may ultimately pave the way for rapid economic growth are occurring. Certainly, it has become more and more apparent that Tokugawa Japan, pre-1917 Russia, and the England of 1750 were not merely periods of quiet, unchanging stability before a sudden cataclysm of economic revolution, but rather periods of widespread intellectual and social ferment in which crucial social relationships nd cultural values were being altered in such a way as to allow an eventual large-scale reorganization of productive activities. It is at least possible that by the time take-off occurr a great proportion of the social transformations we associate with industrialism are, in the typical case, well under way. The sudden burst of growth in income and investment a nationÝs economy characteristically shows during the first years of its modernization is in part the result of a concentration on economic changes made possible by the fact that certain broader and more fundamental changes have already been effected, so that creative energies can now be channeled to more directly productive ends.

 

Indonesia is now, by all the signs and portents, in the midst of such a pre-take-off period. The years since 1945, and in fact since about 1920, have seen the beginnings of a fundamental transformation in social values and institutions towards pattern we genererally associate with a developed economy, even though actual progress toward the creation of such an economy has been slight and sporadic at best. Alterations in the system of social stratification, in world view and ethos, in political and economic organization, in education, and even in family structure have occurred over a wide section of the society. Many of the changes ˇ the commercialization of agriculture, the formation of non-familial business concerns, the heightened prestige of technical skills vis-a-vis religious and aesthetic ones ˇ which more or less immediately preceded take-off in the West have also begun to appear, and industrialization, in quite explicit terms, has become one of the primary political goats of the nation as a whole.

 

Yet that all these changes will finally add up to take-off is far from certain. It is clearly possible for development to misfire at any stage, even the initial one. Levy has shown, for example, how many of the social changes prerequisite to industrialization took place in China toward the end of the Ching dynasty ˇ most notably the dissolution of the extended family system ˇ without the promised economic growth following:

 

For the last five decades or more China has been a sort of no man's land with regard to modernization, It has bits and parts of it, but it has not achieved any considerable level of industrialization. It also has not been able to regain a stable version of the "traditional" society it once had.2

 

Except that the time span is shorter, this description fits contemporary Indonesia, most particularly Java, as well as it does China. The transition to a modern society has begun; whether ˇ or per- haps better, when ˇ it will be completed is far from cerlain. In such a pre-take-off society, where traditional equilibrium has been irrevocably lost but the more dynamic equilibrium of an industrial society liai not yet been attained, the investigation of the prospeus for development breaks down into two fairly separable analytical tasks. First, there is the task of discerning the changes toward modernization which are in fact taking place. What social and cultural transformations are under way which seem, on a comparative and theoretical basis, likely to facilitate development. Second, there is what we might call the "critical mass" problem: the task of estimating the stage these various changes must reach and the interrelations between them which they must obtain before take-off will in fact occur. What is the constellation of social and cultural forces which must be realized for development to start and a breakout from the no man's land of neither traditional nor modern be achieved? We need both to isolate the various processes ingredient in modernization and to consider when and how these processes add up to take-off in economic terms.

 

In general, anthropologists have concentrated their attention on the first of these analytical tasks, economists on the second. The method of anthropology ˇ intensive, first-hand field study of small social units within the larger society ˇ means that its primary contribution to the understanding of economic development must inevitably lie in a relatively microscopic and circumstantial analysis of a wide range of social processes as they appear in concrete form in this village, or that town, or the other social class; the theoretical framework of the economist almost as inevitably trains his interest on the society as a whole and on the aggregate implications for the entire economy of the processes the anthropologist studies in miniature. One result of this division of labor has been that anthropological studies of development have tended to consist of a set of more or less disconnected examples of the various social forces which "somehow" play a part in development with little or no indication as to how they play this part or how they effect the over-all functioning of the economy; economic studies of development tend to consist of general statements about the implications of various sorts of relationships among technically defined aggregate economic variables for growth, with little or no indication of how the social forces determining the value of these variables can be expected to behave. On the one hand you have a sociological eclecticism stressing gradualism, on the other an economic formalism stressing revolution.

 

Although this book follows in the anthropological tradition in attempting to evaluate Indonesia's development prospects by focusing on concrete examples of social change found in two Indonesian towns, it is clear that a really effective theory of economic growth will appear only when the social process and take-off ap proaches are joined in a single framework of analysis, when the relationships between the broad changes in social stratification, or the specific changes in levels of saving and investment we hold to cause can be related one to another. Such an ideal is not to be achieved by one definitive study, but rather will be realized slowly as anthropologists gradually give a more unambiguous interpretation of their findings in terms of general theoretical problems and economists gradually give sociological content to their aggregate models. Like two tunnel builders working on opposite sides of the same mountain, each must dig in its own spot with his own tools and approach each other only step by step. But if they are eventually to meet in the middle and so construct a single tunnel, each must try, in the meantime, to orient his own work to that of the other.

 

Our description of the processes of socioeconomic change now taking place in two towns, one Javanese and one Balinese, will include a discussion of some of the implications of these changes for a general analysis of Indonesian take-off prospects. More specifically, we shall both isolate the major dynamics of economic growth in these two towns and seek to determine how a detailed knowledge of such particular, circumscribed, and seemingly parochial social forces contributes to the formulation of over-all developmental policies and programs. To do so is to confront the problem of the relation between local and national, between giadual and sudden, and between social and economic change conciliation of the economist's and the anthropologist's way of looking at development.

 

_______________________

 

1  See W. W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960)
2  M. J. Levy. "Contrasting Factors in the Modernization of China and Japan", in S. Kuznets et al. (eds), Economic Growth: Brazil, India, Japan (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press 1955), pp. 496-536.

 


 

Introduction, in: Geertz, Clifford: Peddlers and princes: social change and economic modernization in two Indonesian towns, Chicago/Il./USA 1963: University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-6.

 


 

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