Agricultural Involution:
The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia

Clifford Geertz

University of California Press 1970
A book review by Danny Yee © 1993
Agricultural Involution is one of the earlier works of a very influential writer: a concise overview of Indonesian agricultural systems. It describes the two main kinds of agriculture in Indonesia, swidden and sawah (irrigated rice paddy fields), and their geographical localisation (sawah being concentrated in Java and Bali along with 70% of Indonesia's population). It then looks at the historical development of Indonesian agriculture, and in particular the process of "agricultural involution", where the Javanese economy, faced with external pressure from the economic demands of the Dutch colonial regime and internal pressure from rapidly increasing population, intensified existing forms of agriculture rather than changing. This involved putting even more labour into paddy field cultivation, increasing per hectare output while maintaining per capita output. Geertz's thesis is that this process was tied up with the development of sugar as a smallholder cash crop complementary with rice production.

Critics have attacked Geertz's ideas in a number of places, and some of his conclusions are now considered doubtful. But this work is still necessary reading for anyone interested in Indonesian agriculture, as well as being a good introduction to the economic history of Indonesia. If nothing else, it will be remembered for the coining of the term "agricultural involution".

January 1993

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%T Agricultural Involution
%S The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia
%A Geertz, Clifford
%I University of California Press
%D 1970
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0520004590
%P 176pp