Writing the History of Development (Part 2: Longer, Deeper, Wider)

The neoliberal ascendancy of the 1980s, combined with the unraveling of the Cold War at the end of the decade, ushered in a period of prolonged crisis and skepticism about “development” as a global project. It was at this watershed moment that development as history was envisaged by a critical mass of scholars, most of whom understood what they were studying primarily in terms of discourse. The fixation with discourse shaped the parameters of the emerging field in crucial ways. The importance of ideas, particularly high policy statements and theories, led researchers to a preoccupation with the conceptual or intellectual framework of development. This, in turn, resulted in an overly inflated yet oddly narrow conception of the nature of development, seeing it predominantly from a Western and elitist perspective, in which its totalizing claims and undifferentiated impact were accepted largely at face value.

The limitations of this approach were clear by the end of the 1990s. Since then, scholars have engaged in a series of explicit critiques of the earlier, binary, and monolithic view of development, by emphasizing the greater diversity and complexity of this history. Many scholars recognize that “actually existing” development implies looking beyond the metropolitan centers of the West to what’s happening on the ground in the former colonies and territories of the global periphery. It also requires historians not only to look at metropolitan archives but also to integrate insights drawn from archives and sources found in locations where development interventions were put into effect.

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If neoliberalism and the end of the Cold War set the stage for the first wave of writing the history of development, the dramatic events and fallout of September 11, 2001, provide the essential backdrop for understanding the more recent historiographical moves that have marked the field. Over the past decade or so, a far more diverse, ambiguous, and fractious portrait of development’s past has been revealed, as scholars have increasingly shifted their attention toward both the earlier origins and colonial antecedents of the paradigm and the practical analysis of its implementation on the ground. The new development historiography also promises to provide a more global and transnational investigation of ideas and linkages beyond the Western, especially American, experience, as researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds and subfields take a greater interest in the subject. This more nuanced and unabridged treatment of development’s past since the early 2000s, I argue here, must be understood in the context of the new policy imagination of the post–September 11 present.

9/11 and the Imperial Turn

Like a crucible, 9/11 awakened both policy makers and scholars to the realities and rising instabilities of the new, post–Cold War order. The problem of weak or failed states brought greater exposure to the importance of institutions and to questions of institutional reform, which fostered a new appreciation for setting the complexities and challenges of nation and state capacity building within a broader historical context. Even before 9/11, the neoliberal/postcolonial critique of the state as an agent of development was reaching its limit. The new market-oriented lending policies and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) introduced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank during the global debt crisis appeared to have caused greater harm than good in many developing countries. In order to re-establish their creditworthiness, indebted countries were cajoled into drastic reductions of public spending and subsidies, privatization of state enterprises, and currency devaluations. At the same time, developing countries were encouraged to reorient their economies to export intensification and open participation in the world market. The strategy of liberalization pursued by the IMF, the World Bank, and other global institutions, according to Philip McMichael, turned the developmentalist state inside out and paved the way for what he terms the “globalization project” of the 1990s.1

And yet the new global economy turned out to be as unstable as the old one. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and the increasing integration of these regions into the world market was accompanied by a marked rise of divisive nationalism, ethnic violence, and social upheaval.2 The IMF’s and Bank’s conditionality policies and restructuring programs had a devastating effect on sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, leading to stagnating or declining GNP per-capita, reductions in government spending on education and health care facilities, and increasing debt-service burdens.3 The once rapidly growing Asian markets teetered on the verge of collapse in the mid-1990s, sending shockwaves and inciting investor panic throughout the world. By the early 2000s, even the former chief economist and senior vice-president of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, was prepared to admit that “premature” market liberalization across the developing world was largely responsible for the financial instability of the 1980s and 1990s.4

For the journalist Robert Kaplan such instability seemed symptomatic of a world on the precipice of social and political anarchy in which the old twentieth-century international framework of sovereign nation-states was being overwhelmed by new, unconventional security threats such as overpopulation, environmental degradation, disease, and mass migrations. In his influential essay in the Atlantic Monthly, and later in his book The Coming Anarchy, Kaplan challenged Francis Fukuyama’s idealistic vision of the “end of history” and the triumph of liberal democracy, warning of the dangers of unemployed and lawless youths in the cities of the developing world, and of the threat they posed to social stability.5 Kaplan’s work echoed Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis, which predicted the new “flash points” of violence and conflict in the world would be on the “fault lines between civilizations,” rather than the old political and ideological divides of the Cold War.6

The September 2011 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon appeared to confirm such dire predictions. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the United States faced a moment of reckoning. The problem of failed or failing states, which might harbor global terrorist organizations and base camps, could no longer be ignored or relegated to the far reaches of American suzerainty. In the aftermath of the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, postconflict resolution and nation building became the central planks of U.S. foreign policy. The renewed emphasis on the strategic connection between security and development began to erode the previously unquestioned faith in market fundamentalism, posing a challenge to the already tottering neoliberal dream of reducing and privatizing the state. Political analysts like Francis Fukuyama responded by laying out the case for putting the state back on the agenda. In a significant reframing of his earlier position, Fukuyama argued that September 11 had reminded the world community of the problem of weak states and the need for state building, especially in the developing world.7 In the haste to reduce the size and scope of the state sector, not enough consideration had been given by international financial institutions and experts to the impact this would have on the effectiveness and capacity of the state, both to enforce the rule of law and support economic development. The resulting collapse of public administration and growing threats to international order had delivered a painful lesson that institutions and governance matter.

For many analysts and policy advisers, the lessons of 9/11 pointed logically toward a new U.S.-led imperialism designed to bring stability and democracy to the world’s insurgent zones.8 Niall Ferguson, for example, invoked the name of Rudyard Kipling to suggest that United States had “taken up some kind of global burden . . . It considers itself responsible not just for waging a war against terrorism and rogue states, but also for spreading the benefits of capitalism and democracy overseas.”9 Perhaps Michael Ignatieff captured the moment most vividly in his New York Times article “The Burden”:

Now we are living through the collapse of many of these former colonial states. Into the resulting vacuum of chaos and massacre a new imperialism has reluctantly stepped—reluctantly because these places are dangerous and because they seemed, at least until Sept. 11, to be marginal to the interests of the powers concerned. But gradually, this reluctance has been replaced by an understanding of why order needs to be brought to these places . . . Terror has collapsed distance, and with this collapse has come a sharpened American focus on the necessity of bringing order to the frontier zones. Bringing order is the paradigmatic imperial task, but it is essential, for reasons of both economy and principle, to do so without denying local peoples their rights to some degree of self-determination.10

The plea by writers like Ferguson and Ignatieff for a new imperialism dovetailed nicely with the revival of interest in the concept of empire, not only among historians but by other researchers in fields such as area studies, literary studies, and discourse analysis. Just when imperial history appeared to be on its last legs, a new cohort of scholars, influenced by theoretical perspectives drawn from poststructuralism and postcolonial studies, helped lead a resurgence of the field in the late 1990s. After an initially chilly reception, many imperial historians came to recognize the relevance of postcolonial theory and to incorporate its insights into their work.11 The “new imperial history,” a term often used to refer to this historiographical shift, has concerned itself with examining the cultural and discursive impact of imperialism, both “at home” in Europe and in the colonial peripheries, rather than the strategic and economic factors that defined the study of imperialism in the past. Conceptually, the new imperial history challenged earlier, binary models of imperial relations by placing metropole and colony within a single analytical frame or field of analysis in which those relations are viewed as mutually constitutive. Culture and identity in the metropole were just as much shaped and imbricated by empire as the colonies themselves.12 This kind of approach was well suited to the changing political and social landscape of the 1990s, when the demise of state developmentalism and the Cold War gave way to a new era of globalization based on increasing market liberalization and international financial management.13

The tragic events of 9/11 gave added urgency and relevancy to the study of empire, while at the same time challenging the recent historiographical move toward culture and identity and away from politics and institutions. Comparisons were inevitably drawn between earlier imperial endeavors and the heightened U.S. intervention overseas that followed 9/11. With the Cold War fading from view and the liberal multilateralism of the postwar nation-state system in crisis, some argued that the world was reverting to an earlier, imperial form of geopolitical relations. If the United States and its Western allies, particularly Britain, were, as they appeared to be, engaged in forging a new, twenty-first-century imperium (what Ignatieff termed “empire lite”), then it only made sense to look to the interventions of past empires for lessons.14 For imperial boosters like Ferguson, the earlier imperial framework was a model worth emulating. He lambasted the United States for its naivete in thinking “that `others’ can be `taught to elect good men, at the point of a bayonet if need be,’ allowing American troops to return home swiftly from the scenes of their interventions.”15 For Ferguson the real lesson to be gained from Britain’s experience as global hegemon was the need for long-term commitments of manpower and resources, something he doubted the United States had the political will or attention span to deliver. Without this the liberal imperial project was bound to fail.16

Other observers have been more troubled by the post-9/11 calls for a new imperial mission, and more critical of invoking past empires as potential models for the future. Parallels with the earlier, Cold War framework of modernization and nation-building efforts in regions such as Southeast Asia have not been lost on critics.17 Nor has the irony of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, which, as Tony Dodge observes, “marked the second time in Iraq’s 85 year history that foreign intervention, justified in the name of state-building, has failed to deliver on the promise of creating stable, sustainable and democratic governing institutions. While widely neglected in contemporary debates about state-building, Britain’s failed attempt in the 1920s and early 1930s to build a liberal state out of three former provinces of the Ottoman empire is the historical backdrop against which the birth and violent evolution of the Iraqi state has to be understood.”18

But even for those wary of making overly generalized analogies to empires of old, there has still been a recognition of the importance of placing more recent statebuilding projects in a wider historical context: a history that runs deeper than President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” or even the preceding Cold War era.19 Several comparative studies of empires, for example, have been written in recent years, which directly or indirectly situate the exercise of American power throughout the world within a deeper historical setting.20 There has been a related reawakening of interest in examining (and in some cases, resurrecting) the counterinsurgency strategies devised by the various European powers during the period of decolonization.21 Moreover, the importance of property rights and the rule of law for ensuring order and enhancing economic development have kindled an appreciation for understanding the history of institutions conducive to social stability and economic growth and the conditions under which they are established.22 This, in turn, has led to comparative studies of divergent “paths of development,” and to asking whether different regimes were more successful than others in establishing institutions that promote political security and economic expansion, and under what conditions.23

Similarly, I would argue, the “imperial turn” in American (and British) foreign policy in the early 2000s set the stage for a proliferation of new studies of development as history. The post-9/11 preoccupation with issues of security and empire ignited a quest for more long-term and contextualized histories of development. Analysts and scholars alike came to the realization that many of today’s “failed” and “collapsed” states, which threaten to destabilize the post–Cold War order, have their origins in the former European empires.24 In a very real sense, their failure also signifies the failure of development, first as an imperial, and later nationalist, state project. In the twentieth century, development became a universally accepted goal of all nation-states, and one of the core missions of the United Nations system.25 The failure of so many postcolonial regimes to fulfill the promise of better living standards and provide greater opportunities and choices for their citizenry thus lies at the very heart of the contemporary crisis of the nation-state. Reconstructing this history of expectation, disappointment, and delusion, and its roots in earlier colonial state-building projects, has become the goal of an expanding cohort of scholars.

Rather than painting development in binary, good or evil terms, or offering up one-size-fits-all general depictions, the post-9/11 literature presents us with a more nuanced picture, arguing not only that the concerns of the postwar development era have their roots in earlier colonial efforts but also that development models and ideologies were not (and are not) as cohesive or as hegemonic as earlier assumed. It also seeks implicitly to discover the lessons and elements of the development project that might be worth salvaging or wisely avoiding. The importance of studying actual development interventions and practices of the past has been highlighted, as has the question of whether such interventions achieved their intended goals or not, and with what lasting effects. In short, what began as a few dissenting voices in the 1990s has, in the wake of 9/11, become a chorus of likeminded investigators seeking to push the boundaries of the history of development further, deeper, and more broadly.

“Taking Off the Cold War Lens”: Development History in the Longue Durée26

One of the key shifts in the development historiography over the last decade and a half has been the move away from the truncated view of earlier scholars who saw development as a post-1945 or post-1949 project. There is a determination to look beyond the Cold War to earlier and different contexts, especially colonial precursors, to find the origins of the development framework. The seminal texts by Michael Cowen and Robert Shenton, who located development’s roots in nineteenth-century Europe but with imperial reiterations, and Frederick Cooper, who situated the development framework in the crisis of the colonial world in the 1930s and 1940s, helped lead the way. But it was the imperial reckoning of the post-9/11 moment, as outlined in the previous section, that formed the necessary catalyst for this important realignment of the field.

Even before the fin de siècle “imperial turn,” important work on colonial development policies was being produced by imperial historians such as Stephen Constantine, Cathérine Coquery-Vidrovitch, Michael Havinden and David Meredith, and Jean Suret-Canale, among others.27 These largely synoptic accounts documented the economic dimensions and high politics surrounding European colonial development policies. In the case of Britain, the problem of domestic unemployment, the campaign for tariff reform, and the extension of imperial preferences drove debates concerning the development of the empire in the early twentieth century. Other contributing factors traced by these works, which led Britain and France to adopt more extensive plans for colonial reform and reconstruction, include the Great Depression, international scrutiny of colonial rule, growing anticolonial discontent, and the impact of World War II. Although this earlier literature provides valuable insights into the political institutions and mechanisms of imperial policy, its authors tend to accept colonial ideas about development at face value and view them uncritically as part of an unfolding process of administrative and economic change. Rarely do these analyses inquire into the changing and varied meanings of development or draw parallels between their work and contemporary policy debates.

What differentiates more recent scholarship from these earlier accounts is the way it approaches development, viewing it as an assemblage of shifting meanings, interventions, and practices that needs to be interrogated and unraveled, and which has relevance for policy today. This more reflective approach began with the pioneering works of Cowen and Shenton and Cooper, but since the early 2000s the number of studies has grown exponentially.28 For comparative purposes I have settled on two representative texts of the recent scholarship: Suzanne Moon’s Technology and Ethical Idealism on the Netherlands East Indies, and my own Triumph of the Expert on British colonialism generally, but more particularly on Britain’s African territories.29 Although concerned with policies and projects undertaken by different European colonial powers, both books explore many of the same themes, as does much of the literature in this rapidly expanding field.

For both Moon and Hodge, the foundations of developmentalist thinking, at least in the colonial context, extend back to the turn of the century when the British and Dutch, along with other European powers, embarked on a new approach to their colonial empires. In the Dutch case, colonial reformers and critics argued that the welfare of the indigenous people should be the first priority of the Netherlands East Indies government. This led to a kind of welfare planning, or “development” (ontwikkeling), as it was beginning to be called, which formed the basis of the colonial government’s new Ethical Policies.30 Under the slogan “irrigation, education, and emigration,” the new Ethical Policies utilized technologies, such as the selection of better seed varieties, and employed technical experts to reshape indigenous agriculture. Similarly, although ideas about improvement can be traced back centuries, Hodge argues that “development” as an intentional practice was first articulated in reference to the British colonial empire by Joseph Chamberlain, the secretary of state for the colonies from 1895 to 1903.31 Under Chamberlain, a new kind of state-directed, “constructive” imperialism was proposed with the goal of “opening up” what he called the “undeveloped estates” of the colonial empire. The Chamberlainite program involved capital investment in railways and other infrastructural projects, as well as technical assistance and research in the areas of tropical medicine and tropical agriculture.

What is striking in both cases is the close association that was established among science, technology, and development by those reformers and officials who stood at the hub of the late colonial state-building projects in Africa and Asia. In the Netherlands East Indies, it was the biological sciences and scientists that featured prominently with the creation of the new Department of Agriculture in 1905 under Melchior Treub who, according to Moon, “employed an ideology of applied science, in which scientists would create knowledge in one place, the laboratories and fields of [the botanical garden in] Buitenzorg, and later apply it to the outside world.”32 The contemporary British Colonial Office concurred, gradually building up its capacity for technical expertise, with the creation of specialist advisers and advisory committees in education, agriculture, animal health, fisheries, nutrition, and more.33

Both Moon and Hodge emphasize the existence of competing agendas of power and multiple and conflicting programs and interests operating within the colonial state itself. Although authorities tended to favor rural and agricultural development, this does not mean there was not dissension and conflicting standpoints.34 Tensions and mediations occurred not just between state authorities and indigenous subjects but among different branches and levels of administration and between local colonial officials and metropolitan policy makers. Moon, for example, points to debates between the Department of Public Works and the new Department of Agriculture over which agency could best deliver agricultural improvement, with the former championing large-scale irrigation works, while the latter favored a small-scale approach aimed at introducing new crop varieties.35 Similarly, Hodge identifies challenges to Chamberlain’s “imperial estates” ideology, which coalesced into the alternative doctrine of development “along native lines.”36 Following the Great Depression an even more fundamental shift in meaning occurred, as the global crisis provided the impetus for a dramatic reworking of earlier assumptions about imperial development. The colonial development and welfare acts of the 1940s were informed by a kind of neo-Malthusian crisis narrative that gained popularity in the years leading up to the war.37

The outcome of these debates and intrusions, as Moon stresses, was often different from what was intended, and in her case quite contrary to the generalizations made about colonialism in the previous literature on development discourse. Although large-scale, homogeneous technologies were advocated by some as a way of increasing agricultural production, she shows how the agricultural extension service and the colonial government in the Netherlands East Indies generally eschewed such an approach, preferring instead to employ multiple strategies and small-scale solutions, adapted to local ecological conditions and agricultural practices. “In the Indies,” Moon asserts, “small-scale, locally sensitive technological development emerged not despite colonial rule, but because of it.”38 A similar “unexpected story” emerges from Hodge’s investigation of British colonial development policies and schemes. Rather than encouraging the industrialization and urbanization of colonial peoples, as Arturo Escobar and Gilbert Rist would suggest, these policies and schemes were designed to slow down and even reverse such a process.

Finally, although the initiatives promoted by Dutch and British colonial officials often met with disappointing or unexpected ends, and sometimes outright failures, the framework and beliefs that underpinned such initiatives would have lasting influence on development thinking well beyond the postwar era. Moon suggests that the corps of indigenous agriculture extension experts, trained in the Dutch colonial tradition of gathering detailed knowledge of local conditions and variability, continued to play an active role in the early development efforts of the Indonesian state. Moreover, some Dutch colonial experts, for example, Egbert de Vries, “took their knowledge and assumptions to aid projects throughout the world, particularly those sponsored by the United Nations and specialized agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organization.”39 The same is true for many of the technical officers and researchers who began their careers in the British colonial service and who continued serving in former colonial territories for years after independence, or who filled the ranks of Britain’s own overseas aid agencies. Years of practical knowledge and field experience also made them ideal recruits for the burgeoning network of intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.40

As the works by Moon and Hodge suggest, the new colonial development historiography sees important continuities stretching across the colonial-postcolonial divide. Despite the political realignments brought about by decolonization and the Cold War, a number of recent studies have highlighted the persistence of attitudes about modernity and models of authoritarian social engineering that were first initiated by colonial rulers in the 1930s and 1940s but which continued to hold value for development practitioners and national elites until the 1970s.41 By situating the late colonial and early postcolonial eras within a single analytical frame, these works challenge us to rethink the historical periodization of the development age. This is not to suggest that there were no significant disjunctures between colonial and postcolonial approaches. Indeed, for several researchers it is the ruptures, rather than the resonances, that seem more salient.42 But all would agree with the need to look closely at colonial initiatives and their legacies in order to understand what was distinctive and what was analogous about postcolonial endeavors.

Two of the more significant contributions along these lines are David Biggs’s Quagmire, and Allen F. Isaacman’s and Barbara S. Isaacman’s Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development, both of which explore the impact of various colonial and postcolonial state inventions in the crucial area of hydraulic engineering and water resource management.43 The Cahora Bassa Dam project on the Zambezi River in Mozambique is the focus of the Isaacmans’ study. Inspired by the Kariba Dam, which was built in the 1950s one hundred kilometers upstream in the Central African Federation, Cahora Bassa was constructed by the Portuguese in the early 1970s during the final years of colonial rule. At its completion just prior to independence, it was the world’s fifth largest dam at a cost of $515 million.44 Although initially opposed to the dam, the nationalist FRELIMO government switched position once it assumed the reins of state power, championing the scheme as key to the country’s postcolonial development strategy. And more recently, the Mozambican government has commenced planning for another project, first proposed during the colonial era, to build a second dam sixty kilometers downstream at Mphanda Nkuwa. Biggs’s concern, on the other hand, is with the long history of canal building and irrigation in the Mekong Delta of southwestern Vietnam. It is a history that stretches back to the reunification of Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty in the early nineteenth century and which continued during French colonial rule with the dredging of new inland waterways and canals and the building of other infrastructure projects, during the growth years from 1879 to 1930. With the formal exit of the French in 1954, a second construction boom began in the Mekong Delta and Valley under the tutelage of the United States and new, intergovernmental agencies like the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE).

Both the Isaacmans and Biggs stress the importance of looking at these development experiences from a broader social and spatial perspective. The Isaacmans are predominantly interested in the experiences of the African peasants and rural communities living along the Zambezi River, rather than the policy frameworks of colonial planners and development experts. Viewed through the everyday lives of the residents of the Zambezi valley, “development” in the form of the dam appears as an unending tragedy, as a delusion marked by forcible eviction and displacement, ecological degradation, and the loss of livelihoods.45 The dam blocked the river’s annual flood cycle and produced unexpected and irregular discharges that had devastating ecological consequences on the lower Zambezi watershed. For local riverine communities, traditional alluvial farming has become more precarious and in some areas unsustainable, which in turn has caused greater food insecurity and male labor migration to work on nearby plantations or in urban centers. Taken as a whole, the Isaacmans present a powerful critique of development’s past, one that moves beyond the state-centric approach that has characterized much of the literature of the last twenty years and instead offers a social history in which the rural poor themselves play the leading role, both as victims and actors.

Biggs also concentrates on the broader effects of the hydraulic management of a river system. His approach is more an environmental than social history of the Mekong Delta, portraying the water landscape and “floating” terrain as the essential backdrop for his analysis of various development schemes. As Biggs notes: “Often, new projects are sited directly atop the ruins of earlier, abandoned ones . . . Because of these multiple, overlapping layers of constructed spaces and the delta’s amorphous nature, it serves as an ideal environment for a history of modernization oriented to physical examples of slippage, erasure, and rupture.”46 Unlike the Isaacmans, who stress the social trauma and resistance of the rural poor, Biggs turns the spotlight more on the environment’s natural resistance. French colonial engineers, Vietnamese government officials, Viêt Minh revolutionaries, and American military and technical advisers and contractors alike endeavored to subdue this complex terrain through the introduction of new technologies and grandiose plans. Their efforts met with a mixture of success and failure, and often with effects that were either unforeseen or unintended. Biggs examines the altering of the landscape by colonial engineers into what they termed a “hydraulic grid” of canals and water control structures that “extended outward from older water lines and settled areas of the precolonial era to islands, backswamps, sand hills, and marshes.”47 Expansion of the canal system came to a grinding halt in the 1930s as the Great Depression yielded an agrarian crisis that overwhelmed state officials and opened up opportunities for emerging anticolonial, indigenous political movements. Japanese military occupation during World War II, followed by the First Indochina War (1945–54), further eroded and reconfigured the colonial water grid as the delta was broken up into zones controlled by the communist-led Viêt Minh and the various politicoreligious groups aligned with the French Vietnamese regime.

Into this witches brew, American technical and military advisers entered, seeking to construct an anticommunist, client state in the wake of the 1954 Geneva Accords. They introduced a series of new programs aimed at the resettlement of refugees and the construction of hydroelectric dams and irrigation schemes. The goal, ostensibly, was to stabilize a region ravaged by years of conflict, but the real effect was to disrupt and transform the fragile landscapes of the delta even further. Despite the massive flows of technology, equipment, capital, and foreign experts, the new U.S.-backed modernization reforms and projects proved to be as problematic as previous colonial endeavors. “Changing environmental and political conditions in the field,” Biggs writes, “undermined their efforts as floods, guerilla attacks (on people and machines), corruption, and increasing militarization frequently caused people to abandon projects. Failed canals, broken machines, and crop losses undermined not only the perceived legitimacy of American nation-building programs but ultimately the Sài Gòn government’s authority over people and places that for a decade prior to 1954 had existed semi-autonomously.”48

Both sets of authors have consciously sought to recast the history of countries like Mozambique and Vietnam by showing the level of continuity and overlap that exists between their colonial and postcolonial pasts. The Isaacmans, for instance, underscore what they describe as the “persistence of colonialism’s afterlife” in Mozambique. They note that “despite their very different economic agendas and ideological orientations, the Portuguese colonial regime, the postindependence socialist state, and its free-market successor all heralded the developmental promise of Cahora Bassa. Whether Portuguese or Africans held the reins of state power, the dam symbolized the ability of science and technology to master nature and ensure human progress.”49 Although the Portuguese had intended to use the dam as the catalyst for a vast regional development program, in the context of military resistance and guerilla attacks from FRELIMO forces, security concerns became the regime’s first priority. Out of necessity, Portugal turned to South Africa, which, in exchange for providing the necessary capital to build the dam, was guaranteed 80 percent of the dam’s electricity at below market prices. These arrangements continued even after independence as the new FRELIMO government granted the Portuguese company Hidroeléctrica de Cahora Bassa majority ownership and the right to manage the dam until Mozambique had repaid the $550 million construction debt. As a result, the vast quantity of electricity generated by the dam continued to be sold and exported to South Africa. Even as South African–backed RENAMO forces were engaged in an aggressive military destabilization campaign against the newly independent socialist state, in which the dam’s power lines as well as other infrastructure became targets for sabotage. Even after the 1992 ceasefire with RENAMO and a new agreement in 2007 that gave the Mozambican government an 85 percent share in the dam, the Isaacmans see little that has actually changed. The bulk of the energy is still exported to South Africa, while local peasant farmers are still impoverished and without electricity.

In the case of the Mekong Delta, Biggs reminds us that American technical experts and military advisers were not the first foreigners to attempt to control and reconfigure the delta’s environment through state-centered development projects and interventions. Taking a longer view of things, American efforts can be considered as but one episode in the ongoing making and remaking of the Mekong Delta into a modern hydraulic landscape. Far from a distinct rupture, French colonial engineers built on and extended an already existing precolonial grid of public works projects, which as Biggs explains, “may help explain why farmers in the colonial era were so receptive to the new technologies and modes of commerce introduced by the French. Colonial technologies advanced native and French ambitions.”50 At the same time, many colonial policies, especially those designed to bring water management under greater bureaucratic control, were highly contentious and resisted by both local peasants and planters. In other words, French success in extending the colonial hydraulic grid rested, in large measure, on the participation of local farmers, who adapted some elements of the colonial state’s water management system while rejecting or subverting others that did not serve their needs.

Biggs’s book is one of the first to take a longer and broader view of U.S. modernization efforts in a specific region and to detail the persistent links between colonial, and even precolonial, state-centered projects and postcolonial American nation-building programs. More generally, though, historians are only just beginning to explore the earlier roots of U.S. modernization theory and to move beyond the postwar foreign aid programs and key theoretical texts that up to this point have received so much attention. One of the first historians to point out the parallels between postwar modernization theory and earlier, nineteenth-century notions of a “civilizing mission” was Michael Adas in his acclaimed book Machines as the Measure of Men.51 More recently, David Ekbladh has also abandoned the Cold War framework, turning his attention instead to the early twentieth century, when much of the groundwork for the programs and models of the post–World War II modernization mission were first laid. Far from being anchored in the Truman Doctrine, Ekbladh argues that

the template for using development as part of an ideological struggle had been laid down during the crisis years of the 1930s and 1940s. While the Cold War is vital to understanding the maturation and extension of many of these concepts, the fact that many methods and institutions had a defined role before the confrontation reveals new avenues to explore the increasing global influence of the United States in the last century.52

Although he recognizes that the United States interacted, refracted, and was itself influenced by international trends, for Ekbladh it is the domestic roots of modernization “at home” that seem most germane; he notes, as Adas does, that America’s fascination with technology and “useful knowledge” stretches as far back as the colonial beginnings of the nation. For Ekbladh, the story begins with the reform efforts of the Reconstruction period following the Civil War. By the early twentieth century reconstruction had taken on new meanings, becoming tied to Progressive Era meliorism, which Ekbladh asserts “was part of an interconnected international movement of social politics.”53 The developmental impulses of reconstruction gathered steam during the 1920s and 1930s, primarily through the work of voluntary associations and private groups, most notably missionary societies and newly formed philanthropic institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Health Board, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, among others. Indeed, the inclusion of these nonstate groups and their initiatives, both during this earlier phase and throughout the post–World War II period, is a pivotal part of Ekbladh’s argument. By seeing beyond the activities of the U.S. government, he is able to render a much broader canvas than any previous study of the history of modernization and its place in U.S. foreign relations has been able to do.

Despite his recognition of transnational influences, for Ekbladh modernization remains a novel and uniquely American product—the “Great American Mission” to borrow his title. Approaches such as David Biggs’, which examine U.S. nation-building experiences from a broader and more locally and contextually situated perspective, are still the exception rather than the rule. This is partly due to the tendency of researchers to concentrate on modernization as an ideological or intellectual project, as outlined in part 1 of this essay, rather than on how these organizing structures were translated into actual state and nonstate practices under specific circumstances. But such perspectives are beginning to change. As the next section details, another key shift in the post-9/11 development historiography has been for investigators to delve more “deeply” into the complexities of development on the ground. And as they do, earlier assumptions about the distinctiveness of American modernization or the intentions of colonial developers have been questioned and tested.

“Deeper” Histories of Development

Pushing back the origins of the development framework and recasting its periodization in relation to the Cold War and decolonization are not the only significant scholarly trends shaping the field in recent years. A second, equally valuable line of inquiry has been opened up by researchers (oftentimes the same researchers) interested in understanding the complexity of development history by: (a) paying more careful attention to the contradictions, nuances, and debates surrounding development ideas and policies; and (b) by examining more closely how these ideas and policies play out on the ground and in practice in specific contexts. Once again, both Cowen and Shenton and Cooper among others anticipated this shift in their writings in the mid-1990s. Both sets of authors stressed, in different ways, the heterodoxy and complexity of development. Conceptually, Cowen and Shenton differentiated between “development” as an immanent process (in which “crisis” must be seen as something intrinsic to the process itself) and “development” as an intentional, usually state-directed, practice. This distinction helped lay the groundwork for a much more nuanced and critical understanding of the subject that moved beyond the simple binary oppositions and “reverse Orientalism” of postdevelopment theory.54

Cooper’s work has been equally pivotal in opening the possibility for a more critical reading of development by approaching the problem not so much from the perspective of the longue durée as from the question of the relationship between discourse and practice. By extending his analysis beyond the discursive realm, Cooper foregrounded the contradictions and complexity of development on the ground. “In neither French nor British Africa,” Cooper writes, “were officials free to bring their visions of a new future to a tabula rasa. When they tried, they faced the social and political complexity of African countryside and city.”55 Cooper elaborated on this point further in the introduction to his 1997 edited volume with Randall Packard, International Development and the Social Sciences, in which they argued: “It is . . . too simple to assert the emergence of a singular development discourse, a single knowledge-power regime. The appropriations, deflections, and challenges emerging within the overall construct of development—and the limits to them—deserve careful attention.”56

This emphasis on examining the complexity of development ideas and the interface between discourse and practice received further treatment in a special forum of the Journal of African History in 2000. The editors, Dorothy Hodgson and Monica van Beusekom, placed the spotlight on specific development programs across sub-Saharan Africa in the late colonial period, arguing that development discourses were inevitably enmeshed with and influenced by development practice.57 By looking at local configurations rather than dominant ideologies and policy statements, the contributors demonstrated effectively that “few if any plans remained uninfluenced by local struggles over land, labor or agricultural and environmental expertise. Neither hegemonic nor unchanging, late colonial development agendas were in fact rooted in the experiences of earlier colonial efforts to manage rural livelihoods and tied to both global changes and local realities of the late colonial era.”58 Based on case studies from across the continent, the authors of this special forum stress the unpredictable and muddied nature of the relationship between discourse and practice.59 These studies show that there were substantial variations in the day-to-day carrying out of development depending on the geographical setting and timing of specific state interventions, as well as the past historical experiences of the many actors, both African and European, who were involved. Rarely did official agendas and plans unfold as intended. Often there were tensions and conflicting interests within the colonial state between, for example, metropolitan-based experts and district-level officials, as well as opposition and distrust from the targeted African populations. Out of necessity, officials found themselves needing to be pragmatic, open to negotiation, and willing to make significant modifications in the implementation of various programs.

Over the last decade or so these themes have been pushed further by a rising cohort of researchers, including one of the Journal of African History forum’s editors, Monica Van Beusekom. Her book Negotiating Development examines the Office du Niger irrigation scheme in French West Africa, the origins of which extend back to Albert Sarraut, the French minister of the colonies, and his ideology of “mutual development” in the early 1920s.60 Moreover, she provides a compelling critique of poststructuralist and neopopulist approaches by exploring the intersection between discourse and practice. Two other contributions that share her concern for examining development schemes and programs at particular conjunctures are Tania Murray Li’s The Will to Improve, which takes the Indonesian highlands of Central Sulawesi as its area of focus, and Rohland Schuknecht’s British Colonial Development Policy after the Second World War, an examination of the Sukumaland Development Scheme in colonial Tanzania.61

As highlighted in part 1, analysts like Arturo Escobar and James Scott have been taken to task for depicting development as a single, hegemonic discourse, which they see as self-generated from above and applied universally across time and space without regard to local knowledge and practice. The difficulty with this approach, Van Beusekom contends, is its disregard of the importance of specific development experiences and practices since it regards “the almost-predictable `failure’ of development projects and the seeming persistence of certain development approaches in spite of such failures as evidence that practice has had little influence on ideology.”62 Even James Ferguson’s landmark study of the Thaba-Tseka Development Project in Lesotho, according to Van Beusekom, can be said to minimize the importance of the particularities of locality by asserting that such interventions become standardized through interlocking networks of personnel, normalizing knowledge and skills, and “blueprint” models that are used interchangeably.63 Although Tania Murray Li writes more approvingly of Ferguson’s work, she also takes issue with his position that the development apparatus is constituted through unintended effects rather than rational calculation, noting that this neglects “the possibility that actors might take note of these effects and build them into their plans.”64 Li is also critical of Escobar for implying that development is conspiratorial or sinister by design, and of Timothy Mitchell for ascribing too much power to experts to successfully depoliticize questions of poverty and inequality and to absorb critiques or failures in ways that perpetuate the need for “new programs with their authority unchallenged.”65 Such approaches neglect the fact that state power is subject to continuous debate and serves no unitary purpose, that many improvement schemes are uneconomical and offer little hope for profit, and that expert discourses are sometimes unable to contain the political and economic questions they seek to exclude and neutralize.

By focusing on development as a homogenizing, Western ideology, authors such as Ecobar and Scott have ironically neglected the people who are the objects of such ideologies and who actually experience development and its effects first hand. In contrast, Van Beusekom suggests the experience of development at the project level is key to understanding why development theories and policies emerge, persist, change, succeed, or fail. The point is perhaps best captured by the emphasis she places on the “mutual” and daily interactions between indigenous farmers and local peoples on the one hand, and colonial officials and experts on the other—interactions characterized as much by negotiation and persuasion as by compulsion and domination.66 She shows that colonial planners and experts in the 1920s and 1930s at the Office du Niger were unable to affect the wholesale transformation of agriculture and rural society that they had initially intended, in large part because African settlers on the scheme failed to embrace their rationalist vision of intensive plow agriculture and crop rotations on irrigated plots. Instead, a complex process of interaction and negotiation between African farmers and project officials and experts gave rise to development practices that were pragmatic and makeshift in nature, and which often diverged from the social evolutionist model that underpinned the scheme’s original plans. What is more, the failure of these earlier efforts led to significant changes in approach at the project level. After World War II, Van Beusekom argues, project managers began integrating local agricultural practices such as abandoning crop rotations in favor of fallow periods and allowing nomadic pastoralists to graze their cattle on Office lands during the dry season as a way of maintaining soil fertility. Although they maintained the superiority of European science, they nevertheless drew heavily on indigenous knowledge to determine which crops and varieties were best suited to which soils.

Li and Schuknecht also underscore the imperative of carefully studying development schemes and programs at particular historical and spatial conjunctures. As an anthropologist, Li combines ethnographic field research with the awareness of a social historian to help understand the context and layering of past interventions. She draws insights from an eclectic theoretical mix to distinguish between what she terms the “practice of government” versus the “practice of politics.”67 The practice of government involves putting the will to improve into operation through concrete programs, by identifying problems that require resolution, making them legible, and defining the boundaries for appropriate intervention. However, the power and means of governments to impose their will to improve is not unlimited; it requires some level of acquiescence from the subjects targeted, who retain a degree of autonomy and ability to act and resist. It also requires the capacity of the state to manage the uncertain and dynamic agency of contingencies such as floods, famines, and epidemics. The resulting governmental programs produce effects that are inconsistent, that generate unintended problems, and that give rise to new interventions aimed at rectifying the failure of past efforts. The overlapping, contradictory character and unforeseen consequences of such programs leads Li to a crucial observation about how power works: it is messy, multifarious, and fissured. This is quite similar to Van Beusekom’s observation that the colonial state was “intrusive but not hegemonic: able to disrupt the lives and livelihoods of [African people] but unable to control the direction that those livelihoods would take.”68 And it is in these openings and gaps that the practice of politics—of subjects forming that are capable of mounting a political challenge to such improvement schemes—becomes possible. It is these intersections “where attempts to achieve the `right disposition of things’ encounter—and produce—a witches’ brew of processes, practices, and struggles that exceed their scope” that constitute the main subject of Li’s book.69

Rohland Schuknecht takes a similar tack, emphasizing the multiplicity and contingency of power by alluding to ongoing debates and tensions among and between colonial administrators, scientists, indigenous chiefs, and emerging nationalists over the meaning and objectives of development in colonial Tanzania. The contentious nature of colonial development led to frequent shifts in both policy and practice. But as crucial as these debates and policy alterations may have been, Schuknecht’s main concern lies with their implementation and outcome, arguing as Van Beusekom and Li have that “the best way of putting ideas and notions about development into perspective is to study the results of their application on the ground within a specific local and historical context.”70 The effect, as Schruknecht recounts, was one of compromising practices and of improvement schemes whose intentions were foiled or deflected. Although policy statements emanated from the Colonial Office in London, it was the territorial administration, and especially the provincial and district officials, who were responsible for operationalizing them.

In the case of Tanganyika, these local officials followed London’s directives, but they often did so reluctantly or selectively, and with a great deal of skepticism about whether the new ideas and initiatives would work. Senior Colonial Office officials and planners, for example, recognized that the success of postwar, rural development programs such as the Sukumaland Development Scheme rested on active participation from below through the reform of local government bodies to make them more inclusive and democratic. But metropolitan officials had very little means of exerting control over local administration and technical departments in whose hands the execution of such programs ultimately rested. The proverbial “man on the spot,” with his deep-seated beliefs, racial prejudices, and suspicion of visiting experts, in large measure determined the mold that development took at the district level. Perhaps most consequentially, while local authorities responded with zeal to appeals from London for increasing production, they resisted or sidestepped the more radical plans for accelerating social and political change through local government reforms and mass education campaigns. Under pressure to achieve significant results in a short amount of time, district commissioners and technical officers resorted to a more authoritarian mode of government, by working through (and indeed strengthening) native authorities. The Sukumaland Federal Council, a political federation of Sukuma chiefdoms, was formed in 1946 and given legal responsibility for enacting land usage and settlement rules for the whole region. Chiefly authority was reinforced by a massive expansion of extension staff in the hope of pushing through the state’s vision of intensive agriculture by means of mass compulsion, heavy regulation, and close supervision.

Tania Li recounts a very similar story about a series of planned interventions over a period of a century in the highlands of Central Sulawesi. The history of improvement schemes in this region dates back to the Ethical Policies of the Dutch colonial state at the turn of the twentieth century, when the previously autonomous highland populations of Kulawi and the hinterlands of Poso were conquered and subjugated to the authority of new Dutch-appointed rajas. Conquest was followed by the forced resettlement of highlanders, from scattered and isolated hillside hamlets into concentrated villages in the valleys. Previously mobile and fluid highland groups were molded into fixed, sedentary villagers and Christian subjects, through the replacement of swidden cultivation with an integrated package of irrigated, intensive rice farming and the demarcation of the surrounding hillsides as forest reserves. These schemes, however, produced dire results for the unaccustomed hill peoples, who fell ill and died from malaria, cholera, famine, and dysentery. Colonial officials were forced to relent and allow people to retreat back to the hillside forests. The Japanese occupation during World War II would prove to be the death knell of colonial resettlement schemes as the last of the hill farmers fled back to the hills where they resumed the practice of shifting cultivation.

The years between 1942 and 1965 were a period of openings, when first the Japanese occupation and then the tide of popular mobilization and armed rebellions in the aftermath of independence led to a hiatus from governmental interventions in the Sulawesi highlands. The coming to power of Suharto and his New Order regime, however, brought a resumption of schemes aimed at reasserting control over highland populations and landscapes. Li asserts that New Order programs were based on the same assumptions and reproduced the same techniques of forced resettlement, forest demarcation, and agricultural intensification as those pioneered by their Dutch colonial predecessors. Hill farmers were defined as “estranged people” who were to be “socialized” and rehabilitated into “ordinary villagers.”71

But like their colonial predecessors, officials were confronted with challenges and forced to make compromises. The lands allocated to resettled populations were often subject to competing claims from previous customary landholders, and as a result, officials sought as much as possible to locate schemes on unused lands. But such lands often suffered from lower fertility, were prone to flooding or susceptible to diseases, and generally of inferior quality that made them unsuitable for intensive agriculture. Disillusioned transmigrants abandoned their land or cleared new lands illegally in state-designated forest reserves, while newly arrived hill farmers became ill with malaria or were swindled out their land by corrupt officials and fled back to the highlands. The lands they left behind were appropriated by officials and private investors and often resold to Bugis migrants from South Sulawesi who planted cacao and profited, while many of the original settlers were left landless. “Incomplete though they were,” writes Li, “these program had consequential effects: they altered the conditions under which the highlanders lived their lives . . . Resettlement programs did not obliterate the highlanders’ claims to their ancestral territories high in the hills, nor did they fix the highlanders securely on two hectares of valley land. Instead, resettlement set people on the move, creating landscapes layered with overlapping claims.”72

Both Li and Schucknecht are interested in moving beyond questions of failure to explore the responses of those on the receiving end of such schemes. In colonial Tanzania, the reaction of Sukuma farmers was initially one of passive acquiescence, but over time apathy turned to frustration and anger and eventually to open resistance. From the farmers’ point of view, many of the so-called improvements, such as labor-intensive manuring, tie-ridging, and enforced destocking, seemed to make little sense under existing conditions and often caused more harm than good. With the rise of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and the anticolonial movement in the second half of the 1950s, large areas of Sukumaland became engulfed in widespread protests and civil disobedience, forcing the government to abandon unpopular agricultural ordinances and to acknowledge that its “transformation-through-compulsion” tactics had failed.73

Li also finds considerable local agency and autonomy, especially at the interstices when programs become entangled in the “witches brew” of competing interests and unplanned processes. It is here, where negotiations and compromises become necessary for programs to proceed, that the limits of governmental power are exposed and openings for strategic reversals become possible. Based on numerous interviews and fieldwork conducted among resettled hill farmers and their families, Li believes that resettlers shared the officials’ concepts of improvement and modernity. Hundreds of families applied to join the resettlement schemes in the hope of finding new opportunities and a better life. Those who met with disappointment or misfortune rarely returned to their former life in the hills but instead cleared new land on the forest edges where they would still have opportunities to earn income for consumption goods and to send their children to nearby schools. Their anger was not directed against modernity per se but rather at the failure of improvement programs to deliver the promised results of secure, fertile land and access to good roads and services.

The question of how development ideologies and policies play out in specific conjunctions of time and space has also captured the interest of historians of U.S. modernization. Here, too, we find a more complicated set of connections and narratives than originally assumed. In addition to Biggs’s study of the Mekong Delta, another innovative analysis worth referencing is Abou Bamba’s examination of the Kossou hydroelectric dam project in the Ivory Coast. Bamba employs the concept of triangulation to scrutinize American involvement in the project and the three-way relationship that evolved between the former French colonial masters, postcolonial Ivorian elites, and new donor countries and international actors, including the United States and the UN.74 He argues that development knowledge and techniques in the postwar world were increasingly transnational historical forces, which were compared, circulated, and transferred by networks of international experts and agencies. An American-style developmentalist paradigm—with its implicit critique of European imperialism and its unique approach to integrated regional development in the form of the Tennessee Valley Authority—offered an alternative model to colonial versions of modernity. From the Marshall Plan forward, postcolonial, nationalist leaders from across the Third World sought to emulate U.S. modernization techniques and to draw on American money and technical know-how.

French colonial administrators were acutely aware of the American challenge, and were determined to maintain their role as mediators even after the independence of colonies such as the Ivory Coast. They fashioned a new postcolonial diplomatic strategy of deploying technical assistance personnel (coopérants) and encouraging French firms to take a greater interest in former French colonies, as a means of checking the growing encroachment of American influence. France endeavored to maintain its hold over its postcolony through the intervention of metropolitan experts and expatriate researchers like Philippe Lamour, one of France’s leading postwar regional planners, who served as a consultant and expert adviser for the Kossou Dam Project, and Hugues Lhuillier, who worked at the Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre Mer (ORSTOM) and later the Ivorian Ministry of Development Planning. Yet many of these French experts, Bamba contends, were themselves deeply influenced by American ideas and modernization techniques, having visited the United States or received training from American experts. Although American capital and technology largely built the Kossou Dam and relations between the French expatriate community and Ivorian leaders were at times strained, a closer examination reveals a great deal of resonance as well as divergence, with French experts playing an indispensable role as transmitters of American technical knowledge and regional planning models. Processes similar to those identified by Bamba were no doubt at work in other former colonial regions.75 We need to know more about the varied ways that decolonization intersected with U.S. modernization imperatives, which hopefully future research employing novel concepts such as the idea of triangulation will help to uncover.

While Africa is beginning to pique the interest of historians specializing in U.S. foreign relations and the history of modernization, Asia is the region of the world that has received the lion’s share of scholarly attention, largely because it was the Cold War’s key ideological battleground and thus received the largest subvention of U.S. economic and technical assistance.76 Several important works have appeared in recent years that examine the implementation of American modernization programs in countries throughout Asia.77 Two of the most important test cases, aside from South Vietnam, were India and Indonesia, which have been investigated by Nick Cullather and Bradley Simpson respectively. In The Hungry World, Cullather links the green revolution and the U.S.-led campaign to end hunger and poverty in Asia to a story of epic scale, one which predates World War II and which involves not just governments but a “panoply of private and multilateral funding networks, research institutes, and freelancers who were inventing not just new policies but a new type of policy.”78 In Economists with Guns, Bradley Simpson follows U.S.-Indonesian relations in the 1960s, tracking the growing support among both American social scientists and the New Order regime’s Western-oriented technocrats for the military as a modernizing force and bulwark against communism. The shift reflected a wider conceptual turn in U.S. policy toward what was becoming known as “military modernization” theory.79

If there is one lesson that emerges from a comparison of the two texts, it is that the United States, despite the magnitude of its resources and the preponderance of its power, did not operate in the area unencumbered but had to contend with conditions and local actors already in place, which made compromises necessary and which sometimes led to the subversion of American designs. In both countries, American policy makers were confronted by charismatic postcolonial leaders who were determined to maintain their country’s neutrality through the “nonaligned” movement. And although both countries were receptive of Western modernization along democratic lines, they were also deeply impressed by the Soviet model of rapid industrialization (and in the case of Indonesia, the Chinese model of mass mobilization) and readily accepted both American and Soviet economic and technical assistance and training.

Indonesia’s historical trajectory was altered decisively by the September 30th Movement—an apparent coup attempt in 1965 that served as the pretext for the massacre of as many as half a million alleged members and supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) by the armed forces (with U.S. backing) and the eventual seizure of power by the army under General Suharto. But focusing too closely on these events, Simpson argues, tends to magnify the extent to which Washington’s support for the new regime in Jakarta was a radical departure from previous policy. For Simpson, there is an underlying continuity to U.S. policy in Indonesia, and in Asia generally, stretching back to the late 1950s. U.S. policy makers imagined Indonesia developing as part of a rim of stable, prosperous, and independent Asian nations that would be economically oriented to the West and would serve to counter Chinese communist power in the region. Throughout the 1950s, U.S. hopes for a democratic Indonesian state that would be Western and capitalist in orientation fluctuated between bouts of optimism and moments of despair. Sukarno and other Indonesian leaders frustrated U.S. goals by steadfastly refusing to align with either side in the Cold War, despite the fact that they readily accepted U.S. economic and technical assistance, including generous fellowships from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations to allow Indonesian technical personnel to study economics at U.S. universities (the so-called Berkeley Mafia). These Western-trained technocrats had no problem accepting Soviet technical assistance and eclectically mixing Western and Soviet planning models.

Over time, U.S. officials became increasingly preoccupied with the possibility of the PKI assuming power. As popular support for the party swelled throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, the United States looked to the armed forces to offset their influence, encouraging officers to see themselves as the guardians of political order. This would lead the CIA to provide covert support for a failed rebellion by dissident officers (known as the Pemerintaho Revolusioner Republik Indonesia, or PRRI) in 1957–58. U.S. backing of the rebels had disastrous consequences, helping not only to strengthen the PKI but also pushing Sukarno closer to the Soviets, who, in the wake of the aborted revolt, increased their military and economic aid to Indonesia dramatically. From this point onward, the United States became determined to eradicate the PKI as a political force by provoking a confrontation between its supporters and the army. What we see throughout this period is Washington’s consistent support for Indonesia’s armed forces as the rampart of order in a way that reveals the inherent antidemocratic biases of modernization theorists and U.S. policy makers from the very beginning of U.S. involvement in the country.80

If Simpson sheds light on the more coercive and repressive side of America’s modernization mission in the developing world, Cullather directs our attention to the other stream: the technocratic faith of American planners and experts in the ability of science and technology to overcome the global threats of rising population growth, hunger, and poverty.81 No other region of the world was more an object of these aspirations than Asia, which in the 1950s and 1960s became the target of another type of nation-building initiative: rural reconstruction and development through a range of techniques and activities that came to be known as the “green revolution.”

Although Cullather’s story crisscrosses the Asian landscape and reaches its climax in the 1960s under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, it begins with a much different context at the turn of the century, when new advancements in nutritional science and demography revolutionized the study of food and hunger. The real breakthrough for Cullather, however, comes with the setting up of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican Agricultural Program (MAP) in 1941. For the foundation, Mexico was representative of the backward regions of the world where the New Deal’s vision of rural reconstruction might be fruitfully applied. Under the direction of Elvin Stakman, a plant pathologist who had earlier worked as a USDA researcher, the foundation assembled a team of specialists, including Norman Borlaug, to conduct basic research on corn and wheat. For Borlaug, the goal was to develop crop varieties that were disease and rust resistant but could also absorb higher fertilizer applications, especially of artificial nitrates, in order to produce higher yields. By 1949, the first rust-resistant, “super” wheats were ready for release, and by 1955, the MAP operation was being hailed a success as Mexico announced that it had achieved national self-sufficiency in corn and wheat. The significance of these events cannot be overstated for, as Cullather suggests, Mexico became a blueprint: “The MAP’s recipe for training and its `package’ of modern agricultural practices—rust-resistant varieties, irrigation, and chemical fertilizers—offered a pattern for managing `the problem of food production in the Orient’ where `crops and conditions were similar to those existing in Mexico.'”82

As the reference to the “Orient” suggests, in the context of the Cold War and the communist victory in China in 1949, Asia was identified as the most strategically significant frontier. Asia was overwhelming rural and agricultural, a continent of peasants, Cullather writes, where the breakdown of traditional cultural bonds and village life had unleashed a “revolution of rising expectations.” It was here, at the village level, that the battle for hearts and minds would be won or lost. Accordingly, more than two-thirds of Cullather’s book is devoted to examining the efforts of the United States to come to grips with the region’s staggering rural poverty through a drive to modernize the Asian countryside. His narrative weaves and jumps across the continent, drawing out the interconnections between projects and programs in several different countries. We learn of the trials and tribulations of the Helmand and Arghandab Valley Authority, a massive dam building and irrigation project in Afghanistan, modeled on the TVA and constructed by Morrison Knudsen, Inc., the builder of the famous Hoover Dam. We also learn of the Ford Foundation’s “Manhattan Project for Food,” better known as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), founded in the Philippines in 1959. Robert Chandler, the first director of IRRI, adopted Borlaug’s “big jump” strategy of pushing plant genetics to its limit to create the “ideal” rice plant type, one that was energy efficient, disease resistant, and high yielding. The new “miracle rice” was released in 1966 as part of a package of chemical fertilizers, credit, and machinery, and by 1968, the Marcos regime was claiming national self-sufficiency.

India, however, is the one country Cullather returns to time and time again. It was, as Walter Lippmann described it, “a very big and very poor country,” which in the context of the Cold War held obvious strategic relevance as a potentially democratic alternative to communist China. India was a natural ally the United States supported throughout the 1950s with massive subventions of food aid, under P.L. 480, the Food for Peace Program, in order to subsidize Nehru’s push to transform India into an industrial nation within a single generation. But as concerns heightened over the problem of world population growth and India’s worsening food gap, U.S. thinking began to shift. India became the showcase of U.S. Asian policy under Kennedy with rural development and scientific agriculture taking center stage. Both Kennedy and Johnson applied political pressure to persuade Indian leaders to adopt the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations’ food-first strategy to dramatically boost wheat production and attain self-sufficiency. This was no easy task, but two seminal events, the India-China Border War of 1962, which broke Nehru’s hold over the Congress Party, and the (so-called) Bihar Famine of 1966–67, which highlighted the country’s food crisis, were key to providing the opening. The famine, in particular, allowed first Lal Bahadur Shastri and then Indira Gandhi to consolidate their power over the Indian Planning Commission and paved the way for massive investments in the new reform package of new seed varieties, fertilizers, irrigation, and expanding acreage with the goal of achieving an “agricultural take off.”

What is interesting about Cullather’s approach is his emphasis on the performance of modernization. Rather than seeking explanations for the power of development in its economic functions, or in its discursive meanings as a “knowledge-power regime,” Cullather focuses largely on its visual and spatial character. “Projects were designed” he writes, “for `display’ to produce statistical victories or as carefully staged spectacles dramatizing the fruits of modernity.”83 But despite such spectacular staging, Cullather stresses, these much-vaunted triumphs of modern science and technology were by and large an illusion. The bumper harvests of 1968, which inspired William Gaud to coin the term “green revolution,” were more the result of new price incentives, institutional changes, and government subsidies than they were the effect of the new, dwarf varieties. Nor were such high yields sustained in the face of the 1970s energy crisis. What is more, the green revolution unleashed a string of social and environmental repercussions, which actually exacerbated rural inequality and poverty, leading to greater unemployment, accelerated rural-urban migration, and the intensifying of class tensions and violence. Such consequences, however, have been selectively omitted from the legend of the green revolution.

Cullather’s other important contribution is to highlight the diverse, shifting, and enigmatic nature of the U.S. campaign to fight rural poverty in Asia. He underscores that, far from an unchanging and monolithic enterprise, the campaign comprised many different visions at work, from the community development efforts of Albert Mayer to Wolf Ladejinsky’s approach to land reform to the TVA multipurpose project model to the Foundations’ food-first strategy. Often these visions worked at cross-purposes to each other, with different models becoming more fashionable at different times. “In renovating the Asian countryside,” Cullather observes, “designers drew from many modernist traditions. They approached fundamental issues of planning, rights, technology, and history in different ways . . . They diverged from the Rostovian synthesis most strikingly on its essential tenet, the universal relevance of the U.S. example.”84 At the heart of these contradictions and shifts, as this statement suggests, lies the fact that the goals of U.S. policy remained unclear, largely because American attitudes to rural development were uncertain and ambivalent. “Because the countryside could never be truly modern,” Cullather notes, “there was considerable disagreement about what modern agriculture might look like. A surfeit of solutions drawn from American experience added to the confusion.”85

While the goals of U.S. policy in Indonesia were arguably more consistent and clear, for Simpson the consequences were no less contradictory and flawed. During the Sukarno years, Washington policy makers forged close ties with the Western-trained economists at the University of Indonesia. After the coup, these Western-oriented technocrats emerged as the Suharto regime’s key advisers, advocating economic stabilization and market-oriented reforms. They were backed up by “a stunning turnaround,” as Simpson puts it, in U.S. support for the new government in Jakarta, with Congress first lifting the ban and then increasing aid for Indonesia to $156 million by 1968.86 Military aid also resumed as the strengthening of the Indonesian armed forces was deemed necessary for the stabilization of the country. Support for the military, however, was a double-edged sword. It consumed nearly two-thirds of the government’s budget, while military leaders opposed the technocrats’ market reforms and blocked attempts to cut spending on military-related economic activities. In many ways, Washington’s support for the army and its civic action programs led to the development of “a parallel administrative structure extending to the village level,” which funneled off vast amounts of state funds and encouraged a culture of violence and incessant corruption.87 And though the technocrats paid lip service to market-friendly reforms, in truth they did not find the U.S. experience very useful, preferring instead the model of Asian developmentalist states such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Despite the book’s provocative title, one of the shortcomings of Simpson’s otherwise exhaustive analysis is the relatively brief amount of space he devotes to these Western-trained technocrats and economists, or to the actual development programs they helped design and implement. Hence the book remains far more a study of U.S. diplomacy during the “Global Cold War” than a history of postcolonial development as it played out in practice.

It is difficult to say whether the kind of experiences described above were typical or illustrative of what occurred with other programs, in other countries and regions, and at other times. What we can conclude based on these and other case studies of specific development encounters and local alignments that have been undertaken in recent years, is that conceiving of and writing about development and modernization as a unified historical narrative of events, with a singular point of origin, is problematic and ultimately untenable. Rather, we should more accurately think of histories of development and modernization, with heterogeneous beginnings and divergent paths that regularly intersect, overlap, and are reconfigured along the way. The practical analysis of development on the ground has thus cast a shadow over the unvarying and Manichean depictions postulated by earlier scholars. So too, as the next section details, has researchers’ increasing awareness of the greater diversity of development as a global project. The historical plurality of development, as well as the incessant debates over its purpose and the means of achieving it, reflects in part the fact that multiple, conflicting agendas and interests were at work. Such “projects” were most commonly executed by states, but also by nonstate or interstate agents such as political associations or international organizations. Frequently, competing interests and schemas operated within the same state, association, or organization, leading to unstable and contradictory meanings and priorities.

“Wider” and more Global Histories of Development

The final, and still relatively uncharted, frontier that development historians have begun to explore in recent years involves the possibility of writing “wider” and more global histories of development—histories that extend beyond the boundaries and perspectives of the United States and Western Europe. More and more researchers are beginning to take an interest in Soviet and Chinese-led development, as well as in regions such as Eastern Europe and Latin America, with the aim of incorporating a greater diversity of historical experiences into the larger story. Scholars are also devoting more attention to a broader range of issues including gender and environmental perspectives, and a more varied cast of actors, especially the agency of the “recipients” of development in the global south, as well as nonstate actors such as non-governmental, transnational, and intergovernmental organizations. What follows in the remainder of this essay, then, is an attempt to sketch out some of the new and varied literatures that are determining the future contours of the field and will continue to do so.

Our understanding of the origins and history of America’s modernization mission, or more accurately missions, is a great deal richer and more nuanced than it was at the beginning of the millennium when Nick Cullather first proposed making history the methodology for studying the development paradigm. And with the insights gained from numerous scholars whose research I have surveyed in these pages, we now have a much more complete picture of the nature of European colonial development visions and practices and their persistence in the aftermath of empire. But for an increasing number of investigators, the American and Western European frameworks for understanding development and modernization appear restrictive and incomplete.

In a recent symposium for the journal Diplomatic History the historians David Engerman and Corinna Unger challenge scholars to look beyond the United States by examining modernization as a global project that transcended national and regional borders and engaged the whole of the northern hemisphere as well as the Third World. Previous historical writing on modernization, as they note,

could at times be quite circumscribed. It tended to be American-centered, saw modernization as a counterweight to superpower conflict, and focused on broad-brush programs rather than specifics. A global history of modernization transcends those limits: it explores modernization not as an American export, but as a global phenomenon that was hotly contested, between blocs but also within them; it examines the intersections between modernization and geopolitics, considering them analytically distinct but often overlapping; and it starts from the assumption that modernization was a global project in character and scope.88

Echoing what has become one of the predominant trends of the post-9/11 development historiography, Engerman and Unger submit that the new global history of modernization must be written from the local, by carefully analyzing specific encounters and practices on the ground, rather than as an intellectual framework operating at the macro level. “By narrowing its scope to a single country and often a single project,” they suggest, “works in this new global history of modernization are best able to include the principal actors in a given moment. With this comes scholarship that uses multiple archives and, more importantly, multiple perspectives.”89 Furthermore, a global history of modernization will need to expand the chronological boundaries beyond the peak years (from an American aid perspective) of the 1950s and 1960s, to examine earlier beginnings and antecedents as well as the later unraveling of the paradigm in the 1970s and beyond. It will also need to diversify and extend the scope of study beyond the multiyear plans for rapid industrialization, with their heavy biases toward making men modern and developing the country’s economic and political structures, by placing more emphasis on rural modernization and its impact on the environment; by taking into account the role of gender structures and the impact of various programs on women; and by taking into consideration the role of religious beliefs and institutions, and the relationship between culture and modernization projects more generally.90 Work on some of these innovations, as we have seen, is already well underway, for instance, the pushing back of the chronological focus to include earlier European colonial development programs and pre–Cold War American models like the TVA, and the focus on rural reconstruction and resettlement schemes and their impact on the environment and land use. But other avenues identified by Engerman and Unger, such as taking into account the importance of gender or religion, are only just beginning to grab the attention of historians.

Despite the many insights that the new history of modernization and development has revealed over the last decade and a half, one of the critical shortcomings that remains is its continued preoccupation with the centrality of the United States and Western Europe. As David Engerman observes, “This scholarship still has a major gap. Americanists constantly invoke the Cold War context, showing how education, development, and university research were weapons in the `battle for the hearts and minds’ of the Third World. Yet few pay much attention to the opponent in this battle, the USSR, and none examines in any depth Soviet activities in the Third World. Specialists in Soviet history have done little here to help.”91 The omission of the USSR is surprising since, as Odd Arne Westad demonstrates in his magisterial text The Global Cold War, the Soviet development model held considerable sway as an alternative path to modernity among Third World leaders and activists throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s.92 From Kwame Nkrumah to Ahmed Ben Bella to Sukarno and Jawaharlal Nehru, many leaders of the first postcolonial generation were sympathetic to the Soviet model of rapid development, especially its main elements of centralized state planning, self-sufficiency, and heavy industry, or attempted to use the lure of Soviet support as leverage to extract concessions from the United States and other Western donor countries. Many Third World leaders were also impressed by the USSR’s economic achievements and thought it was advancing faster than the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. What is more, for Third World activists and radicals, the Cuban Revolution and Vietnam War became symbols of successful resistance to American hegemony.

Given both the prevalence and impact of Soviet aid for Third World countries, it seems strange that there has not been a major study written to date that historicizes and contextualizes Soviet-led development programs and practices.93 The situation, however, is beginning to change as more researchers look to extend their investigation beyond the familiar topics of USSR military aid and superpower crises to incorporate the history of Soviet development and technical assistance programs in specific Third World nations and regions. Although further work is needed before a more complete picture of the history of east-south relations can be drawn, a number of important bilateral and regional case studies have already been written, which, taken together, offer a good starting point for delineating the nature and general contours of Soviet modernization efforts in the developing world.94 The Soviet Union first emerged as an important supplier of foreign aid to newly developing countries under the leadership of Nikita Krushchev from 1954 to 1964. During this period, the Soviet Union signed economic and technical cooperation agreements and provided aid in support of national development to a number of Third World governments, including Afghanistan, Burma and India (1954–55), Indonesia (1956), Egypt (1957–5), Iraq (1959), Guinea (1960), Tunisia (1961), and Algeria (1962), among others. Although described by Western observers at the time as a “Soviet economic offensive,” recent case studies, often based on multicountry archival materials, demonstrate that in most cases it was the recipient Third World governments that first initiated diplomatic relations and invited Soviet cooperation in the shape of economic aid, trade agreements, and exchange of experts and trainees.95 Often, as in the case of Egypt or Indonesia, these governments turned to the Soviets after their requests for loans from the United States or Western-led international organizations like the World Bank had been rejected or negotiations had stalled.

Eager to woo these newly independent states, the Soviet Union rarely refused such requests. What is more, Soviet assistance predominantly took the form of loans, rather than grants, and was provided on generous terms with few stipulations, which gave recipients considerable leeway in deciding how to use the aid.96 What these new studies make clear is that the Soviets faced significant challenges in sustaining a lasting presence in the countries with which they engaged. Given the sheer scale of economic and historical ties of Western governments and institutions in the developing world (where many states had just recently thrown off the yoke of European colonialism), the objectives of Soviet aid policy were by and large defensive in nature, rather than expansionist, and in the end the majority of these partnerships were short-lived and often ineffectual.

The work of Ragna Boden on Soviet aid to Indonesia and David Engerman on Soviet experts and India illustrates these points quite graphically.97 Between 1959 and 1965, more than one-fifth of all Soviet aid to nonsocialist countries went to Indonesia to fund some twenty-seven projects in areas such as steel production, fertilizer factories, thermal power stations, and infrastructure. Yet by 1965, only three of these projects had been completed.98 The most high-profile project to be finished was the $12.5 million Senayan sports complex in Jakarta, at the center of which was a 100,000-seat stadium, built almost entirely for the purpose of prestige and showmanship. Nearly 90 percent of Soviet aid to Indonesia was funneled into the country’s armed forces rather than to economic development, first to support Sukarno’s quest to wrest control of West Irian (West New Guinea) from the Dutch, and then for his ill-fated Konfrontasi campaign to destabilize British plans for the federation of Malaysia. Indonesia’s military operations exacerbated the country’s deepening economic crisis and derailed the Soviet-funded modernization ventures. It also contributed to the military takeover of the Indonesian state in 1965, which brought Soviet-Indonesia relations to an abrupt end. A full understanding of the American urgency with respect to Indonesian development, as described in Simpson’s Economists with Guns, must take due account of the Soviet Union’s own developmental encounter in that country.

In India, the Soviets provided credit, along with several hundred engineers, for the construction of the Bhalai steel plant, modeled on the massive iron and steel works at Magnitogorsk. Cultural and scientific exchanges also brought hundreds of Soviet specialists in planning and statistics to India as consultants for the country’s Second Five-Year Plan. And yet, according to Engerman, “the net effect of all the foreign advice was very close to zero.”99 Although Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Nehru’s chief planner, and others on India’s Planning Commission found visiting foreign experts useful for enhancing their own prestige and position within domestic debates over policy, they rarely heeded the actual advice given by them. What is more, Mahalanobis represented only one faction within Nehru’s broad nationalist coalition. Other factions, especially Indian businessmen, were less enamored of Soviet industrial technologies and quality of goods, preferring what they had seen in the United States and Western Europe instead.100 And despite the Soviet Union’s generous contribution to India’s economic development, its role remained secondary to the consortium of Western providers and did little to influence Nehru politically, who remained committed to an independent foreign policy.101

In other words, Soviet development programs and projects faced many of the same complexities and limitations on the ground as those of the United States or the former European colonial states. Like them, the Soviet project was far from monolithic and the outcomes far from what had originally been envisioned. Despite their sharp ideological differences at the level of rhetoric, in practice both superpowers tended to support strong state sectors with a reliance on centralized planning and to favor industrialization, infrastructure, and other large showcase projects.102 The differences between them in terms of approach were often less discernible to Third World leaders than the similarities, which, given the West’s advantages in technology and productivity, made it difficult for the Soviets to compete over the long run.

Another question that holds much promise for new research is that of the antagonisms and divisions within each of the Cold War’s ideological camps over influence in the global south. Within the socialist “Second World” camp, the most consequential divide that emerged was between the Soviets and the People’s Republic of China. As Engerman observes: “Chinese initiative in Sino-Soviet relations transformed East-West competition in the Third World. By the early 1960s, such competition had become tripolar, with Soviet efforts to influence Third World leaders under attack from both China and the United States.”103 But if little has been done to historicize Soviet aid programs in the Third World, even less is known about Chinese-led development efforts.104 The few studies that have examined Chinese aid practices in historical context suggest that China has evolved a consistent and distinctive foreign aid program modeled on its own domestic developmental experiences.105 According to Li Xiaoyun’s and Tang Lixia’s research, China’s aid program began in the mid-1950s with support for North Korea and Vietnam but intensified following the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s and increased again substantially in the 1970s as China sought to make inroads in Asia and Africa.106 Chinese development assistance during this period reflected its commitment to Afro-Asian solidarity. Chinese officials emphasized China’s own historical experience as a developing country that had long suffered exploitation from colonialism and imperialism. Building on its own development strategy, China prioritized agricultural projects over industrialization, exporting the labor-intensive Dazhai model as an alternative approach to agricultural development in various African countries.107

Apart from agriculture, one of the most significant Chinese-funded projects in Africa in the early postcolonial period was the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia (TAZARA) railway between 1968 and 1975. As Jamie Monson’s recent examination of the project recounts, the Chinese model was intentionally different, emphasizing both the need for rapid development to “catch up” to the West and the importance of self-reliance through the transfer of technical knowledge and skills.108 Again, building on its own ideology of revolutionary modernization, China was determined to complete the over thousand-mile-long project ahead of schedule. There was also an element of anti-imperialism here as the accelerated pace of construction and dedication to hard work was intended, as Monson remarks, “to showcase the possibilities for Chinese development assistance through a highly visible project that had been rejected by Western donors.”109 This tendency continues to the present day, with China having emerged in the twenty-first century as the single largest provider of infrastructure and “prestige” projects in Africa.110

Emphasizing its own experience of indigenous technology development following the withdrawal of Soviet experts in 1960, China also stressed the importance of making the project sustainable through technical training and mentoring to produce a self-confident and proficient African workforce. A critical dimension of the project was the transfer of technical and cultural knowledge and skills, by recruiting and educating young men and by “teaching by example” on the job.111 In practice, however, the pressure to complete the job ahead of time was difficult to reconcile with the more time-consuming commitment to technical knowledge transfer, and, in the end, it was speed that prevailed over pedagogy. As a consequence the Chinese government found it necessary to continue to provide training and technical assistance long after the railway was formally completed. Echoing what has become a familiar theme in the historiography of development, Monson finds the intersection of the project’s aspirational goals to be both complex and contradictory in application.

Troubled by the high rate of failure of many of its agricultural projects in Africa, China critically reassessed it development strategies in the 1980s, reducing the volume of its aid substantially and reconfiguring its assistance program toward a more market-oriented pattern. In 2000, China embarked on a new “Going Out” strategy in which its aid expenditures were to be guided by the principles of “South-South cooperation,” noninterference, and mutual interest. Since then, China has strengthened its bilateral relations throughout the world and significantly expanded the scale of its economic assistance programs in Asia and Africa.112 The rising presence of China, especially in Africa, makes the task of uncovering the historical origins and transformations of Chinese-led development, especially at the level of actual aid practices and projects in specific countries, all the more urgent. The work of Xiaoyun, Lixia, and Monson is a welcome start, but much more research still needs to be done to fill this critical gap in the literature.

Beyond the Soviet Union and China, there are plenty of other countries, both donors and recipients, that to date have received inadequate attention from historians of development. Here too, however, the literature is expanding quickly. Space does not permit me to cover this emerging historiography in great detail, beyond briefly mentioning some of the more notable contributions that have been made in recent years. The history of the foreign assistance policies and programs of European countries other than Britain and France is beginning to garner attention from economic, political, and diplomatic historians.113 This includes the socialist bloc countries of East Central Europe, on which very little research up until now has be completed, despite the historically significant role this region played in the early history of international development.114 Eric Helleiner’s recent study of the origins and negotiations leading up to the Bretton Woods Agreement has begun to address this oversight, documenting the role that East Central European intellectual émigrés and refugee officials living in Britain during World War II played in building support for postwar international assistance for the promotion of industrialization in “economically underdeveloped areas” such as eastern and southeastern Europe.115 Scholarship has also begun on Cold War competition between the United States and the USSR, as well as strains within the socialist bloc, over development in the region, and on East European, especially East German, aid programs and state-building projects in the Third World.116

Latin America is another region that has been central to the history of international development. Its intellectuals and policy makers were early pioneers of the “structuralist” model of development, import substitution industrialization (ISI) growth strategies, and subsequent formulations of dependency theory.117 It is thus surprising that the region has not factored more prominently in the new development historiography. The early work of Escobar and other postdevelopment scholars was certainly informed by their frustration and disappointment with Latin America’s postwar experience.118 Yet, curiously, historians of Latin America have lagged behind in responding to the postdevelopment critique by offering a more careful analysis of specific projects and local contexts. The picture is changing, however, with more research appearing in recent years on specific programs like the Alliance for Progress, as well as more local studies of development policy debates and initiatives in specific countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Mexico.119

One other set of countries, which has not been previously mentioned in this essay but which a wider and more global history of development must necessarily include, is the strategically important Middle East, including North Africa. This is somewhat surprising, given the centrality of the Middle East to the developmental imaginaries of both European colonialists and the American postwar modernization theorists—which was why the Western representation of this region was the central target of Edward Said’s landmark Orientalism.120 Fortunately, it is an area of the world that has attracted and continues to attract the attention of historians and social scientists interested in the intersection of late colonialism/decolonization, development, and the Cold War. A number of different storylines in this complex plot have been followed, from British and French colonial designs for the occupation and reform of the former Ottoman territories, to Zionist and Arab visions of a land of progress in the interwar period, to the nationalist struggles and dreams of economic revival during the Algerian War of Independence and the Suez Crisis, to the Cold War ambitions of the United States and Soviet Union to hasten the demise of the colonial empires through greater economic engagement with the region.121

Beyond the expansion of geographical and regional boundaries, researchers are also branching out into a broader range of thematic areas of study. Perhaps the most significant absence in the writing of development histories has been the lack, with one or two exceptions, of gender perspectives.122 One of those exceptions is Barbara Bush’s critique of the gendered nature of development discourse and practice in late colonial Africa.123 Despite the construction of new humanitarian and biomedical discourses in the 1920s and 1930s which enabled more women to serve as colonial advisers or to be trained as nurses and welfare providers—a kind of “feminization” of empire, as Bush puts it—in practice African women continued to be seen as passive nonagents of development. These biases could have detrimental effects on project implementation, as Laura Ann Twagira demonstrates in her examination of the Office du Niger Scheme in the French Soudan. Despite efforts by officials to recruit whole families, Twagira notes that the scheme suffered from a chronic absence of women, especially young unmarried women and wives, which doomed the Office’s settlements to severe food shortages, population losses, and ultimately to failure. As Twagira writes: “The problem was not just the lack of food stores, it was the lack of women . . . Women assured daily survival; young men also needed wives to establish themselves . . . without women there was nothing to eat and little for young men to demonstrate any wealth or material standing.”124 More studies are needed that combine the concern for careful analysis of specific local encounters with an awareness of the historical agency of women and the gendered nature of development discourse.

Another thematic area that has not been sufficiently studied concerns the environmental dimensions and impact of international development. The long-lasting environmental ramifications yielded by many development projects are generally recognized, yet, as Tom Robertson observes, few historians of development have endeavored to assess the effects directly.125 This omission seems all the more mystifying when one considers that natural resource development was an essential and strategic component of both European colonial initiatives and the U.S. Point Four programs. The level of resource management and extraction on a global scale that this entailed meant that wherever development took place it transformed nature and remade landscapes radically. Robertson sees at least three areas where insights from environmental history can inform the study of international development programs: the environmental reverberations of transforming river systems through large dam and canal building projects; the heavy environmental costs of postwar agricultural technologies such as mechanization, artificial fertilizers, and hybrid seed packages; and the detrimental effect on human and environmental health caused by the widespread use of DDT in malaria eradication campaigns. In all three cases, faith in technological solutions and a sense of urgency to produce results led policy makers and planners to underestimate the need for preliminary testing and to overlook the possibility that such technologies might cause long-term social and environmental damage.

Building on and overlapping with the extended geographic and thematic breadth of the new development historiography is a growing awareness among researchers of multiple and more diverse actors, especially those on the receiving end of the spectrum. Up until now, most scholars have treated “development” as the product of Western or northern thinking that was imposed on Third World or southern countries from outside, and which was met by indifference or outright hostility. Southern peoples, if they factored at all, were portrayed largely as passive victims. Perceptions are beginning to change. Scholars are beginning to explore the viewpoints of local communities and players and to reassess their roles not only as recipients of aid but as advocates and producers of development knowledge. The turn away from discourses toward a closer analysis of development practices and implementation has contributed to this realignment. As Robertson puts it, “Tracing what happens `on the ground’ often reveals how `development’ looked through the eyes of locals.”126

Recent studies have begun to probe not just the perspective of nationalist leaders and political parties, who saw development as a way of building constituencies, but of everyday workers and farmers. Sometimes even development projects typically judged as failures, such as the East Africa Groundnut Scheme, might be interpreted as beneficial from the perception of the local workers involved.127 The influx of monetary income as a result of such schemes could stimulate the local economy, allowing some to accumulate enough savings to invest in trade, transport, or farming activities. In other cases, workers transformed the technologies of colonial development, such as automobiles and roads, into tools that could be used to destabilize the constrictions and hierarchical order of colonial rule. Joshua Grace’s research, for example, demonstrates that although “roads and motor vehicles were supposed to transform African economies and societies by carrying the civilizing mission throughout . . . their introduction also offered African colonial employees . . . opportunities for social mobility as well as the skills and tools to contest racial hierarchies of technology and movement.”128

New technologies and new forms of communication and infrastructure brought about fundamental changes not just in the socioeconomic and political order but also in the cultural realm. The rhetoric of development found its way into the vernacular of local communities, while local concepts were frequently translated in analogous terms to notions of modernity. Emma Hunter, for example, has traced how the concept of maendeleo (development) was taken up in the Swahili language and public sphere in colonial Tanzania. Tanzanians held diverse, and sometimes conflicting, viewpoints about maendeleo, which suggests that colonial restrictions and exclusions did not prevent Africans from adopting, confronting, or challenging development and evolving concepts and practices of their own in its name.129 Building on Cullather’s work on the performance and staging of modernization projects, Peter Bloom, Stephan Miescher, and Takyiwaa Manuh have compiled a collection of essays by Africanists that examines modernization on the continent as a form of cultural spectacle and public enactment.130 From the use of film and radio as tools of mass education, to the promotion of performing arts to foster a new national culture, to the engagement with ideas of development in the African literary imagination, these essays demonstrate, as the authors remark, that “the politics and aesthetics of display so integral to modernity created a desire among Africans to create equivalent conditions and opportunities . . . In this sense, spectacle becomes a tool to promote and rally support for modernization programs, but also heralds a new aesthetic and cultural order that seeks to overcome the colonial legacy.”131

These and other recent case studies lend support for Fred Cooper’s argument that across the continent Africans actively engaged the development idea.132 “The turning of the French and British towards a development-minded colonialism,” as Cooper observes, “became the basis for a profound engagement of African and European actors, which in turn changed the meanings of `development,’ of `citizenship,’ and of `self-government.'”133 Opposition to the new policies, especially in the shape of massive strike action, forced colonial regimes to move beyond the original parameters of the development framework. Colonial subjects were able to turn the official rhetoric back on itself, viewing development as a demand for new entitlements and rights, the logic of which began to rapidly outstrip the boundaries of colonial rule itself.134 For colonial authorities, Cooper notes, it “implied that the possessors of knowledge and capital would slowly but generously disperse these critical resources to those less well endowed. But to African political parties, development meant resources to build constituencies and opportunities to make the nation-state a meaningful part of people’s lives.”135 In the end, development became part of the strategy for managing decolonization: a shared goal of colonial officials and African nationalist leaders alike in the transition to independence.

One thing is becoming clear as more research is completed on the perspectives of African, Asian, and Latin American leaders and actors: much of the initiative and demand for development emanated from the global south. The picture that is forming is a far cry from the one painted by postdevelopment scholars of Western officials and power elites forcing an unwanted modernity on the poorer countries and regions of the world. On the contrary, Third World governments and leaders frequently applied pressure to gain international support for their aspirations for state-led industrialization and economic reform. Guy Laron’s examination of the origins of the Suez Crisis is a case in point. He shows that underlying the Cold War narratives and explanations for the crisis runs a deeper and more lasting set of factors related to the question of Egyptian industrialization.136 The catalyst that led Nasser to nationalize the Suez Canal Company was the United States’ and Britain’s decision to cancel funding for the Aswan Dam project, on which the hopes and dreams of turning Egypt into a manufacturing powerhouse and providing employment for its young, urban, and educated classes rested. Nor was Nasser alone in his desire to industrialize. As Laron notes, “Leaders all over the Third World . . . rushed to enact proindustrialization policies that included state subsidies for fledgling factories and high tariff walls to shield them from cheap competition abroad . . . And it was this industrialization process, which began in the 1950s, that slowly, almost imperceptibly, changed the fortunes of many developing countries.”137

The conventional wisdom on development’s history has been altered significantly by the incorporation of a broader spectrum and plurality of voices and standpoints. Not only did Third World policy makers and recipient communities have a more complex and active engagement with development at the local and national level than previously thought but we are beginning to recognize the critical role they played in the birth of development internationally. There is a substantial literature on the history of ideas and practices surrounding the development assistance programs of international organizations. Considerable work, for example, has been done on United Nations development aid and thinking, on the institutional history, policy shifts, and political economy of the Bretton Woods institutions, as well as on the UN’s Specialized Agencies such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Health Organization (WHO).138 New research avenues are also opening up on the history of international humanitarian aid and international NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the American philanthropic foundations.139 Most of this scholarship continues to view development through the Western metropolitan lens of Washington and Geneva and to focus on the intentions of northern statesmen, policy makers, and experts. Yet even here, the work of scholars such as Margherita Zanasi and Eric Helleiner suggests that a critical reassessment is needed of the pioneering ideas about development propagated by Third World officials and analysts and the flow of these ideas that emanated from the southern peripheries to the northern metropoles.140

Helleiner’s study in particular, places tremendous weight on the role of southern countries and policy makers in laying the groundwork for the creation of the Bretton Woods system. He shows how the inspiration for much of the development content of the 1944 agreements stemmed from earlier interactions and financial partnerships forged between U.S. and Latin American officials and analysts in the late 1930s and early 1940s as part of the Good Neighbor Policy. What is more, the majority of countries represented at the meetings were from “underdeveloped areas,” including nineteen Latin American countries that formed the largest regional bloc, as well as sizeable delegations from China, India, and Eastern Europe. Southern policy makers did not serve as merely token voices but were consulted and involved in the negotiation process throughout, pushing their development priorities onto the agenda. With the bitter experience of the Great Depression still fresh in their minds, many southern leaders and analysts were steadfast proponents of state-led economic development and industrialization as the best strategy for raising their countries’ living standards. As Helleiner writes, “Far from being a tool of oppression, the discourse of international development appeared to these southern officials and analysts as a potential source of support for national empowerment and advancement.”141 Likewise, a recent special issue of Humanity focused on the efforts of G-77 nations in the 1970s to promote an alternative global developmental paradigm that they referred to as the New International Economic Order.142 Understanding the various forgotten byways of developmental practice is crucial if scholars are to challenge development practitioners’ persistently whiggish view of their own history.

We need to learn more about the multiple perspectives of southern peoples from various social backgrounds and positions, and the countless roles they played as historical actors and agents of development. This final historiographical shift is not only long overdue, it is a necessary corrective. It reflects the turning economic balance of power in the world today, as the United States and Western Europe become increasingly decentered by the astonishing rise of China and the other BRIC countries as the new global engines of growth. And as the influence of the global south on the politics and economy of the world continues to grow, so too will scholarship on its contributions to the complex story of development’s tangled past.


Despite the growing appreciation of historians for the global scope of the development project, the promise of a broader and more uncut history of development remains largely unfulfilled. Most historians of U.S. foreign relations continue to treat modernization as the product of American exceptionalism. For them, the dynamics of European colonialism remain something of a black box—a monolithic blob of racism and economic plunder that can be bracketed off from what Americans were trying to do after 1945.143 Upon closer inspection, however, one finds that such distinctions become a great deal more muddied and blurred: empire was often invoked in the name of improvement, just as modernization very often involved elements of exploitation and suppression. Such a view, as Uma Kothari astutely observes, “assumes that colonialism was not concerned with [issues of humanitarianism] but more problematically, by implication, that development necessarily is . . . we need to be wary of histories of development that deny this colonial genealogy and attempt to create distinct and artificial boundaries between the exploitation of empire and the humanitarianism of development.”144

But by the same measure, historians of colonial development and its aftereffects have been guilty of overstating the weight of colonial antecedents in shaping postwar/postcolonial development ideologies and programs, and of seeing the remnants and traces of European colonialism practically everywhere. The divergences and attempts to break with the colonial past and its mold are equally if not more significant than the enduring legacies, depending on the specific circumstances of each country, region, or program. Moreover, it should be acknowledged that the Cold War context of the 1950s and 1960s was distinctive. It generated an intensity and sense of urgency that, as Tom Robertson observes, made postcolonial international development programs “unprecedentedly global in reach and total in implementation.”145

What is more, up until now, historians of both U.S. modernization and European colonial development have viewed their subject largely through a metropolitan lens, by prioritizing the actions and beliefs of U.S. and Western European policy makers, statesmen, and analysts. In their narratives the contributions and perspectives of officials and peoples from the global south have been inadequately recognized. It seems clear, then, that a more dynamic, multidimensional, and multifocal framework is needed for understanding such a complex phenomenon as development in the twentieth century, one that will enable us to transcend the shortcomings noted above. Writing a wider and more global history of north-south relations in the twentieth century will require us to draw together the work of scholars in a number of different disciplines and fields. It must begin by fostering a greater dialogue and engagement between historians of colonial development and decolonization and those of the U.S. mission to modernize the Third World, as well as between these two groups and others who approach development from the perspective of those living in the developing world, or who trace the development and humanitarian aid efforts of international organizations.

Instead of searching for the illusive genesis of development, which as Ekbladh notes, “defies attempts to mark a single moment of origin,” it may be more meaningful for future research to focus on the exchanges of ideas, models, and practices, and the interactions of people and institutions, that moved across the “webs of significance” surrounding specific projects or programs.146 As we have seen, some of the most innovative studies of recent years have been written by scholars who are conversant and engaged with several different historiographies, and who explore the ways in which these seemingly separate threads in the history of development intersected, coincided, and conditioned each other. Fruitful cross-pollinations may also stem from historians of development entering into greater dialogue with scholars working in a wide variety of subfields who have not traditionally paid much attention to or thought of their subjects as development per se.

Finally, I want to end this examination by returning to the question with which I began: how does looking back help us to move forward? In other words, how and in what ways are history and historical research relevant for development studies and policy today? Although historians and other social scientists have been working on the history of development for over two decades, only very recently have policy makers within the development community taken notice. The World Bank and other aid agencies, for example, have come to recognize the importance of understanding the history and conditions under which institutions conducive to economic growth are formed, while development economists and economic historians have been intrigued by comparative-historical studies of “path dependence.”147 What is less well recognized and appreciated in development policy circles is the importance of researching actual development interventions and practices of the past, and whether such interventions achieved their desired goals or not and why.

There is a pressing need for international development agencies and analysts to be more reflexive about what they do by making a sustained effort to understand the problematic history of their own profession and to appreciate the limits of their own methodological assumptions. Some academics within development studies as well as some practitioners within the wider development community are starting to take notice of the relevancy of history. Uma Kothari’s engaging collection A Radical History of Development Studies is a good example.148 She proposes a critical, historically informed reading of development studies that aims “to understand why and how international development, generally, and development studies, specifically, have evolved.”149 By insisting the past is imbricated in the present, as well as by tracing the parallel and sometimes hidden histories of development, Kathari’s book challenges the conventional periodization of development studies as a discipline with a unilinear, “singular record of the past.” It seeks to subvert the modernization-to-neoliberalism narrative, and in doing so, to initiate a reconfiguration of development studies as a field.150

Recent efforts by Michael Woolcock and others provide hope that the message is finally reaching the development profession itself.151 There is increasingly broad agreement among scholars and policy makers that the previous disregard of local context and history constitutes one of the root causes of development failures in the past. It is only by doing the kind of careful research that historians of development and modernization are currently undertaking that we will be able to understand the consequences—positive or negative—of past development efforts. By carefully examining how development played out on the ground, such research has much to contribute to current policy debates about why foreign aid so often fails to achieve its desired objectives and frequently results in unforeseen or tragic outcomes.152 Historians are not in the business of predicting what will happen, but what we can do is examine the historical context and complexities of current policy prescriptions more deeply, which, if nothing else, will alert those interested enough to listen to the potential pitfalls and ramifications of certain actions. And by understanding the consequences of development’s past, I believe such research can act as a powerful demonstration of the value and importance of context-driven, historically sensitive, policy studies for the future.


  1. The globalization project, according to Philip McMichael, “has two essential and related aspects: 1) international financial stability has a higher priority than national development planning, and 2) national economies are so embedded . . . in the global system that financial stability considerations actually drive economic policy making.” See Philip McMichael, Development and Social Change (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, 2012), 166–67.
  2. Benedict Anderson, “The New World Disorder,” New Left Review 193 (May–June 1992): 3–14; McMichael, Development and Social Change, 160–61.
  3. For sub-Saharan Africa, see Frederick Cooper, Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 105–18.
  4. Joseph Stiglitz, “Failure of the Fund: Rethinking the IMF Response,” Harvard International Review 23, no. 2 (2001): 14.
  5. Francis Fukuyama, End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992); Robert Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy,” Atlantic Monthly, February 1994; Robert Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post-Cold War (New York: Vintage Books, 2000). According to Mark Berger, a copy of Kaplan’s 1994 article was faxed by the U.S. government to every U.S. embassy and consulate in the world, and a confidential United Nations meeting was held to discuss its long-term implications. See Mark T. Berger, “From Nation-Building to State-Building: The Geopolitics of Development, the Nation-State System and the Changing Global Order,” Third World Quarterly 27, no. 1 (2006): 12.
  6. Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (Summer 1993): 29. Also see Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).
  7. Francis Fukuyama, State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2004), 2.
  8. See, for example, Max Boot, “The Case for American Empire,” Weekly Standard 7, no. 5 (October 15, 2001): 27–30; Sebastian Mallaby, “The Reluctant Imperialist: Terrorism, Failed States and the Case for American Empire,” Foreign Affairs 81, no. 2 (March–April 2002): 2–7.
  9. Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 369–70.
  10. Michael Ignatieff, “The Burden,” New York Times, January 5, 2003.
  11. One of the earliest advocates of integrating imperial history and postcolonial studies was Dane Kennedy, “Imperial History and Post-Colonial Theory,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 24, no. 3 (1996): 345–63.
  12. See Fred Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler, “Between Metropole and Colony: Rethinking a Research Agenda,” in Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, ed. Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). For the case of Britain and the British Empire, see, for example, Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865–1915 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994); Heather Streets, Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857–1914 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994); Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830–1867 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Kathleen Wilson, The Island Race: Englishness, Empire, and Gender in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Routledge, 2003); Dane Kennedy, The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005).
  13. The connection between the new imperial history and globalization has been noted by Dane Kennedy. See Dane Kennedy, “The Imperial History Wars,” Journal of British Studies 54, no. 1 (January 2015): 10.
  14. Ignatieff argued that it was incumbent on the United States, as the world’s remaining superpower, to intervene in failed or failing states using both military force and development strategies (nation building) to forge a global “humanitarian empire” of liberal-democratic, market-oriented states. See Michael Ignatieff, Empire Lite: National-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan (New York: Penguin, 2003).
  15. Niall Ferguson, “Globalization without Gunboats?,” Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society 4, no. 4 (April 2003): 34–36.
  16. Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire (New York: Penguin Press, 2004).
  17. Berger, “From Nation-Building to State-Building,” 5–25; Michael Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution, Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2011), 2, 199–214.
  18. Tony Dodge, “Iraq: The Contradictions of Exogenous State-Building in Historical Perspective,” in From Nation-Building to State-Building, ed. Mark T. Berger (New York: Routledge, 2008), 183.
  19. Berger, “From Nation-Building to State-Building,” 14. See also Berger, From Nation-Building to State-Building; Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002).
  20. See, for example, Bernard Porter, Empire and Superempire: Britain, America and the World (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006); Charles Maier, Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006); Walter Russell Mead, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Random House, 2007); Julian Go, Patterns of Empire: The British and American Empires, 1688 to the Present (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  21. Paul Dixon, “Hearts and Minds? British Counter-Insurgency from Malaya to Iraq,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32, no. 3 (June 2009): 353–81; Daniel Branch, Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); David French, The British Way in Counter-Insurgency, 1945–1967 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Huw Bennett, Fighting Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-Insurgency in the Kenya Emergency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Gian Gentile, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency (New York: New Press, 2013).
  22. Michael Woolcock et al., “How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy?,” Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper 68, University of Manchester, 2009, http://www.bwpi.manchester.ac.uk/resources/Working-Papers/bwpi-wp-6809.pdf; C.A. Bayly et al., eds., History, Historians and Development Policy: A Necessary Dialogue (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011).
  23. Daron Acemoglu et al., “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation,” American Economic Review 91, no. 5 (December 2001): 1369–401; Niall Ferguson, “British Imperialism Revisited: The Costs and Benefits of `Anglobalization,'” Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society 4, no. 4 (April 2003): 1–14; Matthew Lange, Lineages of Despotism and Development: British Colonialism and State Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).
  24. See, for example, Matthew Connelly, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  25. Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea (New York: Penguin, 2012), 273–304.
  26. The phrase “taking off the Cold War lens” comes from Matthew Connelly, “Taking Off the Cold War Lens: Visions of North-South Conflict during the Algerian War of Independence,” American Historical Review 105, no. 3 (June 2000): 739–69.
  27. J. M. Lee, Colonial Development and Good Government: A Study of the Ideas Expressed by the British Official Classes in Planning Decolonization, 1939–1964 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967); David J. Morgan, The Official History of Colonial Development, vols. 1–5 (London: Macmillan, 1980); J. M. Lee and Martin Petter, The Colonial Office, War, and Development Policy: Organisation and the Planning of a Metropolitan Initiative, 1939–1945 (London: Institute Commonwealth Studies, 1982); Stephen Constantine, The Making of British Colonial Development Policy, 1914–1940 (London: Frank Cass, 1984); Michael Havinden and David Meredith, Colonialism and Development: Britain and its Tropical Colonies, 1850–1960 (New York: Routledge, 1993). For French colonial polices, see Cathérine Coquery-Vidrovitch, “La Mise en dépendance de l’Afrique Noire: Essai de périodisation, 1800–1970,” Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines 16, nos. 61–62 (1976): 7–58; Cathérine Coquery-Vidrovitch, “L’Afrique coloniale franÀ’Àaise et la crise de 1930: Crise structurelle et genèse du sous-développement,” Revue franÀ’Àaise d’histoire d’outre-mer 63, nos. 232–233 (1976): 386–424; and Jean Suret-Canale, “From Colonization to Independence in French Tropical Africa: The Economic Background,” in The Transfer of Power in Africa: Decolonization, 1940–1960, ed. Prosser Gifford and William Roger Louis (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982), 445–81.
  28. For general accounts of the history of colonial development and welfare, see Joanna Lewis, “Tropical East Ends and the Second World War: Some Contradictions in Colonial Office Welfare Initiatives,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 28, no. 2 (May 2000): 42–66; Helen Tilley, Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Charlotte Lydia Riley, “Monstrous Predatory Vampires and Beneficent Fairy-Godmothers: British Post-War Colonial Development in Africa,” (Ph.D. diss., University College London, 2013); Joseph Hodge et al., eds., Developing Africa: Concepts and Practices in Twentieth-Century Colonialism (New York: Manchester University Press, 2014). For colonial Africa, see James Fairhead and Melissa Leach, “Desiccation and Domination: Science and Struggles over Environment and Development in Colonial Guinea,” Journal of African History 41, no. 1 (March 2000): 35–54; Dorothy Hodgson, “Taking Stock: State Control, Ethnic Identity and Pastoralist Development in Tanganyika, 1948–1958,” Journal of African History 41, no. 1 (March 2000): 55–78; Joanna Lewis, Empire State-Building: War and Welfare in Kenya, 1925–52 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Jeff D. Grischow, “Late Colonial Development in British West Africa: The Gonja Development Project in the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, 1948–57,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 35, no. 2 (2001): 282–312; David Anderson, Eroding the Commons: The Politics of Ecology in Baringo, Kenya, 1890–1963 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002); Monica van Beusekom, Negotiating Development: African Farmers and Colonial Experts at the Office du Niger, 1920–1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Andreas Eckert, “Regulating the Social: Social Security, Social Welfare and the State in Late Colonial Tanzania,” Journal of African History 45, no. 3 (November 2004): 467–89; Martin-René Atangana, French Investment in Colonial Cameroon: The FIDES Era (1946–1957) (New York: Peter Lang, 2009); Rohland Schuknecht, British Colonial Development Policy after the Second World War: The Case of Sukumuland, Tanganyika (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2010); Andrew Bowman, “Ecology to Technocracy: Scientists, Surveys and Power in the Agricultural Development of Late-Colonial Zambia,” Journal of Southern African Studies 37, no. 1 (March 2011): 135–53. For histories of colonial development in other regions, see Benjamin Zachariah, Developing India: An Intellectual and Social History, c. 1930–50 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005); Jacob Norris, Land of Progress: Palestine in the Age of Colonial Development, 1905–1948 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Simon Jackson, “`What Is Syria Worth?’ The Huvelin Mission, Economic Expertise and the French Project in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1918–1922,” monde(s) 4 (September 2013): 83–103.
  29. Suzanne Moon, Technology and Ethical Idealism: A History of Development in the Netherlands East Indies (Leiden: CNWS Publications, 2007); and Joseph M. Hodge, Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines of Development and the Legacies of British Colonialism (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007).
  30. Moon, Technology and Ethical Idealism, 19–20. In this context, Moon defines “development” as state-driven technological programs “specifically meant to improve the lives of indigenous people.” See Technology and Ethical Idealism, 1.
  31. Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, 21–24, 44–47.
  32. Moon, Technology and Ethical Idealism, 34.
  33. Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, 9–11, 179–206.
  34. Larry Butler, for example, argues the British Colonial Office formulated a coherent, colonial industrial development policy during the Second World War but it was largely eclipsed and overshadowed by the postwar metropolitan drive to expand colonial agricultural production. See Larry J. Butler, Industrialisation and the British Colonial State: West Africa, 1939–1951 (London: Frank Cass, 1997).
  35. Moon, Technology and Ethical Idealism, 25–43, 70–91. Also see Suzanne Moon, “Empirical Knowledge, Scientific Authority, and Native Development: The Controversy over Sugar/Rice Ecology in the Netherlands East Indies, 1905–1914,” Environment and History 10, no. 1 (February 2004): 59–81.
  36. Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, 47–53.
  37. Ibid., 179–206.
  38. Moon, Technology and Ethical Idealism, 5–6.
  39. Ibid., 149.
  40. Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, 256–62. See also Joseph Hodge, “British Colonial Expertise, Postcolonial Careering and the Early History of International Development,” Journal of Modern European History 8, no. 1 (2010): 24–46. Véronique Dimier has documented a similar pattern among former French colonial administrators who were instrumental in the institutionalization of the Directorate-General of Development in the European Commission. According to Dimier, many also relocated to the Ministère de la Coopération, which was responsible for overseas technical cooperation or were kept on “détachment” as technical advisers to the new independent African governments. Véronique Dimier, “For a New Start? Resettling Colonial Administrators in the French Prefectural Corps (1960–1980),” Itinerario: International Journal on the History of European Expansion and Global Interaction 28, no. 1 (March 2004): 49–66; Dimier, “Administrative Reform as Political Control: Lessons from DG VIII, 1958–1975,” in The Changing European Commission, ed. D. G. Dimitrakopoulos (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 74–85; Dimier, The Invention of a European Development Aid Bureaucracy: Recycling Empire (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). For a view that challenges the degree of French influence on the European Economic Commission’s Directorate General VIII (DG VIII), see Martin Rempe, “Decolonization by Europeanization? The Early EEC and the Transformation of French-African Relations,” KFG Working Paper no. 27 (2011), 1–20.
  41. See, for example, Christophe Bonneuil, “Development as Experiment: Science and State Building in Late Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, 1930–1970,” Osiris 15, no. 1 (2000): 258–81; Marc Frey, “Control, Legitimacy, and the Securing of Interests: European Development Policy in South-East Asia from the Late Colonial Period to the Early 1960s,” Contemporary European History 12, no. 4 (November 2003): 395–412; David Biggs, “Breaking the Colonial Mold: Water Engineering and the Failure of Nation-building in the Plain of Reeds, Vietnam,” Technology and Culture 49, no. 3 (July 2008): 599–623; Maurits W. Erstein, “Controlling the Farmer: Colonial and Post-Colonial Irrigation Interventions in Africa,” Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa 4, no. 1 (July 2008): 209–36; Gregory A. Barton, “Environmentalism, Development and British Policy in the Middle East, 1945–65,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 38, no. 4 (December 2010): 619–39.
  42. A number of scholars have raised questions about the level of continuity between late colonial and postcolonial development philosophies and practices. See, for example, Heather J. Hoag and May-Britt Öhman, “Turning Water into Power: Debates over the Development of Tanzania’s Rufiji River Basin, 1945–1985,” Technology and Culture 49, no. 3 (July 2008): 624–51; Andrew Bowman, “Mass Production or Production by the Masses? Tractors, Cooperatives, and the Politics of Rural Development in Post-Independence Zambia,” Journal of African History 52, no. 2 (July 2011): 201–21; Elizabeth Lunstrum, “State Rationality, Development, and the Making of State Territory: From Colonial Extraction to Postcolonial Conservation in Southern Mozambique,” in Cultivating the Colonies: Colonial States and their Environmental Legacies, ed. Christine Folke Ax et al. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011), 239–74; Heather J. Hoag, Developing the Rivers of East and West Africa: An Environmental History (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 31–58.
  43. David Biggs, Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010); Allen F. Isaacman and Barbara S. Isaacman, Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965–2007 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2013).
  44. On the Kariba Dam, see Julia Tischer, Light and Power for a Multiracial Nation: The Kariba Dam Scheme in the Central African Federation (Basinstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). For other, similar dam projects in Africa, see Stephan Mischer and Dzodzi Tsikata, “Hydro-Power and the Promise of Modernity and Development in Ghana: Comparing the Akosombo and Bui Dam Projects,” Ghana Studies, Special Issue: Revisiting Modernization, 12/13 (2009/2010): 15–53; Hoag, Developing the Rivers of East and West Africa.
  45. Isaacman and Isaacman, Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development, 4.
  46. Biggs, Quagmire, 6.
  47. Ibid., 58.
  48. Ibid., 154.
  49. Isaacman and Isaacman, Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development, 4.
  50. Biggs, Quagmire, 56.
  51. Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990), 403. See also Michael Adas, “Modernization Theory and the American Revival of the Scientific and Technological Standards of Social Achievement and Human Worth,” in Staging Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War, ed. David C. Engerman et al. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), 25–46; Michael Adas, Dominance by Design: Technological Imperatives and America’s Civilizing Mission (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006).
  52. David Ekbladh, Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), 4.
  53. Ibid., 17.
  54. The term “reverse Orientalism” is taken from Ray Kiely, “The Last Refuge of the Noble Savage? A Critical Assessment of Post-Development Theory,” European Journal of Development Research 11, no. 1 (June 1999): 47.
  55. Cooper, “Modernizing Bureaucrats, Backward Africans, and the Development Concept,” in International Development and the Social Sciences, 74.
  56. Cooper and Packard, “Introduction,” in International Development and the Social Sciences, 10.
  57. Monica M. Van Beusekom and Dorothy L. Hodgson, “Lessons Learned? Development Experiences in the Late Colonial Period,” Journal of African History 41, no. 1 (2000): 29–130.
  58. Ibid., 29–30.
  59. The essays in this special issue include James Fairhead’s and Melissa Leach’s examination of debates over deforestation and desiccation in West Africa; Dorothy Hodgson’s analysis of the Maasai Development Plan in Tanganyika; Monica Van Beusekom’s study of the Office du Niger irrigation scheme in the French Soudan (Mali); and Eric Wolby’s exploration of the displacement and resettlement of farmers from congested areas to more sparsely population regions in Southern Rhodesia. Sara Berry also contributed the “Afterword.”
  60. Sarraut proposed a plan for the development of the French colonies (la mise en valeur des colonies franÀ’Àaises), which included funds for the reclamation of nearly two million hectares of underutilized land on the borders of the Sahara Desert by resettling farmers on irrigated plots and introducing intensive plow agriculture and crop rotations. See Monica van Beusekom, Negotiating Development: African Farmers and Colonial Experts at the Office du Niger, 1920–1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), xxii–xxvi, 2–4, 33–47. Also see Monica Van Beusekom, “Colonisation Indigène: French Rural Development Ideology at the Office du Niger, 1920–1940,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 30, no. 2 (1997): 299–323; Monica Van Beusekom, “Disjunctures in Theory and Practice: Making Sense of Change in Agricultural Development at the Office du Niger, 1920–1960,” Journal of African History 41, no. 1 (2000): 79–99.
  61. Tania Murray Li, The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007); Rohland Schuknecht, British Colonial Development Policy after the Second World War: The Case of Sukumuland, Tanganyika (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2010).
  62. Van Beusekom, Negotiating Development, xx.
  63. Ibid., xxxv.
  64. Li, The Will to Improve, 7–9, 287, n. 22.
  65. Ibid., 9–10.
  66. The following paragraph is based on Van Beusekom, Negotiating Development, chaps. 2–6.
  67. In addition to Ferguson, Li combines Foucault’s concept of “governmentality” to describe the techniques and strategies by which a society is rendered governable with Antonio Gramsci’s idea of developing critical practices to challenge the cultural hegemony of dominant class interests. She also references Cowen’s and Shenton’s notion of trusteeship as central to “the will to improve,” whether it is government experts or activists trying to instruct people to understand their oppression and mobilize against it. See Li, The Will to Improve, 4–5, 12–27.
  68. Van Beusekom, Negotiating Development, xxxiii.
  69. Li, The Will to Improve, 28.
  70. Schuknecht, British Colonial Development Policy after the Second World War, 11.
  71. Li, The Will to Improve, 79–81.
  72. Ibid., 94.
  73. Schuknecht, British Colonial Development Policy after the Second World War, 329.
  74. Abou B. Bamba, “Triangulating a Modernization Experiment: The United States, France and the Making of the Kossou Project in Central Ivory Coast,” Journal of Modern European History 8, no. 1 (2010): 66–84.
  75. A similar triangulation process occurred in the former colonies of British East Africa involving expatriate colonial experts, postcolonial states, and the World Bank’s regional development service. See Hodge, “British Colonial Expertise, Postcolonial Careering and the Early History of International Development.”
  76. In addition to Bamba, other contributions to the history of modernization efforts in Africa include Michael Mahoney, “Estado Novo, Homem Novo (New State, New Man): Colonial and Anti-Colonial Development Ideologies in Mozambique, 1930–1977,” in Staging Growth, ed. David Engerman et al., 165–97; Larry Grubbs, “Bringing `The Gospel of Modernization’ to Nigeria: American Nation Builders and Development Planning in the 1960s,” Peace and Change 31, no. 3 (July 2006): 279–308; Larry Grubbs, Secular Missionaries: Americans and African Development in the 1960s (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009); Amanda Kay McVety, Enlightened Aid: U.S. Development as Foreign Policy in Ethiopia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Peter J. Bloom, Stephan F. Miescher, and Takyiwaa Manuh, eds., Modernization as Spectacle in Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014).
  77. In addition to David Biggs’s Quagmire, other notable contributions include Michael E. Latham, “Modernization at War: Counterinsurgency and the Strategic Hamlet Program in Vietnam,” in Modernization as Ideology (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 152–207; Nick Cullather, “Damming Afghanistan: Modernization in a Buffer State,” Journal of American History 89, no. 2 (September 2002): 512–37; Nick Cullather, “Miracles of Modernization: The Green Revolution and the Apotheosis of Technology,” Diplomatic History 28, no. 2 (April 2004): 227–54; Berger, “Decolonisation, Modernisation and Nation-Building,” 421–48; Nicole Sackley, “Passage to Modernity: American Social Scientists, India, and the Pursuit of Development, 1945–1961” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2004); Nicole Sackley, “Village Models: Etawah, India, and the Making and Remaking of Development in the Early Cold War,” Diplomatic History 37, no. 4 (September 2013): 749–78; David Ekbladh, The Great American Mission, esp. chaps. 4 and 6.
  78. Nick Cullather, The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010).
  79. Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.Indonesian Relations, 1960–1968 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008).
  80. Ibid., 10–12.
  81. This distinction between the two streams of U.S. modernization; on the one hand the focus on science and technocratic solutions; and on the other, on counterinsurgency and repression, comes from Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution, chaps. 4 and 5.
  82. Cullather, The Hungry World, 68.
  83. Ibid., 5.
  84. Ibid., 76.
  85. Ibid., 6.
  86. Simpson, Economists with Guns, 222, 246.
  87. Ibid., 228.
  88. David C. Engerman and Corinna R. Unger, “Introduction: Towards a Global History of Modernization,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 3 (June 2009): 376–77.
  89. Ibid., 380.
  90. Ibid., 382–84.
  91. David C. Engerman, “The Second World’s Third World,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 12, no. 1, n.s. (Winter 2011): 188.
  92. Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  93. What does exist are earlier, contemporary assessments of Soviet aid and relations with developing countries written mostly by political scientists and economists. See, for example, Joseph S. Berliner, Soviet Economic Aid: The New Aid Trade Policy in Underdeveloped Countries (New York: Praeger, 1958); Marshall I. Goldman, Soviet Foreign Aid (New York: Praeger, 1967); Roger E. Kanet, ed., The Soviet Union and the Developing Countries (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1974); Walter Raymond Duncan, ed., Soviet Policy in the Third World (New York: Pergamon Press, 1981); Robert H. Donaldson, ed., The Soviet Union in the Third World: Successes and Failures (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1981); Andrzej Korbonski and Francis Fukuyama, eds., The Soviet Union and the Third World: The Last Three Decades (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987); Colin W. Lawson, “Soviet Economic Aid to Africa,” African Affairs 87, no. 349 (October 1988): 501–18; Richard E. Feinberg and Ratchik M. Avakov, From Confrontation to Cooperation? U.S. and Soviet Aid to Developing Countries (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1991).
  94. For a provocative if unbalanced account of Soviet economic relations during the Cold War, see Oscar Sánchez-Sibony, Red Globalization: The Political Economy of the Soviet Cold War from Stalin to Krushchev (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). Among the more important recent accounts that begin to historicize and contextual Soviet-led development initiatives in specific Third World regions and countries are Elizabeth Bishop, “Talking Shop: Egyptian Engineers and Soviet Specialists at the Aswan High Dam” (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1997); Maxim Matusevich, No Easy Row for the Russian Hoe: Ideology and Pragmatism in Nigerian-Soviet Relations, 1960–1991 (Trenton, N.J.: African World Press, 2003); Ragna Boden, “Cold War Economics: Soviet Aid to Indonesia,” Journal of Cold War Studies 10, no. 3 (Summer 2008): 110–28; Constantin Katsakioris, “Soviet Lessons for Arab Modernization: Soviet Educational Aid to Arab Countries after 1956,” Journal of Modern European History 8, no. 1 (2010): 85–106; Sergey Mazov, A Distant Front in the Cold War: The USSR in West Africa and the Congo, 1956–1964 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2010); Paul Robinson and Jay Dixon, “Soviet Development Theory and Economic and Technical Assistance to Afghanistan, 1954–1991,” The Historian 72, no. 3 (Fall 2010): 599–623; David C. Engerman, “Learning from the East: Soviet Experts and India in the Era of Competitive Coexistence,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 33, no. 2 (2013): 227–38.
  95. Oscar Sánchez-Sibony, “Red Globalization: The Political Economy of Soviet Foreign Relations in the 1950s and 60s” (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 2009), 258; Engerman, “Second World’s Third World,” 194.
  96. Boden, “Cold War Economics,” 117.
  97. Boden, “Cold War Economics”; Engerman, “Learning from the East.”
  98. Boden, “Cold War Economics,” 118–19.
  99. Engerman, “Learning from the East,” 231. See also David C. Engerman, “West Meets East: The Center for International Studies and Indian Economic Development,” in Staging Growth, 199–223.
  100. Sánchez-Sibony, “Red Globalization,” 280–81.
  101. Even in countries like Afghanistan, where Soviet interests were more strategic and their involvement much longer lasting, the results were less than satisfactory. See Robinson and Dixon, “Soviet Development Theory and Economic and Technical Assistance to Afghanistan,” 614–15.
  102. Engerman, “The Second World’s Third World,” 198–99.
  103. Ibid., 191.
  104. Again, most of what has been written is by economists and other social scientists who examine the subject from a policy perspective, and not as history per se. See, for example, Bruce D. Larkin, China and Africa, 1949–1970: The Foreign Policy of the People’s Republic of China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971); Wolfgang Bartke, China’s Economic Aid (New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1975); Law Yu Fai, Chinese Foreign Aid: A Study of Its Nature and Goals, 1950–1982 (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Verlag Breitenbach, 1984); Deborah Bräutigam, Chinese Aid and African Development: Exporting the Green Revolution (London: Macmillan, 1998).
  105. See Jamie Monson, Africa’s Freedom Railway: How a Chinese Development Project Changed Lives and Livelihoods in Tanzania (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009); A. Ping, “From Proletarian Internationalism to Mutual Development: China’s Cooperation with Tanzania, 1965–95,” in Agencies in Foreign Aid: Comparing China, Sweden and the United States in Tanzania, ed. Goran Hyden and Rwekaza Mukadala (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Jamie Monson, “Working Ahead of Time: Labor and Modernization during the Construction of the TAZARA Railway, 1968–86,” in Making a World after Empire: The Bandung Moment and Its Political Afterlives, ed. Christopher J. Lee (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 235–65; Jamie Monson and Stephanie Rupp, “Introduction: Africa and China: New Engagements, New Research,” African Studies Review 56, no. 1 (April 2012): 21–44; Xiaoyun Li et al., “Difference or Indifference: China’s Development Assistance Unpacked,” IDS Bulletin 45, no. 4 (July 2014): 22–35; Tang Lixia et al., “The Evolution of China’s Agricultural Aid to Africa and Its Domestic Roots,” CBAA working paper, IDS, forthcoming, 5–7.
  106. Xiaoyun et al., “Difference or Indifference,” 25–26.
  107. The Dazhai model, which was pioneered in Dazhai village in China’s Shanxi Province in the 1960s, used cooperative, small group farming methods and high labor inputs to replace capital investment. See Lixia et al., “The Evolution of China’s Agricultural Aid to Africa,” 1–19.
  108. Monson, “Working Ahead of Time,” 235–65.
  109. Ibid., 259.
  110. Vivien Foster, Building Bridges: China’s Growing Role as Infrastructure Financier for Sub-Saharan Africa (New York: World Bank Publications, 2009); Yun Sun, “China’s Aid to Africa: Monster or Messiah?,” Brookings East Asia Commentary 75 (February 2014).
  111. Monson, “Working Ahead of Time,” 248.
  112. For an assessment of China’s recent and current programs of economic assistance in “emerging market” countries, see Charles Wolf, China’s Foreign Aid and Government-Sponsored Investment Activities (Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Corporation, 2013). For China’s involvement in Africa, see Deborah Brautigam, “China’s Foreign Aid in Africa: What Do We Know?,” in China into Africa: Trade, Aid, and Influence, ed. Robert I. Rotberg (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2008); Denis M. Tull, “China’s Engagement with Africa: Scope, Significance, and Consequences,” in Making a World after Empire, ed. Lee, 289–314; Christopher Dent, “Africa and China: A New Kind of Development Partnership,” in China and Africa Development Relations, ed. Christopher Dent (New York: Routledge, 2011), 3–20; Marcus Power et al., China’s Resource Diplomacy in Africa: Powering Development? (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Ian Scoones et al., “New Development Encounters: China and Brazil in African Agriculture,” IDS Bulletin 44, no. 4 (July 2013): 1–19.
  113. The journal Contemporary European History, for example, published a special issue on the foreign assistance policies of various European countries, which includes essays by Esther Helena Arens on the Netherlands, Heide-Irene Schmidt on the Federal Republic of Germany, Elena Calandri on Italy, and Helge Pharo on Norway, as well as Gérard Bossuat on France and Jim Tomlinson on Britain. See Contemporary European History 12, no. 4 (November 2003): 387–546. Also see Corinna R. Unger, “Industrialization vs. Agrarian Reform: West German Modernization Policies in India in the 1950s and 1960s,” Journal of Modern European History 8, no. 1 (January 2010): 47–65.
  114. On the importance of economists and government ministers from East Central Europe in the early theorizing of development economics as a field, see H. W. Arndt, Economic Development: The History of an Idea (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 47–48; Joseph Love, Crafting the Third World: Theorizing Underdevelopment in Rumania and Brazil (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996); Cowen and Shenton, Doctrines of Development, 373–426.
  115. Eric Helleiner, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods: International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2014), 234–45.
  116. Vincent Lagendijk’s case study of the development of the Danube is a case in point: “Divided Development: Post-War Ideas on River Utilisation and their Influence on the Development of Danube,” International History Review 37, no. 1 (2015): 80–98. See also Jude Howell, “The End of an Era: The Rise and Fall of G.D.R. Aid,” Journal of Modern African Studies 32, no. 2 (June 1994): 305–28; Martin Rudner, “East European Aid to Asian Developing Countries: The Legacy of the Communist Era,” Modern Asian Studies 30, no. 1 (February 1996): 1–28; Massimilano Trentin, “Modernization as State Building: The Two Germanies in Syria, 1963–1972,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 3 (June 2009): 487–505; Massimilano Trentin, Engineers of Modern Development: East German Experts in Ba’thist Syria, 1965–1972 (Padova: Cleup SC, 2010).
  117. For the parallels between Latin America and East Central Europe as regional laboratories that gave birth to some of the most influential models and theories of underdevelopment, see Love, Crafting the Third World, 5–7.
  118. Although Arturo Escobar framed his seminal study as ostensibly a history of the “making and unmaking of the Third World,” he drew heavily on the experiences of Latin America and on Colombia particularly. See Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995).
  119. One of the first scholars to move beyond the postdevelopment critique and examine the specific contexts and paradigm shifts of development debates in Latin America was Kathryn Sikkink. See Kathryn Sikkink, Ideas and Institutions: Developmentalism in Brazil and Argentina (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991); Sikkink, “Development Ideas in Latin America: Paradigm Shift and the Economic Commission for Latin America,” in Cooper and Packard, International Development and the Social Sciences, 228–56. For more recent scholarship, see Sarah Babb, Managing Mexico: Economists from Nationalism to Neoliberalsim (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001); Jeffrey F. Taffet, Foreign Aid as Foreign Policy: The Alliance for Progress in Latin America (London: Routledge, 2007); Jason Pribilsky, “Development and the `Indian Problem’ in the Cold War Andes: Indigenismo, Science, and Modernization in the Cornell-Peru Project at Vicos,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 3 (June 2009): 405–26; Patrick H. Cosby, “Leviathan in the Tropics: A Postcolonial Environmental History of the Papaloapan Development Projects in Mexico” (Ph.D. diss., University of Florida, 2011); Thomas C. Field, From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2014).
  120. The seminal modernizationist text on the Middle East was Daniel Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society (New York: Free Press, 1958), the composition and reception of which is the focus of Hemant Shah, The Production of Modernization: Daniel Lerner, Mass Media, and the Passing of Traditional Society (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011). Said’s Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979) is of course one of the most heavily cited works of the last half century, and central to the historiography of development.
  121. See Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Connelly, A Diplomatic Revolution; Jeffrey James Byrne, “Our Own Special Brand of Socialism: Algeria and the Contest of Modernities in the 1960s,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 3 (June 2009): 427–47; Massimiliano Trentin with Matteo Gerlini, eds., The Middle East and the Cold War: Between Security and Development (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012); Jacob Norris, Land of Progress: Palestine in the Age of Colonial Development, 1905–1948 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Norris, “Development and Disappointment: Arab Approaches to Economic Development in Mandate Palestine,” in The Routledge Handbook of the History of the Middle East Mandates, ed. Cyrus Schayegh and Andrew Arsan (New York: Routledge, 2015), 275–90; Jackson, “`What Is Syria Worth?,'” 83–103; Guy Laron, Origins of the Suez Crisis: Postwar Development Diplomacy and the Struggle over Third World Industrialization, 1945–1956 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013); Alden Young, “Accounting for Decolonization: The Origins of the Sudanese Economy, 1945–1964” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2013).
  122. See Jane L. Parpart, “Post-Modernism, Gender and Development,” in Power of Development, ed. Jonathan Crush (New York: Routledge, 1995), 253–65; Christina Klein, “Musicals and Modernization: Rodgers and Hammersmith’s The King and I,” in Staging Growth, 129–64; Suzanne Bergeron, Fragments of Development: Nation, Gender, and the Space of Modernity (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004); Anne Hugon, “Maternity and Modernity in the Gold Coast, 1920s–1950s,” and Gracia Clark, “Consulting Elderly Kumasi Market Women about Modernization,” Ghana Studies, Special Issue: Revisiting Modernization, 12/13 (2009/2010): 77–96, 97–120.
  123. Barbara Bush, “Motherhood, Morality, and Social Order: Gender and Development Discourse in Late Colonial Africa,” in Developing Africa, 270–92.
  124. Laura Ann Twagira, “Peopling the Landscape: Colonial Irrigation, Technology, and Demographic Crisis in the French Soudan, ca. 1926–1944,” PSAE Research Series 10 (2012): 26–27. See also Laura Ann Twagira, “`Robot Farmers’ and Cosmopolitan Workers: Technological Masculinity and Agricultural Development in the French Soudan (Mali), 1945–68,” Gender & History 26, no. 3 (November 2014): 459–77.
  125. Thomas Robertson, “Cold War Landscapes: Towards an Environmental History of US Development Programmes in the 1950s and 1960s,” Cold War History (2015): 3. There are some exceptions. See Anderson, Eroding the Commons; S. Ravi Rajan, Modernizing Nature: Forestry and Imperial Eco-Development, 1800–1950 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006); Hodge, Triumph of the Expert; Barton, “Environmentalism, Development and British Policy in the Middle East”; John R. McNeill and Corinna R. Unger, eds., Environmental Histories of the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Biggs, Quagmire; Cosby, “Leviathan in the Tropics”; Hoag, Developing the Rivers of East and West Africa.
  126. Robertson, “Cold War Landscapes,” 5.
  127. Matteo Rizzo, “What Was Left of the Groundnut Scheme? Development Disaster and Labour Market in Southern Tanganyika, 1946–1952,” Journal of Agrarian Change 6, no. 2 (April 2006): 205–38.
  128. Joshua Grace, “Heroes of the Road: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Mobility in Twentieth-Century Tanzania,” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 83, no. 3 (August 2013): 403–25. Also see Joshua Grace, “Modernization Bubu: Cars, Roads, and the Politics of Development in Tanzania, 1870s to 1980s” (Ph.D. diss., Michigan State University, 2013).
  129. Emma Hunter, “A History of Maendeleo: The Concept of `Development’ in Tanganyika’s Late Colonial Public Sphere,” in Developing Africa, 87–107.
  130. Bloom, Miescher, and Manuh, Modernization as Spectacle in Africa. For other works that examine the cultural dimensions of the history of development and modernization, see John H. Hanson, “Modernity, Religion and Development in Ghana: The Example of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community,” and Peter J. Bloom and Kate Skinner, “Modernity and Danger: The Boy Kumasenu and the Work of the Gold Coast Film Unit,” Ghana Studies, Special Issue: Revisiting Modernization 12/13 (2009/2010): 55–76, 121–54; Peter E. Baltutis, “Forging the Link between Faith and Development: The History of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, 1967–1982” (Ph.D. diss., University of Saint Michael’s College, 2012); Martina Kopf, “Developing Africa in the Colonial Imagination: European and African Narrative Writing of the Interwar Period,” in Developing Africa, 341–66.
  131. Bloom, Miescher, and Manuh, Modernization as Spectacle in Africa, 2.
  132. Several other recent studies worth noting include Stephen Miescher, “Building the City of the Future: Visions and Experiences of Modernity in Ghana’s Akosombo Township,” Journal of African History 53, no. 3 (November 2012): 367–90; Leander Schneider, Government of Development: Peasants and Politicians in Postcolonial Tanzania (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014); Naaborko Sackeyfio-Lenoch, “Decolonization, Cold War Dynamics, and Nation Building in Ghana-Asia Relations, 1957–1966,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 49 (forthcoming 2016).
  133. Frederick Cooper, Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002), 39.
  134. Ibid., 20–37.
  135. Ibid., 67.
  136. Laron, Origins of the Suez Crisis, 4–8.
  137. Ibid., 8.
  138. For UN development aid and thinking, see Richard Jolly, UN Contributions to Development Thinking and Practice (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); John Toye and Richard Toye, “How the UN Moved from Full Employment to Economic Development,” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics 44, no. 1 (March 2006): 16–40; Digambar Bhouraskar, United Nations Development Aid: A Study in History and Politics (New Delhi: Academic Foundation, 2007); Ikuto Yamaguchi, “The Development and Activities of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), 1947–65,” in The Transformation of the International Order of Asia: Decolonization, the Cold War, and the Colombo Plan, ed. Shigeru Akita, Gerold Krozewski, and Shoichi Watanabe (New York: Routledge, 2015), 91–108. For the earlier, foundational work of the League of Nations in promoting economic and financial cooperation, see Patricia Clavin, Securing the World Economy: The Reinvention of the League of Nations, 1920–1946 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). For the IMF, see J. Keith Horsefield, The International Monetary Fund, 1945–1965: Twenty Years of International Monetary Cooperation, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: IMF, 1969); Margaret G. De Vries, The IMF in a Changing World, 1945–1985 (Washington, D.C.: IMF, 1986); Michael Bordo and Anna Schwartz, From the Exchange Stabilization Fund to the International Monetary Fund, NBER Working Paper 100 (Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2001). On the World Bank, see Edward S. Mason and Robert E. Asher, The World Bank since Bretton Woods (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1973); Martha Finnemore, “Redefining Development at the World Bank,” in International Development and the Social Sciences, 203–27; Robert W. Oliver, George Woods and the World Bank (Boulder, Col.: Lynne Rienner, 1995); J. Kraske, Bankers with a Mission: The Presidents of the World Bank, 1946–91 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Devesh Kapur, John P. Lewis, and Richard Webb, eds., The World Bank: Its First Half Century (Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution, 1997); Michael Goldman, Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005); Michele Alacevich, Political Economy of the World Bank: The Early Years (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009); Patrick A. Sharma, “Globalizing Development: Robert McNamara at the World Bank” (Ph.D. diss., UCLA, 2010). For the UN’s Specialized Agencies, see Javed Siddiqi, World Health and World Politics: The World Health Organization and the UN System (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995); Amy Staples, The Birth of Development: How the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization Changed the World, 1945–1965 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2006); John Farley, Brock Chisholm, the World Health Organization and the Cold War (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2008); Daniel Maul, “Help Them Move the ILO Way: The International Labor Organization and the Modernization Discourse in the Era of Decolonization and the Cold War,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 3 (June 2009): 387–404; Daniel Maul, Human Rights, Development and Decolonization: The International Labour Organization, 1940–70 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Tine Hanrieder, International Organization in Time: Fragmentation and Reform (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
  139. See, for example, Steven Palmer, Launching Global Health: The Caribbean Odyssey of the Rockefeller Foundation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010); Johannes Paulman, “Conjunctures in the History of International Humanitarian Aid during the Twentieth Century,” Humanity 4, no. 2 (Summer 2013): 215–38; Davide Rodogno, “The American Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Humanitarian Politics and Policies in Asia Minor and Greece (1922–1923),” First World War Studies 5, no. 1 (2014): 83–99; Norton Wheeler, The Role of American NGOs in China’s Modernization (New York: Routledge, 2014).
  140. Margherita Zanasi, “Exporting Development: The League of Nations and Republican China,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 49, no. 1 (January 2007): 143–69; Helleiner, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods.
  141. Helleiner, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods, 22.
  142. See Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 6, no. 1 (Spring 2015).
  143. Even David Ekbladh, who is perhaps the most cognizant of global movements, writes that “while modernization shared a lineage with colonialism, its application in the twentieth century held distinctions from modern empire. It was not driven by unalloyed `exploitation and suppression’ but rather sought `control and improvement.'” See Ekbladh, Great American Mission, 2.
  144. Uma Kothari, “From Colonial Administration to Development Studies: A Post-Colonial Critique of the History of Development Studies,” in A Radical History of Development Studies: Individuals, Institutions and Ideologies, ed. Uma Kothari (London: Zed Books, 2005), 50. See also Uma Kothari, “Spatial Practices and Imaginaries: Experiences of Colonial Officers and Development Professionals,” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 27, no. 3 (November 2006): 235–53.
  145. Robertson, “Cold War Landscapes,” 6.
  146. Ekbladh, Great American Mission, 7; the phrase “webs of significance” is taken from Cullather, “Damming Afghanistan,” 515.
  147. Charles Kenny and David. Williams, “What Do We know about Economic Growth? or, Why Don’t We Know Very Much?,” World Development 29, no. 1 (2001): 1–22; Michael Woolcock et al., “How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy?,” Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper 68, University of Manchester, 2009; Daron Acemoglu et al., “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation,” American Economic Review 91, no. 5 (December 2001): 1369–401. See also Lange, Legacies of Despotism and Development.
  148. Uma Kothari, A Radical History of Development Studies.
  149. Kothari, “A Radical History of Development Studies,” in A Radical History of Development Studies, 1.
  150. As Kothari concludes: “To produce a post-colonial development that critically re-evaluates development theory and practice and disconnects it from what has variously been termed its neo-colonial, re-colonial and imperial context and articulations requires, as a starting point, a historical analysis that identifies the particularities, and varied expressions, of the continuities between colonialism and development.” See Kothari, “From Colonial Administration to Development Studies,” 63.
  151. Woolcock et al., “How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy?”; Mark Duffield and Vernon Hewitt, eds., Empire, Development and Colonialism: The Past in the Present (Suffolk: James Currey, 2009); Bayly et al., eds., History, Historians and Development Policy.
  152. See, for example, Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done about It (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); William Easterly, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (New York: Basic Books, 2013).
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About Joseph Morgan Hodge

is an associate professor of history and chair of the department of history at West Virginia University in Morgantown. He is author of Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines of Development and the Legacies of British Colonialism (Ohio, 2007). He is also co-editor along with Brett Bennett of Science and Empire: Knowledge and Networks of Science across the British Empire, 1800–1970 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), and co-editor with Gerald Hödl and Martina Kopf of Developing Africa: Concepts and Practices in Twentieth-Century Colonialism (Manchester, 2014). In addition, he has published several articles in leading historical journals including the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, the Journal of Southern African Studies, Agricultural History, and the Journal of Modern European History. He is currently working on a new project tentatively entitled “After Empire: Late Colonial Experts, Postcolonial Careering and the Making of International Development,” which explores the subsequent careers of former British colonial officials and technical experts who went on to work for various international organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank or for British donor agencies and consultancy firms.

One thought on “Writing the History of Development (Part 2: Longer, Deeper, Wider)

  • Joe Ryan

    It was exciting to see that a blog had been written that viewed development in low-income countries through the lens of the historian. Unfortunately, I come away from reading the two parts somewhat disappointed.

    I would have been interested in seeing more specifics, particularly about things that happened with U.S. Government assistance, like for example the creation of Peru’s Ministry of the Environment, the construction of Cairo’s water and sanitation system, the strengthening of so many agricultural universities, and so forth. There’s a lot of scope for showing how important local leadership has been in projects like these.


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