Gordian Knot: Apartheid and the Unmaking of the Liberal World Order
Ryan M. Irwin
Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. ix + 244 pp.
The Foundations of Anti-Apartheid: Liberal Humanitarians and Transnational Activists in Britain and the United States, 1919–64
Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. vii + 258 pp.
It has become a cliché to observe that the global anti-apartheid movement was one of the largest, most widely supported, longest sustained, most significant, and most successful transnational movements of the twentieth century. The movement was surprisingly little researched while apartheid in South Africa continued, but since South Africa’s first nonracial democratic elections in 1994, there has been a steady trickle of studies on the struggle against apartheid outside South Africa itself. That trickle is rapidly becoming a flood: in particular, doctoral dissertations on the subject are proliferating, though many of those already completed have not—or not yet—been published.1 The Foundations of Anti-Apartheid by Rob Skinner and Gordian Knot by Ryan Irwin are two of the first of these recent dissertations to have been published as monographs.
Whereas a high proportion of earlier studies of external anti-apartheid activism were written by former participants, Irwin and Skinner are from a generation of scholars who did not themselves participate in the events and movements they analyze. Both books are representative of an emerging stream of more detached and more critical scholarship on the global anti-apartheid movement. Moreover, whereas earlier studies of the external anti-apartheid movement usually adopted a national frame of analysis, studying action against apartheid by or within a single state, Irwin’s and Skinner’s studies reflect the recent “international turn”: both are based on multi-archival research on three continents—Africa, Europe, and North America—and are focused on the international and/or transnational connections and activities of those who sought to contribute to ending apartheid from outside South Africa.