Envisioning Capitalist Development in the Countryside: Perspectives from Latin America, Asia, and the United States

AHA Session 166
Agricultural History Society 2
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Columbia Hall 11 (Washington Hilton)
Amy C. Offner, University of Pennsylvania
Sven Beckert, Harvard University

Session Abstract

This session explores ways that rural societies and rural reform informed twentieth-century visions of capitalist development.  Each paper examines the ways in which ideas about rural social and economic planning —both imported and home-grown— were carried out in distinct contexts on different continents. The panelists take a transnational approach, examining cross-border exchanges of experience and ideas. They further wed intellectual and social history, analyzing both popular and professional ideas that met in efforts to transform agricultural production and rural societies. Sheyda Jahanbani, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas, will present on visual representations of global poverty circulated under the auspices of the U.S. government. Her paper reveals the ways in which such images conflated notions of rural and urban poverty, both in the U.S. and abroad, thus flattening them into a pathology of "underdevelopment" legible to Americans. Theresa Ventura, an assistant professor of history at Concordia University in Montreal, will present on land enclosures and peasant displacement in the U.S.-occupied Philippines. Ventura suggests that controversy over the distribution of former church lands shaped the development rhetoric of Philippine Commissioners, appealing specifically to a U.S. audience. Diana Schwartz, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, will present on Mexican anthropologists' rural economic development program in southeastern Mexico during the 1950s and 1960s. Through an examination of the anthropologists' activities among resettled indigenous Mexican, her paper reveals the complexities of turning applied anthropological theory into practice. The three papers encourage both national and transnational readings of the ideas, implementation, and reception of development programs over the course of the twentieth century.
The session will be relevant to historians interested in the history of economic development in a comparative context, the policies and practices of poverty alleviation in the twentieth-century, and the relationship between U.S. and international social and economic programs. Amy Offner, assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania will serve as chair of the panel. Her knowledge of Cold-War anti-poverty programs will offer a sharp perspective on the nature of intellectual feedback loops between U.S. and international policymakers. Sven Beckert, professor of history at Harvard University, will serve as commentator. Beckert's expertise in the history of capitalism will encourage a broader discussion on the global circulation of capital, commodities, and ideas in the shaping of capitalist development.
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