Malthus, Marx, and the Third World: Demography and History at the Onset of North African Political Modernity

Monday, January 5, 2015: 9:10 AM
Gibson Suite (New York Hilton)
T. Scott Johnson, City University of New York, Graduate Center
This paper examines the relationship between postwar social scientists and the creation of the “third world” as a viable revolutionary entity focusing on the writings of demographer Alfred Sauvy, with a particular contextual focus on the Algerian War.  Prior to the two World Wars, social scientists, orientalists, and historians viewed North Africa as an ahistorical site frozen in time by Arab and Muslim conquest.  By the end of World War Two, however, developing nations theory challenged this previously-held conceptualization of North Africa.  The emergence of the political idea that North Africa was a site where a modern revolution analogous to the French Revolution of 1789 could occur coincided with the rise of developmentalist thought in France.  Even disciplines as seemingly sterilized as demography, I argue, were used as a way to fundamentally rethink France’s relationship with its empire.  In particular, Alfred Sauvy contemplated the possible links between population growth and crisis.  His 1952 essay “Trois mondes, une planète,” for better or worse, created the neologism “tiers monde.”  This phrase made a direct link between the political and economic situation of the French third estate in 1789 and post-war developing nations.  After third worldism became the catchphrase of the 1955 Bandoeng Conference it persisted as a dominant force in both politics and development theory for decades to come.  More immediately, however, demography was given a privileged voice for understanding the political changes in Algeria during the Algerian War. Even if Sauvy’s research focus was on global concerns from the 1950s onward, the concepts he developed and institutes he directed were focused on problems concerning decolonization. Following in the vein of Dipesh Chakrabarty and Thomas McCarthy, this paper explores the ways in which European history and political theory were assumed to be global rubrics for the (post-)colonial world.