Power and Place: The Semantics of Economic Growth in the Twentieth Century

AHA Session 259
Monday, January 5, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Conference Room B (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Brodwyn M. Fischer, University of Chicago
A Green Revolution for France?
Venus Bivar, Washington University in Saint Louis
Brodwyn M. Fischer, University of Chicago

Session Abstract

All three panelists have analysed in their recent work large-scale state-sponsored improvement projects. Venus Bivar has examined the modernisation of agriculture in France. Daniel Immerwahr has looked at the parallels between domestic anti-poverty efforts in the US and community development projects in India and the Philippines. And Tore Olsson has researched how exchanges across the US-Mexico border shaped agricultural improvement projects in both countries. All three historical developments share in some basic features: an activist state seeking to shape domestic economic development, attempts at reducing economic inequality, and the negotiation of international and transnational relationships as a key component of domestic policy. But they do not always share a language. Why is what happened in France referred to as 'modernisation', or ‘Americanisation’, while similar agricultural projects like the Green Revolution are referred to as 'development'? Similarly, why is 'poverty' the word of choice when referring to the American underclass, while 'underdevelopment' is preferred when discussing less wealthy parts of the world?

This panel brings together twentieth-century research from multiple countries that centers around a set of related concepts: modernisation, growth, development, and poverty. It considers how these concepts have been connected to or separated from each other, both by historians in our own time and by the subjects of our study in theirs. The very questions that form the basis of the research agendas of different historical sub-fields are determined by these linguistic and conceptual divisions. This is not to suggest that there are no meaningful differences between what happened in western Europe and what happened in Latin America or South Asia. But by bringing these geographically diverse projects together, we hope to gain better purchase on both those key concepts and on the historical conditions that give rise to certain conceptual understandings rather than others.

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