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Vital Geographies – blog

15 February 2018: David Nally – Biophilanthropy and youth pedagogies: the case of the International Education Board, 1923-28′

Thursday’s Vital Geographies seminar was delivered by the Department of Geography’s David Nally, presenting a paper to be published in the Journal of Historical Geography (JHG) later this year. The focus of the paper – the International Education Board (IEB) – was a short-lived but influential initiative delivered through the philanthropic work of the Rockefeller Foundation. Its origins lay in late nineteenth century work intending to foster scientific farming methods in the American South in the face of agrarian crisis, while aiming for the rejuvenation of ‘rural values’ and the eradication of forms of dependent poverty. Rather than target adults, this agricultural pedagogy focused on youths as pliable recipients of new scientific and cultural values. Skip forward to Europe in the aftermath of the war of 1914-1918 and these pedagogies were being experimentally applied by the IEB to rural communities in Scandinavia as a form of “progressive statecraft” for inculcating American values of democracy and rational agricultural management. This ‘work on youths’ involved advancing quantification through measurement and record-keeping – as a means to awaken a “remunerative spirit” – and the staging of cultural events and competitions as a means of embedding and reinforcing the requisite practices. Borrowing from Tania Li, Dr Nally framed these as a set of “inscription devices” that subtly transmit values through time and across geographies, and which find their zenith in the Green Revolution later in the century. Part of the point is to locate the antecedents of the Green Revolution and reframe it as an historical process, rather than a single event. Particularly striking was how many of the tropes and language invoked by philanthropic actors at the time resound with subsequent and contemporary discourses of international development.

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