‘New Man’ in Africa, Asia and the Middle East: Practices, Networks and Mobilization, c. 1910-1960

Zentrum Moderner Orient, Kirchweg 33, 14129 Berlin
Zentrum Moderner Orient
Zentrum Moderner Orient

The ‘New Man’, here, is understood to encompass a plethora of theoretical constructs as well as social projects closely linked to aspirations of ‘progress’, modernity and so-cial utopias (or dystopias) that were characteristic of the end of the nineteenth and the earlier part of the twentieth centuries. It was, however, not a ‘Western’ idea but can be said to have evolved simultaneously in different regions of the world where people were grappling with their own visions of possible futures. The ‘New Man’ was the idealized type of personality that could be created by way of a deliberate and planned social process. The (historically overloaded) term ‘New Man’ was not always explicitly used and had certainly fallen out of fashion by the second half of the twenti-eth century. We have nevertheless opted to use it for this later period as well since the need for large-scale social engineering and the creation of the right type of citizen remained, and occupied a prominent position in late colonial and post-colonial nation-building projects. The methods, goals and relevant categories were transformed but also exhibit continuities that make a comparative exploration worthwhile.
We assume that the ‘New Man’ as idea and practice of creating a new kind of being fit for the future was a widely popular if not universal undertaking that accompanied projects of modernisation and national movements alike. We further assume that south-south linkages and regional networks were as important as the exchange with Western Europe, Russia or North America. Anti-colonial movements and new Cold War alliances profoundly shaped and changed practices relating to the ‘New Man’. As a conceptual container, which despite appearances often included women and especially children, it was related to concrete projects of societal progress that were typically understood to follow a historical telos. It follows that the supposedly most malleable part of the population – youth – often constituted an ideal target for such social ex-perimentation.
This conference is interested in tracing the emergence and shifts in discourse but more particularly in practices surrounding the idea of creating a different kind of hu-man being. We are equally interested in the continuously evolving and changing tem-poralities and their historical imagination that brought forth, altered and appropriated the idea of a ‘New Man’ until such time as it receded into the background or was su-perseded by other concepts.
Being ‘new’ also meant to be at the forefront of societal progress and, thus, ex-posed to selection. The criteria varied according to the historical context as well as to the concrete understanding about how society functions. Since the ‘New Man’ should bear particular, if often ill-defined, spiritual/ideological, mental/attitudinal and bodily characteristics, concrete projects typically targeted this triangle in combination. These projects often became institutionalized, influential and in high demand in times when nothing was sure anymore and everything seemed possible. The ‘New Man’ was thought of as a vanguard, a force that was already tamed and, thus, itself a potential taming force for all kinds of deviation from the ‘right path’ to Progress.
The conference puts an explicit emphasis on reception history (Wirkungsgeschichte) and social history. Thus, we are interested in presentations that look at concrete prac-tices of shaping the ‘New Man’ in Africa, Asia and the Middle East or compare exam-ples from different regions or transfers between them. We seek to explore questions such as: Which kind of south-south or north-south networks disseminated the rele-vant practical knowledge? Which ruptures and continuities influenced these practices? Was there any reference to earlier ideas (i.e. from the nineteenth century) which be-came common sense or common practice in the twentieth century? How did the dis-semination of sports and other distinctly modern bodily performances contribute to such notions? How did cultural productions, such as arts, literature and architecture, visualise and legitimise specific ideas and practices of creating the ‘New Man’?
The conference aims to bring together scholars who are specialized in area studies, global history and historical anthropology. Applicants are requested to send an ab-stract of 300 words to katrin.bromber@zmo.de by 15th January 2017, along with in-formation concerning their academic affiliation. There are limited funds available to reimburse travel costs and three nights of accommodation. Participants will ideally address one of the following themes in their presentations:
- Youth movements as the avant-garde: children and young people in projects of social engineering
- A (non-)gendered being? New Women and New Men
- The body as a revolutionary site: physical culture and sports
- Educational initiatives, political training and cadre schools to mold the minds of (Wo)Man
- The ‘New Man’ builds the nation: development projects and civil society
- The ‘New Man’ in translocal perspective: knowledge and practice transfer (South-South, and North-South)


Bromber Katrin

Kirchweg 33, 14129 Berlin


‘New Man’ in Africa, Asia and the Middle East: Practices, Networks and Mobilization, c. 1910-1960, 15.01.2017 Berlin, in: H-Soz-Kult, 27.11.2016, <www.hsozkult.de/event/id/termine-32636>.