Modernization as a Global Project: American, Soviet and European Approaches

Modernization as a Global Project: American, Soviet and European Approaches

Corinna Unger, German Historical Institute Washington, DC David Engerman, Brandeis University
German Historical Institute Washington, DC
Washington, DC
United States
From - Until
28.03.2008 - 29.03.2008
Corinna Unger


In recent years, American historians have explored the project of modernization and development from its conceptual origins through its practical applications. German and European scholars are paying increasing attention to the problems of economic and political development in the new Third World – or, from the European perspective, the former colonies. It is, therefore, a useful moment to bring together historians to compare approaches to modernization and development in the global north – the United States, Europe (East and West) and the USSR.

In his award-winning book, The Global Cold War, Odd Arne Westad argues that the conflict between East and West in the Third World was an expression of two competing models of modernization, a democratic one and a socialist one. This thesis can serve as a conceptual basis for a comparison of modernization politics. Were the two models really as different as they presented themselves to be? How did each side perceive the other model? Which problems did each party encounter when trying to implement its modernization concept abroad?

A handful of scholars, primarily in Europe, have begun serious research on the modernization and development programs of the Soviet Union and its East European allies. Yet there remains a great deal to be learned about Soviet bloc activities in the Third World, from education and training opportunities to economic development, to military aid. How did Communist models of development change during their “export” to the Third World? What challenges did proponents of Soviet-style modernization encounter abroad?

And was there only one form of democratic modernization? Did the members of the Western alliance – many of whom had been colonizers in the immediate past – follow a common approach to modernizing the Third World? It might prove fruitful to ask whether the Western alliance’s coherence with regard to its modernization approach vis-à-vis the “underdeveloped world” was really as strong as usually portrayed. To do so, one has to analyze the intellectual origins of American and European concepts of modernization, the transatlantic transfer of ideas of modernization and development, the formulation of modernization projects in national and/or regional contexts, and the Western countries’ methods, successes and problems in implementing their models in the Third World.

Finally, many of the accounts to date have emphasized western ideas and policies over Third World aims, interests, and responses. How did the target countries of the Third World react to the different modernization schemes offered to them? What did indigenous and imported ideas about “modernity” share? And how did they conflict?

To encourage discussion of these questions and problems, and to bring together scholars working on related topics, the German Historical Institute Washington is organizing a workshop to take place in March 28-29, 2008, at the GHI.


Friday, March 28

9:00 am

9:15 am – 12:00 pm
Panel I: First World
Chair: Nick Cullather (Indiana University Bloomington)

Joseph M. Hodge (West Virginia University)
British Colonial Expertise, Post-Colonial Careering and the Early History of International Development

Jason Pribilsky (Whitman College)
Modernizing Peru: The Cornell-Peru Project, Incipient Imperialism and Cold War Struggles in the Andean Highlands, 1951-1966

Corinna Unger
Industrialization or Agrarian Reform? West German Modernization Politics in India in the 1950s and 1960s

12:00 pm
Lunch break

1:30-5:00 pm
Panel II: Second World
Chair: David Engerman

Ragna Boden (University of Bochum)
What Went Wrong? Obstacles to the Soviet Modernization Offensive in Indonesia

Young-sun Hong (SUNY Stony Brook)
International Solidarity, Health and Race in the East German Encounter with the Third World

Constantin Katsakioris (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales Paris)
The Soviet Model of Modernization for the Arab Partners: Representation, Implementation and the Soviet-Arab Encounter

Bernd Schaefer (Woodrow Wilson International Center)
Socialist Modernization of Vietnam: The East German Approach,

5:00 pm
Coffee break

5:15-6:45 pm
Panel III: Third World
Chair: Odd Arne Westad (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Lorenz Luthi (McGill University)
Soviet Economic Development Models and their Application in the
People’s Republic of China

Bradley R. Simpson (University of Maryland Baltimore)
Indonesian Modernization Discourses

Saturday, March 29

9:00-10:30 am
Panel III (cont’d): Third World
Chair: Odd Arne Westad

Daniel Speich (ETH Zürich)
The Kenyan Style of ‘African Socialism’: Developmental Knowledge Claims and the Explanatory Limits of the Cold War

James P. Woodard (Montclair State University)
The Consumption of (Over?) Consumption: Development, Modernization, and Consumer Culture in Brazil’s “American Century”

10:30 am
Coffee break

11:00 am -12:30 pm
Panel IV: Transnational Organizations
Chair: Corinna Unger

David Hamilton (University of Kentucky)
Mordecai Ezekiel, the FAO, and Food and Agriculture

Daniel Roger Maul (University of Giessen)
“Make them move the ILO way”: The International Labour Organization’s Integrated Approach to Development and the Modernization Discourse of the 1950s

12:30 pm
Lunch break

1:30-3:45 pm
Panel V: Triangulating Modernization
Chair: David Engerman

Jeffrey James Byrne (London School of Economic and Political Science)
The Narrow Doorway: Algeria and the Contest of Modernisations in the 1960s

Sara Lorenzini (University of Trento)
Modernization German-style, East and West: A Comparison

Massimiliano Trentin (University of Florence)
“Tough Negotiations”: The Two Germanys in Syria, 1963-1972

3:45 pm
Coffee break

4:00-5:00 pm
Panel VI: Comments and Final Discussion
Chair: Corinna Unger

Nick Cullather
David Engerman
Odd Arne Westad

End of Conference

Contact (announcement)

Corinna Unger

German Historical Institute, 1607 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009
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