Daniel Immerwahr

Thinking Small

The United States and the Lure of Community Development

Harvard University Press 2015

New Books in Global Ethics and PoliticsNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network March 17, 2017 Dexter Fergie

Modernization dominates development’s historiography. Historians characterize moments in development’s history–from the Tennessee Valley Authority to US-led “nation-building”in the Third World–as high-modernist attempts to industrialize,...

Modernization dominates development’s historiography. Historians characterize moments in development’s history–from the Tennessee Valley Authority to US-led “nation-building”in the Third World–as high-modernist attempts to industrialize, urbanize, bureaucratize, and centralize. Indeed, modernization and development have almost come to be synonymous in our historical imaginations. Daniel Immerwahr’s Thinking Small: The United States and the Lure of Community Development (Harvard University Press, 2015) shows that this is not the whole story.

Immerwahr, an assistant professor of history at Northwestern University, writes communitarianism back into the history of development. He traces a troubling history of how social scientists, policymakers, and civil servants were enamored of ideas of community development and how they tested these ideas in Indian villages, counterinsurgency campaigns in Southeast Asia, and the US war on poverty. Daniel makes important arguments about the mid-century ambivalence towards modernity, the global dimensions of domestic policy formation and the problematic appeal of community. Taking this story to the present, Daniel shows the limits of contemporary localist approaches to global inequality and makes his own profound and persuasive policy prescriptions. This fascinating book should be of interest to intellectual historians, diplomatic historians, historians of the global south, as well as development workers and anyone else engaged in debates about global poverty.

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