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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Spring 2017 Vol. 8.1

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Can a Citizen Be Sovereign?

Patrick Weil

UNESCO and the United Nations Rights of Man Declaration: History, Historiography, Ideology

Mark Goodale

During 1947 and 1948, UNESCO made a remarkable, and largely misunderstood, effort to directly shape the content of what became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Although these efforts failed in their objectives, the work of UNESCO during this short period of time (about a year and a half) has been invested with a range of meanings and interpretations that go well beyond the historical record. This article examines this historical process based on new archival research. As the first in a series of publications concerning UNESCO and the prehistory of human rights, the article provides new information about this critical period in the history of human rights.

African Bureaucrats and the Exhaustion of the Developmental State: Lessons from the Pages of the Sudanese Economist

Alden Young

Analysts often consider the postcolonial Sudanese state to be governed by an elite primarily interested in private accumulation rather than national development. This article demonstrates the existence of distinct development projects in postcolonial Sudanese history, which wax and wane. Developmental states can be distinguished from non-developmental states by whether political and policymaking elites are able to assert “the right to policymaking discretion.” The analysis of whether this discretion is present depends upon close archival readings of policy debates. Reading the pages of the Sudanese Economists it is possible to see the waning of the first Sudanese developmental state as the discourses of austerity and transparency replace those of growth and investment.

Debating History and Memory: Examining the Controversy Surrounding Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking

Erik Ropers

Iris Chang’s 1997 work The Rape of Nanking precipitated a wave of critiques and reappraisals in Asia and abroad. While held in low-esteem by most historians and academics, it holds greater sway amongst broader reading publics as one of the most widely read popular histories on the subject. The impact of Chang’s book transcends the ongoing and heated debates about the Nanking Massacre itself, and connects with related debates concerning history, memory, and human rights in the Asia-Pacific. The article examines some of these related historical debates appearing in the late nineteen-nineties and shows how The Rape of Nanking has stimulated public interest and recognition of past human rights violations including, but not limited to the atrocities of Nanking.

Photo Essay

Working with the Frames of War

Jean-Philippe Dedieu

In the aftermath of 9/11, the American government launched the War on Terror in order to impose the prosecution of its foreign policy. From the onset, the War on Terror’s powerful visual and verbal narratives made it almost impossible to suggest alternative framings. This article questions how lawyers, human rights investigators, and journalists have worked within and with these frames in order either to challenge them or to document them. This issue is important, not only because it is doubtful that they will lose their salience in the future, but also because the work of these individuals tells us how such narratives have been affecting our very own perceptions of a reality.

A Lens on Mohamedou Slahi at Guantánamo: A Conversation

The US military detention and interrogation operation, Joint Task Force (JTF) Guantánamo has received particular attention by lawyers, human rights investigators, and journalists wanting to document human rights abuses as well as the frames of war which were designed by the American government in the aftermath of 9/11. This article is a dialogue between photographer Debi Cornwall and human right activist Larry Siems, who both challenged these frames of war, ultimately laying bare their deployment, forceful imposition and shameful normalization.

Gitmo at Home, Gitmo at Play

Debi Cornwall

This photo essay is excerpted from Gitmo at Home, Gitmo at Play, an investigation of daily life for both prisoners and guards at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where nobody has chosen to live, and where photographs of faces are forbidden by military regulation. Since the first “War on Terror” prisons opened on January 11, 2002, 780 men have been held at “Gitmo,” the vast majority without charge or trial of any kind. As of autumn 2016, most have been cleared and released: 61 men remain held, including 33 cleared for transfer, 10 convicted in military commissions, and 28 designated as “forever prisoners,” destined to remain held indefinitely. Gitmo at Home, Gitmo at Play is one chapter in a larger body of work investigating the peculiarly American normalization of offshore extrajudicial detention.

Dossier on Gunnar Myrdal


Maribel Morey, Jamie Martin

Despite his centrality to mid-century international politics, Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal has seldom been the object of sustained historical attention beyond his native Sweden and the United States. This dossier attempts to offer a fuller picture of his career through reconsiderations of most of his major works, from his early writings on Swedish population policy to his last works on the problem of global poverty. In doing so, it not only contributes to these national historiographies on Myrdal, but also attempts to place him, in all of his guises, back into conversations on the intertwined histories of national welfarism, international organizations, and social science in the mid-twentieth century.

The Myrdals’ Eugenicist Roots

Nils Gilman

Alva and Gunnar Myrdal's Kris i Befolkningsfragen (1934) has led a double life, long celebrated as the intellectual blueprint of the Sweden’s cradle-to-grave welfare state, and more recently decried for its advocacy of sterilization of the “feeble-minded." This paper situates Kris in its political moment in 1930s Sweden, proposing that the Myrdals' arguments in favor of sterilization were not rooted in deeply held convictions, but rather were a political tactic designed to neutralize and overcome conservative hostility to the institutionalization of social welfare provisions as a response to the perceived demographic crisis of the time.

Will Myrdal’s America Show Up?

Lauri Tähtinen

In 1944, Gunnar Myrdal issued a warning to optimists, who expected the United States to shepherd the entire world into a stable and prosperous peacetime. Yet in Varning för fredsoptimism Myrdal not only warned of a recession but also suggested that Sweden and the United States could join hands in the spirit of “democratic internationalism.” In doing so, Myrdal navigated the path for a small, rich, old, and neutral state in the post-war world and argued that the United States would not succumb to the temptations of “great power imperialism.” Instead the United States could help to remake the world in Sweden’s image.

Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma (1944) as a Swedish Text: A Further Analysis

Maribel Morey

In the late 1930s, the Carnegie Corporation commissioned Gunnar Myrdal to direct a comprehensive survey of white-black relations in the United States, with the expectation that he would approach the topic “with an entirely fresh mind.” In selecting him, the foundation’s president had supposed that a social scientist from Sweden—a country he presumed to be ethnically homogeneous—would bring few assumptions to an investigation of American race relations. And it is true that Myrdal had little experience with the topic. However, his prior work as an economic theorist, population expert, and politician in Sweden informed his analysis in An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944). In particular, it helped him define both his target audience and the extent of the policy program that he recommended.

Gunnar Myrdal and the Failed Promises of the Postwar International Economic Settlement

Jamie Martin

Gunnar Myrdal’s An International Economy: Problems and Prospects (1956) was Myrdal’s most systematic account of the postwar international economic order. This essay argues that it should be read as a coming to terms with the failures of planning during the 1940s for an ambitious and redistributive postwar system of international economic governance. In his calls for a “welfare world,” Myrdal attempted to revive certain policy proposals that had been popular during the early years of the Second World War, but which had been pushed aside during the run-up to the Bretton Woods Conference and its aftermath.

Welfare World

Samuel Moyn

This essay revisits Gunnar Myrdal’s Rich Lands and Poor (1957) with special attention to his concept of “welfare world.” The essay reassesses the circumstances of Myrdal’s turn to the scaling up of the welfare state to the world stage, examines how Myrdal defended that vision, and goes on to try to ponder some of the reasons it did not come to pass. Also discussed is how Myrdal thought about the problem to solve, concluding that he took national parity as a proxy for overall human betterment.

An International Dilemma: The Postwar Utopianism of Gunnar Myrdal’s Beyond the Welfare State

Isaac Nakhimovsky

This article shows how Myrdal sought to build on the success of his An American Dilemma (1954) by showing American liberals that the conduct of Western states toward the developing postcolonial world was in conflict with their fundamental ideals. Judging by his contacts at Yale, Myrdal’s Beyond the Welfare State (1960) was aimed at an audience that, in the late 1950s, perceived America’s relationship to the postcolonial world to be at a critical juncture. Myrdal’s book offered them an attractive and reassuring, but ultimately unconvincing, narrative that reconciled the Western commitment to national welfare with international solidarity.

Asian Drama Revisited

Benjamin Siegel

Gunnar Myrdal's 1968 Asian Drama represented the culmination of nearly a decade's research into independent India's social and economic development. Purporting to be a comparative study of Asian economic problems, Myrdal's three-volume investigation centers primarily around planning and agrarian reform in the countries of South Asia. Greatly anticipated by Indian planners, the enormous and prevaricating study urged a "big push" for and an "institutional approach" to development, considering the remaking of economic and social institutions in tandem. Asian Drama was widely panned by Indian audiences, yet its eschewal of prevailing developmental dogmas gives it enduring relevance fifty years on.

From Welfare World to Global Poverty

Simon Reid-Henry

Gunnar Myrdal was one of the earliest and most vocal advocates of the need for international redistribution, or what he termed “welfare world”. As Myrdal himself pointed out the western welfare state was itself often a barrier to such redistribution internationally. Myrdal eventually came to see the western, and specifically swedish welfare state as a model for more generous flows of international aid, but this on primarily humanitarian grounds. The political lessons of the social democratic model which lay behind this evocation of international ethics thus fell away in order to make room for a more politically-realistic argument in the liberal (American) world Myrdal liked above all to address himself to. In so doing Myrdal, to some extent despite himself, came to represent the wider shift in international development ethics under way from the 1970s: away from questions of structural reform and economic redistribution and towards the minimalist yet universal guarantees of a basic minimum of subsistence, from welfare world to global poverty in other words.