(Thanks to Janet Lee (Ethiopia 1974-76) for the ‘heads up’ on this new book about the Peace Corps.)
How the 1960s Peace Corps’ gendered modernization ideology shaped social movements across the Americas
In a provocative cultural history of the 1960s Peace Corps, Molly Geidel argues that the agency’s representative development ventures legitimated the violent exercise of American power around the world and the destruction of indigenous ways of life.
Peace Corps Fantasies illuminates the normative force and gendered imperatives of U. S. endeavors to fortify liberal internationalism against anticolonial struggles for freedom. -Quote from Alyosh Goldstein, University of New Mexico
Description of the book on the back cover
To tens of thousands of volunteers in its first decade, the Peace Corps was “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” In the United States’ popular imagination to this day, it is a symbol of selfless altruism and the most successful program of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. But in her provocative new cultural history of the 1960s Peace Corps, Molly Geidel argues that the agency’s representative development ventures also legitimated the violent exercise of American power around the world and the destruction of indigenous ways of life.
In the 1960s, the practice of development work, embodied by iconic Peace Corps volunteers, allowed U.S. policy makers to manage global inequality while assuaging their own gendered anxieties about postwar affluence. Geidel traces how modernization theorists used the Peace Corps to craft the archetype of the heroic development worker: a ruggedly masculine figure who would inspire individuals and communities to abandon traditional lifestyles and seek integration into the global capitalist system.
Drawing on original archival and ethnographic research, Geidel analyzes how Peace Corps volunteers struggled to apply these ideals. The book focuses on the case of Bolivia, where indigenous nationalist movements dramatically expelled the Peace Corps in 1971. She also shows how Peace Corps development ideology shaped domestic and transnational social protest, including U.S. civil rights, black nationalist, and antiwar movements.
The main contention of this book is that the Peace Corps embodied and disseminated a particularly heroic and compelling iteration of modernization theory in the 1960s, due largely to the promise of masculinity and brotherhood it embodied. This gendered modernization project allowed the United States to maintain global hegemony.
Introduction: The Seductive Culture of Development
1. Fantasies of Brotherhood: Modernization Theory and the Making of the Peace Corps
2. Integration and Its Limits: From Romantic Racism to Peace Corps Authenticity
3. Breaking the Bonds: Decolonization, Domesticity, and the Peace Corps Girl
4. Bringing the Peace Corps Home: Development in the Black Freedom Movement
5. Ambiguous Liberation: The Vietnam War and the Committee of Returned Volunteers
6. The Peace Corps, Population Control, and Cultural Nationalist Resistance in 1960s Bolivia
Conclusion: Heroic Development in an Age of Decline
Publication Year: 2015
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
Molly Geidel holds the equivalent of a tenure-track appointment at the University of Manchester in England. Her official title is Lecturer in Twentieth Century American Cultural History in the Division of English, American Studies and Creative Writing.