What Is Peace Corps Fantasies All About?

Dr. Geidel entitled her Introduction, “The Seductive Culture of Development” taking the title from a line by Nanda Shrestha in his In the Name of Development, “Are we ever going to realize the deep wounds that the seductive culture of development leaves on us? If we ever do, what can we do to heal such wounds?”

In 1962, Nanda Shrestha was in sixth-grade, Geidel tells us, quoting from Shrestha’s 1997 memoir, when the Peace Corps arrived in Nepal, bringing with them “fancy chairs, desks, and tables” to inaugurate the first U.S.,-run vocational schools in Nepal and bikas, the ideology of development.”

Dr. Geidel goes onto write (on the first page of her Introduction) “bikas not only created needs it could not satisfy, but also manufactured new subjectivity and new, terrible understandings of the conditions in which he and his community live.”

Shrestha’s identification of Peace Corps development ventures a source of profound anxiety and social fragmentation might seen difficult to reconcile with the agency’s  place in the U.S. popular imagination, Dr. Geidel goes onto write, then sums up, “However, the 1960s Peace Crops embodied this contradiction, mobilizing the idealism of its volunteers in a global modernization project whose explicit aim was to destroy ‘traditional’ habits, values, and communities.”

Dr. Geidel says next what her book is all about:

This book takes as its subject these contradictory impulses, examining the ideological work performed by the 1960s Peace Corps along with its impact on the “millions of people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America” who were, in the words of Peace Corps founding staffer Harris Wofford, “taught, tended, organized, irritated, charmed, and otherwise stirred to claim their rightful place in the twentieth century.” In this book, I offer a genealogy of how the imperative Wofford articulates, to create and regulate individual subjectivity through heroic development work, became intelligible and desirable in the United States and around the world.

Why is this man smiling?


photo by Rowland Scherman


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  • Miss Molly fails as a writer, and true reporter…where are the facts to support her claims? She has none and will keep to her anti Peace Corps position…anything to get her Ph.D. Miss Molly, did you check to see if there were any Indian women in Bolivia that claim they were operated on by Volunteers…of course not, because none exist. Had you been in Bolivia in the 60’s and 70’s as I had…the Soviet medical doctors would have told you the claim was propaganda from the East Germans and Cubans…and a lie told enough times becomes the truth… Miss Molly, go back and do your homework, and the University of Wisconsin should check their facts!

  • I agree that this book lacks a comprehensive perspective. The facts she cites are selective and support her particular political framework. However, Peace Corps, from its inception, did not consistently document the work being done in the field, both successes and failures. So, it is easy to pick and choose among the limited resources available. Guidel did cite Peace Corps collections at the National Archives in College Park, MD; the RPCV collection at the JFK Library, the Anthropology Peace Corps Collection at the Smithsonian Archives. She also interviewed some sixteen RPCVs. These are authentic sources, but, as I have said so many times, they are incomplete. They deal only with a fragmented part of Peace Corps history. Not only did and does Peace Corps not systemically document its field work, but it rarely, as far as I can tell, corrects its “philosophy” based on the varied experiences of its Volunteers.
    Evidently, Volunteers are still being trained to believe that women in traditional cultures have practices based solely on superstition. That was not true in 1963 and it is not true today, although it apparently is a “superstition” widespread in Peace Corps circles. If an author, such as Guidel, exploits such cultural ecocentrism, that could be legitimate.

    There other sources cited by Guidel. Some were by Peace Corps people; many were about Peace Corps and had no relation at all to reality. Guide effortlessly lumps all of these together. One major factual error is really alarming. She does speak about a program in Bolivia that gave the contraceptive IUD to Bolivian women. However, she then switches and calls this program sterilization, without any explanation.

  • John,

    Although Dr. Geidel seems to connect the PC to some disturbing US foreign policies during the 60’s she ignores all the “counter culture” activities and protests from PCV’s in regards to the war in Vietnam among other things.

    As a RPCV I considered the PC as the positive side of our country’s overseas programs and still do.

  • Sjywalker,
    Quite the contrary, Geidel cites the Committee of Returned Volunteers, extensively. Two of her interviewees were the founders of CRV. I did not support the Committee. I do not think that one group has the right to claim to speak for all RPCVs.

  • You are correct Joanne, or one individual speaking for all of us, not even Sarge did that. My point concerning Miss Molly, did she ever talk to any Indian women in Bolivia to confirm that sterilization was being practiced…check the facts! Course not!

  • Bob,

    Geidel did visit Bolivia. She references one PCV woman who related that “some” Bolivian women had asked for information and help in controlling their fertility. I think that her evidence on this point is weak. The problem is that there was a movie that talks about “Progress Volunteers” and the movie and the reality are not clearly separated, at least as far as I could tell. . I couldn’t figure out which uses the term IUD, a contraceptive, and sterilization interchangeably. She does quote from various feminists in Bolivia on the topic.

    The book is dense with observations, some facts, analysis,and fictional references, such as movies and plays. I found it extremely difficult to follow. However, one really needs to read it before commenting. I read the references, notes and bibliography, first. i will reread the book many times to try and sort it all out. My concern is that it may be in use in college courses.

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