Dr. Molly Geidel’s book has six chapters. The first three chapters explore how the 1960s Peace Corps “embodied a radicalized, gendered vision of modernity that linked economic integration to freedom, frontier masculinity, and global brotherhood.” (If you ever wondered why you hate academic writing, now you know.)
Chapter 1 examines Peace Corps “architects’ deployment of the gendered anxieties and fantasies of postwar social science in the conception, formation, staffing, and early volunteer recruitment efforts of the agency.”
The second chapter “attempts to understand how the Peace Corps inaugurated and codified new models for relating to racial and cultural others, using modernization doctrines to revise the romantic-racist vision of rebel masculinity that captured the popular imagination in the 1950s.
The third chapter turns to the women in the 1960s Peace Corps, analyzing fictional texts about “Peace Corps girls” alongside memoirs and other nonfiction accounts by and about women volunteers. “Here I demonstrate how they were accommodated and constrained by the discourses of development, global brotherhood, and frontier heroism produced by the agency in its iconic decade.”
Chapter 4 investigates how the civil rights and Black Power movements were influenced by liberal modernization theory and the ideal of heroic development work.
Chapter 5 traces the “migrations of the gendered modernization ethos beyond the Peace Corps, delineating the agency’s relationship to both the Vietnam War and the new left through an analysis of interviews and position papers from the Committee of Returned Volunteers, a national organization of returned volunteers who formulated increasingly radical critiques of U.S. foreign policy in the late sixties.” (Confession: I was a member of CRV.)
The last chapter “chronicles the agency’s work in and expulsion from Bolivia. It surveys the network of military and civilian government agencies, religious missionaries, and other development workers that spread across Bolivia in the 1960s, and reveals how the Peace Corps came to symbolize in the Bolivian popular imagination all these modernization efforts.”