Imperial and Transnational Developmentalisms in the Middle East
In “Imperial and Transnational Developmentalisms: Middle Eastern Interplays, 1880s–1960s”, his contribution to the newly released anthology The Development Century: A Global History (Cambridge University Press), Professor Cyrus Schayegh focuses on the case of the Ottoman Empire and its League of Nations Mandate successors. Going beyond the dominant view that the world of development is composed of colonies/postcolonial countries and imperial/postimperial metropoles, he analyses the interplays of developmentalisms in the region in all their complexity and subtlety.
Professor Schayegh contributes to this volume with a conceptual intervention that relocates the history of development by moving away from the dominant historiography. The latter rests mainly on a twofold assumption, which is usually discussed in the context of empire and decolonisation: the world of development was composed of Western imperial metropoles and their overseas colonies, and, after the end of empires, of nation-states in the Global North and the Global South. As Professor Schayegh argues, “recent interest in the question of continuity and change from colonial to postcolonial times, although well taken, inadvertently keeps our eyes glued on colonies/postcolonial countries and Northern imperial metropoles. And historians interested in international development organisations linking Northern and Southern countries see the objective of those organisations as the Global South” (p. 62). His chapter therefore offers possibilities to rescale and rearrange the axes along which power relations have been examined.
Examples from the Middle-East, stretching temporally from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, show how power relations and developmental networks interplayed both geographically and across three registers: a vertical axis (imperial), a horizontal axis (subimperial and across nation-states), and a transnational axis which intersected and moved back and forth between the two other scales. Professor Schayegh highlights that developmentalism emerged as an “attitude” that was used by a great range of actors to frame economic futures and the political viability of polities. These phenomena did not take root within empire-colony or North-South binaries and were of a much more complex nature.
Interimperial competition also led to the emergence of what other scholars in the field have called “defensive developmentalism”, such as the Ottoman Empire’s resolve to develop its remaining lands after territorial losses consecutive to the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877–1878. The Ottoman state creatively adapted European Orientalist and civilisational discourses that reframed its own populations as being in need of “developmental guidance”. Professor Schayegh stresses that developmentalism in competition with Europe was not only an economic-strategic concern, but became part of an “existential” dimension of the Ottoman polity as well as of emergent nation-states like Iran. It was a “defensive” response to other imperial powers that played a role in restructuring core-periphery relations.
Another interplay consists in subimperial connections fostered horizontally by colonised subjects through their own networks while simultaneously engaging vertical relations with the Ottoman state’s developmental projects. Professor Schayegh illustrates this through the example of Zionist collectives like the Yishuvs and their variant of “developmentalism”, which simultaneously engaged in intra-imperial politics within the Ottoman framework, negotiated with Britain around British wartime and territorial-economic interests in Palestine, and engaged with the United States of America through the large Jewish diasporic networks. Yishuvi agricultural developmentalism was multilayered and not just being concerned with a nation-state future.
The complexity of the crisscrossed and blurry axes around which development-oriented networks operated is further illustrated by a discussion on the numerous education and knowledge projects established in Beirut for the purpose of research and policy prescription on development. In the 1920–30s, American influence came in the form of the American University of Beirut (AUB, formerly known as the US Syrian Protestant College until 1920) and the Rockefeller Foundation (RF)-funded Social Science Research Section (SSRS). This was extended later in 1952 by another Ford Foundation (FF) funded endeavour, the Economic Research Institute (ERI). These developmentalist institutions did not merely reflect American internationalist aspirations; they were also tied to Beirut’s prominence as a nodal network of developmental projects in the region. Their action also revealed tensions between, on the one hand, the emergent modernisation theories of the mid-twentieth century and their universalist claims and, on the other hand, their own culturalist claims as the leading repository of regional data and knowledge production on development in the region. Meanwhile, the debate over such knowledge and its role in the political future of the competing national interests was contested, including within the context of Beirut-Yishuvi transnational actors, where the hierarchy of developmental data and their legitimatacy were much debated.
Through such examples, Professor Schayegh clearly illustrates “how the history of development transcends the metropole-colony and Global North-South dyads and the story of international organisations linking them” (p. 82).
Full citation of Professor Schayegh’s chapter:
Schayegh, Cyrus. “Imperial and Transnational Developmentalisms: Middle Eastern Interplays, 1880s–1960s.” Chapter. In The Development Century: A Global History, edited by Stephen J. Macekura and Erez Manela, 61–82. Global and International History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. doi:10.1017/9781108678940.004.
By Aditya Kiran Kakati, PhD candidate in International History and Anthropology and Sociology