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A ‘Civilizing Task’: The International Labour Organization, Social Reform, and the Genealogy of Development

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This article challenges the standard narrative of the origins of development and its relationship to international law. That standard narrative depicts development as a post-war American invention and understood primarily in economic terms. In contrast, this article focuses on the sources of development thinking and practice in the international social reform movement of the early twentieth century, with particular attention to the activities of the International Labour Organization (ILO) between the two World Wars. In proposing a new genealogy of the ‘social’ origins of development, the article traces several concurrent trends: the ideas about social reform that inspired the ILO’s early work in Europe; its efforts to translate those ideas into new contexts in Asia, Africa, and the Americas; its championing of scientific management, rationalization, and economic planning; and its early adoption of the conceptual vocabulary of ‘development’ and ‘modernization’.

Affiliations: 1: Senior Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington School of Law WellingtonNew Zealand


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