Joseph Hodge, now teaching at West Virginia University, was trained as a historian
before he turned to Development Studies and that background, coupled with a growing
frustration with Development Studies discourse, led him to seek the roots of later theory
and practice in the writings and experience of the professionals and scientists, and
especially the agriculturalists, deployed in increasing numbers by the Colonial Office as the
twentieth century wore on. He argues that "the most striking feature of British colonialism
in the twentieth century is the growing confidence it placed in the use of science and
expertise, joined with the new bureaucratic capacities of the state, to develop the natural
and human resources of the empire and manage the perceived problems and disorder
generated by colonial rule." (p8). His book "follows the origins, course and legacies of the
strategic engagement between scientific and technical expertise, development and the state
at the climax of the British colonial empire." (pi 1).
For Hodge the story really begins with Joseph Chamberlain at the Colonial Office
although he begins with a competent survey of earlier discourses of colonial development
and ideas about "the tropics". The first half of the twentieth century saw a proliferation
of committees and consultations and sometime fierce disagreements about appropriate
goals and practice for science, medicine and education in Britain's colonial possessions. Concerns about ecology and the environment go back much farther than most of today's
young activists realise. "Increasingly, British colonial periodicals and agricultural
journals in the mid-to-late 1930s and 1940s were filled with articles and discussions on
the dangers of soil erosion and ecological degradation. Many warned of a pending
environmental crisis." (p 163). The emphasis shifted from "developing the Imperial
estates" in order to augment British wealth and power towards a concern with surplus
population, 'detribalised Africans' and a concern with native health, nutrition and living
conditions, concerns leading up to the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940.
Well intentioned efforts intensified after the War. Unfortunately, the Groundnuts Scheme
was a disaster and many lesser known schemes foundered in the encounter with local
non-compliance and mutual and increasingly politicised mistrust, between Africans and
the officials and 'experts'. Bureaucratic confusion, expert arrogance and professional
rivalries further undermined the best-laid plans. Hodge avers that "deep rifts emerged
between colonial technical officers and their administrative cousins." (p227).
Despite this very mixed record, "many of the men and women who sat on the Colonial
Office's advisory bodies or who had their professional start as part of the colonial
technical services would go on to enjoy prominent careers with the United Nations and
other donor agencies. The agrarian doctrines of development laid out by them would, in
turn, become deeply embedded in international programs and institutions in the decades
following the end of colonial rule." (p 256).
Over 100 pages of endnotes and bibliography testify to the thoroughness of Hodge's
research. He makes extensive use of the collections at Rhodes House and of Colonial
Office files at Kew. The resulting book is perhaps too long and slightly repetitive for the
general reader. And it is a pity that Hodge did not make more use of the memoirs of and
interviews with the men who were on the spot. Although he makes reference in general
terms to the importance of their experience, the book has a strong metropolitan bias.
Hodge quotes without comment the remark of a Colonial Surveyor, N B Favell, that,
"In my opinion this Colonial Empire was won on a classical education and lost on a scientific
education". OSPA readers might like to debate that contention. Meanwhile, we can all be
grateful that Hodge has done so much to fill what used to be a large hole in the literature of
the Colonial Service by this careful study of the scientific and professional departments.