The British Empire Library

Triumph Of The Expert: Agrarian Doctrines Of Development And The Legacies Of British Colonialism

by Joseph Morgan Hodge

Courtesy of OSPA

Terry Barringer (Editor and Bibliographer, Cambridge; formerly OSPA Research Officer)
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.

British Empire Book
Joseph Morgan Hodge
Ohio University Press
978 08214 1718 8


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