Decentering Cold War Social Science: Alva Myrdal’s Social Scientific Internationalism, 1950-1955

Friday, 20 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Per WISSELGREN, Umeå University, Sweden
Early post-World War II international social science was marked by paradoxical tendencies. On the one hand, it experienced a rapid expansion underblown by a new optimistic internationalism in the wake of WWII (Iriye 2002; Sluga 2013). On the other hand, many of the initiatives taken were increasingly framed and affected by the emerging Cold War tensions and processes of decolonization (Heilbron et al 2008; Solovey & Hamilton 2012). Embedded in these cross-currents of internationalism and geopolitics, UNESCO’s Department of Social Sciences (SSD) became a transnational key player (Selcer 2011, Rangil 2013).

The aim of this paper is to contribute to our understanding of UNESCO’s SSD and its role for Cold War International Social Science, by analyzing Alva Myrdal’s social scientific internationalism during her term as Director of the SSD, 1950-1955. Empirically, the historical and sociological analysis is centred round 15 key texts in which Myrdal explicitly articulated her ideas and visions regarding international social science in general and UNESCO’s SSD in particular.

The argument of the paper is developed in three teps. First it is shown that a relatively distinct ”core” in Myrdal’s social scientific internationalism can be discerned and that these core ideas in important respects overlapped with the dominating view according to which U.S. social science constituted the unquestioned center and model of international social science. In comparison with her predecessors, however, Myrdal promoted a more interdisciplinary, applied and, not least, polycentric approach to international social science – a difference that became increasingly emphasized over the years. Third and finally, it is argued that Myrdal’s polycentric internationalism was based on a power-sensitive analysis of the geography of knowledge, according to which the Indian case emerged as a theoretically important alternative node in the decentered international social science envisioned by Myrdal.