International Law from Below: Development, Social Movements, and Third World Resistance

By B. Rajagopal | Go to book overview

3
Laying the groundwork: the Mandate system

The developing countries have undergone extraordinary social, political, legal, cultural, and economic transformations under the banner of ‘development,’ during the last fifty years, following decolonization. ‘Modern’ institutions, norms, and practices have sought to displace ‘traditional’ ones for the sake of achieving efficiency, justice, or prosperity. So powerful is ‘development’ as a regime of representation, that everything that relates to the non-western world is governed by its logic, from popular media images (slums and hungry children) to virtually all governmental practices. Indeed, the very term ‘developing world,’ reflects the power of the idea. According to received understandings of how this extraordinary social transformation came about, development discourse is entirely the product of the political, institutional, and moral sensibilities of the postWWII era. In this view, colonialism as a politico-economic system was succeeded by development, in a clean break somewhere around the 1950s, as the colonial territories were gaining independence and began to focus on nation-building.

This narrative of the historical evolution of development as a discourse has puzzled development scholars: how did/could such a sophisticated and complex regime of representation as development suddenly come about and take root as the governing logic of the international system? As one recent critical study of development puts it, “generally speaking, the period between 1920 and 1950 is still ill understood from the vantage point of the overlap of colonial and developmentalist regimes of representation.”1 It is the argument in this chapter that it is the Mandate system of the League of Nations that provides the institutional link in the transition between colonialism and development. In particular, it is suggested that the whole range of post-WWII international institutions from developmental, trade to human-rights ones – owes its origins to the Mandate system. This argument is substantiated through an analysis

1 Escobar (1995) 27.

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