Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines of Development and the Legacy of British Colonialism

By Watts, Michael | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines of Development and the Legacy of British Colonialism


Watts, Michael, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines of Development and the Legacy of British Colonialism. By Joseph Moran Hodge. Series in Ecology and History. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007. Pp. xiv, 302; 23 illustrations. $26.95 paper.

Triumph of the Expert, an important synoptic account of the origins, function, and politics of scientific expertise in the British late colonial project, draws together a number of key theoretical and substantive themes not only in the study of colonial Africa, but more inclusively in the emergent field of what one might call "genealogies of development." Hodge was a student of Queen's historian Robert Shenton, and he is something of a convert to Shenton and Michael Cowen's books Doctrines of Development, an influential text that represents one of the bodies of work-what one might call historical and discursive approaches to the origins and proliferation of development ideas and practices-that Triumph of the Expert engages. Another related field, drawing from history of science, cultural theory, and technology studies among others, is the role of the expert and expert knowledge (one thinks here of Timothy Mitchell's book The Rule of Experts (2002), but it encompasses a broad swath of theoretical positions from epistemic communities to development knowledge to actor-network theory). Central to these lines of research are questions of the construction of particular bodies of knowledge-population control or desertification-the manner in which some ideas and practices become hegemonic, and the knotty and prismatic relations between knowledge, institutions, power, and practice. There is a final body of work to which Triumph of the Expert speaks and contributes, namely a rethinking of the colonial project itself and by implication historical accounts of empire and globalization-the moniker is "tensions of empire" taken from the Stoler and Cooper volume1 of the same name-focusing on the contradictions, contingencies, and contestations within this project, and not least what one might call the dialectics of the metropole and periphery, the idea that ideas and practices circulate within a complex political and institutional field encompassing the universes of the colonizer and the colonized alike.

Hodge opens his account with the post-Enlightenment meaning of development as improvement through state practice embodied in Joseph Chamberlain's late-nineteenth-century vision of "imperial estates," a project that while contested and in a sense undermined by liberal critics, laid the foundation for an expansive, and in some sense Utopian, deployment of scientific colonialism. Between 1895 and 1914 the British Colonial Office, in the face of bureaucratic weakness and internal and indigenous political resistance (the "wider fissures of colonial practice in Africa" as Hodge puts it) did lay important foundation stones for a future science of tropical development, most obviously the Imperial Institute of Agriculture and in a nascent tropical medical system. In the wake of the First World War, Hodge charts (largely through the efforts of Leopold Amery and the establishment of the Colonial Advisory Council on Agriculture and Animal Health) the tentative ways in which science and colonialism were "inaugurated and institutionalised. …

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