Peace Corps Fantasies
How Development Shaped the Global Sixties
Critical American Studies
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
320 pages, 140.00 x 216.00 mm
- ISBN: 9780816692224
- Published: September 2015
To tens of thousands of volunteers in its first decade, the Peace Corps was “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” In the United States’ popular imagination to this day, it is a symbol of selfless altruism and the most successful program of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. But in her provocative new cultural history of the 1960s Peace Corps, Molly Geidel argues that the agency’s representative development ventures also legitimated the violent exercise of American power around the world and the destruction of indigenous ways of life.
In the 1960s, the practice of development work, embodied by iconic Peace Corps volunteers, allowed U.S. policy makers to manage global inequality while assuaging their own gendered anxieties about postwar affluence. Geidel traces how modernization theorists used the Peace Corps to craft the archetype of the heroic development worker: a ruggedly masculine figure who would inspire individuals and communities to abandon traditional lifestyles and seek integration into the global capitalist system.
Drawing on original archival and ethnographic research, Geidel analyzes how Peace Corps volunteers struggled to apply these ideals. The book focuses on the case of Bolivia, where indigenous nationalist movements dramatically expelled the Peace Corps in 1971. She also shows how Peace Corps development ideology shaped domestic and transnational social protest, including U.S. civil rights, black nationalist, and antiwar movements.
Introduction: The Seductive Culture of Development
1. Fantasies of Brotherhood: Modernization Theory and the Making of the Peace Corps
2. Integration and Its Limits: From Romantic Racism to Peace Corps Authenticity
3. Breaking the Bonds: Decolonization, Domesticity, and the Peace Corps Girl
4. Bringing the Peace Corps Home: Development in the Black Freedom Movement
5. Ambiguous Liberation: The Vietnam War and the Committee of Returned Volunteers
6. The Peace Corps, Population Control, and Cultural Nationalist Resistance in 1960s Bolivia
Conclusion: Heroic Development in an Age of Decline
"Peace Corps Fantasies illuminates the normative force and gendered imperatives of U. S. endeavors to fortify liberal internationalism against anticolonial struggles for freedom."—Alyosha Goldstein, University of New Mexico
"This provocative, well-researched, theory-driven cultural history is on solid ground in asserting that Peace Corps volunteers were agents of a Cold War strategy."—CHOICE
"Scholars of development should welcome this effort to critique the Peace Corps and provide insights into some neglected narratives, while others may find their interest sufficiently piqued to investigate the book’s theoretical foundation."—Journal of American History
"Geidel brings a unique perspective on how the concept of masculinity and dominance shaped the development narrative. The intricacy with which she ties together the domestic and international Peace Corps’ actions is admirable and makes this a useful text for scholars of modernization and development, the United States in the 1960s, and ethnic and gender studies."—H-Net Reviews