Theses Doctoral

The American Hour: US Thinkers and the Problem of Decolonization, 1948-1983

Meaney, Thomas Mallory

This study examines how decolonization, both as a political problem and as a historical periodization, figured in the postwar thought of a group of liberal American thinkers who considered the decline of European empires to be a more significant historical phenomenon than the Cold War. These figures — in policy-suggesting venues such as the Council on Foreign Relations as well as in the departments of universities — entertained a variety of approaches for how to handle the “colonial problem.” After examining the late 1940s and 1950s, when decolonization was still considered manageable by these US elites, the study moves inside Cold War-era universities to show how hinge-thinkers in several disciplines and subfields came to view decolonization less as a process that could be governed than a crisis that required new thinking. The figures examined include Rupert Emerson, Samuel Huntington, Clifford Geertz, and others who negotiated European colonial knowledge and transformed the focus of their disciplines, as well as the relationship of their disciplines to the US state. The Conclusion examines the way these American thinkers accounted for what was widely perceived as the tragedy of the Third World liberation, and how they theorized about the period in retrospect. The study ends by arguing that the emergence of “globalization” as a concept in the early 1980s was significantly conditioned by the withdrawal of liberal political hopes for the future of the Global South, where they were substituted with market-based imaginaries and panaceas.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Moyn, Samuel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 14, 2017