Rural Development in the Twentieth Century: International Perspectives

Marc Frey (Bundeswehr U Munich) & Corinna R. Unger (Jacobs U Bremen & European U Institute, Florence), eds.

Publication Date

September 2017


Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag


English, German










The history of international development has largely been written as a history of ambitious modernization projects which, more often than not, seem to have failed.

  1. Research has focused on norms and institutions which manifest themselves in national or international contexts, while local or regional experiences have been eclipsed or have received only cursory treatment. There are good reasons for this, and they can best be explained by an ‘urban bias’, a term coined by Michael Lipton in the 1970s.
  2. Lacking or ignored representation and mobilization of rural populations, the dominance of urban needs and requirements in public discourses, the necessarily distanced views of institutions and organizations on societies, and, last but not least, the theoretical and practical imperative of development as industrialization have led, until today, to a neglect of rural spaces in discourses and practices of development policies and their history.

Until recently, more than half of the world’s population lived in rural areas predominately based on agriculture. Continuing poverty and often only partial access to basic material and social rights are still a widespread phenomenon in many rural areas.

Against this background, this theme issue puts the problems of rural and agrarian development squarely at the centre of interest. What kind of development initiatives were devised for rural areas and how did rural populations relate to the doctrines and practices of development? Which effects did the various programs have and what can they tell us about the history of development as seen through a rural lens? We seek to reconstruct diverse experiences in different regions of the world in order to answer these questions.

Together these essays show how intertwined politics, power, and development are and how central rural spaces and agricultural practices were to the developmental visions of local actors, national governments, and international organizations. More generally, we hope that the articles in this issue provoke new interest in and fruitful debates on the international history of rural development.

Biographical Notes

Prof. Dr. Marc Frey (Historical Institute, Bundeswehr University Munich, Germany)
Marc Frey is a professor of modern and contemporary history at the Bundeswehr University Munich. His research interests include European colonialism and de-colonialism, international policy of South East Asia, American foreign policy in the twentieth century, history of development policy and development cooperation, as well as civil society in comparative perspective.

Prof. Dr. Corinna R. Unger (Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany & European University Institute, Florence, Italy)
Corinna R. Unger is an associate professor of modern European history at Jacobs University Bremen and a professor of global and colonial history at the European University Institute in Florence. Her research interests include global, international, and colonial history, history of development, history of knowledge, Cold War and decolonization, modern India, as well as rural, agricultural, and environmental history.