Rural Poverty and Poverty Knowledge and the Fight against Poverty: West German Transnational Development Aid in Southeast Asia during the 1970s and 1980s


West German relations with the “Global South” beginning in the 1970s has been a subject of recent interest to historians, who have been increasingly interested in investigating the “Shock of the Global”, caused by developments such as the Vietnam War and the oil price crises, and its effects on West German politics and civil society. Researchers focused on the “old” Federal Republic have, moreover, also been in search for “German places in a world growing ever smaller”. Recent approaches to global history and entangled history have indeed opened up new perspectives on topics involving the post-war world, including the Cold War, decolonization, and international development aid.

Against this background, the project is focused on the theoretical understanding of poverty and “underdevelopment” in the “Third World” as well as the practices in West German transnational developmental aid to fight against poverty. In particular, its research object is rural poverty and the development efforts of West German actors in Southeast Asia since the 1970s, which were a decade of radical change. In the research, questions will be explored such as: How was rural poverty in Southeast Asia discursively constructed and identified through the social, economic, and ecological sciences? Under what international, political, and socio-economic conditions was it perceived as a “global” crisis from the perspectives of West German development experts and international aid organizations? Just as importantly, development practices against poverty will be examined in the empirical sense.. Using examples from the Agricultural Development Project in West Sumatra/West Pasaman, the Transmigration Area Development Project in East Kalimantan, and the Philippine-German Crop Protection Programme, the project will analyze the following issues: How did academic discourse on poverty shape the practice of development experts and aid agencies in the field, and how did development practices of on-site works, in turn, have an effect on the evolution of new, practice-oriented international development policy by researchers and experts engaging in the fight against globalpoverty? How did transnational and local actors cooperate in the accrual and translation of such information on rural development?

This study, first, seeks to illustrate, from the perspectives of the history of knowledge and global history, the reciprocity of theoretical and practical knowledge on poverty as well as the making and the transfer of such knowledge via transnational development networks. And the project, secondly, deals with the interdependencies between West German and Southeast Asian actors in the conceptualization of rural poverty and the translation of theoretical poverty discourses at the global level into local practices of poverty reduction.

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