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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Research Centre for the Study of Democratic Cultures and Politics Events & Colloquium

Book-in-progress talk - MOLLY GEIDEL (University of Manchester): "Women in Development and Feminist Documentary"

When:Mo 22-05-2023 16:00 - 18:00

This is event is hosted by the Research Centre for the Study of Democratic Cultures and Politics.


Geidel’s second book, The Development Film in the Americas, builds on the history of gender and development begun in her first book, Peace Corps Fantasies (2015). This book tracks the emergence, dominance, and decline of a cinematic genre she terms “the development film,” the schematic documentary form that accompanied and bolstered the mid-20th century project of capitalist modernization.

The typical development film opens with shots of stagnant villages not yet awakened by the inexorable forces of modernity: disheveled women in cramped interior spaces, “living out their days,” malevolent medicine women turning trusting villagers against life-saving modern cures, and dirty half-dressed children lingering in shadowy doorways. Over the course of the film, these early scenes, whose monolithic bleakness is corroborated by an authoritative voiceover, morph into triumphant sequences of clean, orderly men receiving diplomas, working alongside machines, building a school, spraying DDT, settling “underpopulated” areas, and engaging in inaudible democratic speech.

The Development Film in the Americas identifies the process by which these scenes were imagined by midcentury filmmakers and institutions, and how they congealed into an instantly recognizable gendered shorthand for the universal condition of underdevelopment and the universal cures of capitalist self-help and chemical agriculture.

These films in an important sense were Cold War development. They constituted the only locations where the gendered prescriptions of postwar modernization theorists succeeded, and they supplied the ethnographic data from which development planners learned. As development’s focus turned toward women as well as public- private partnerships, development films changed, pioneering an ethnographic-observational style that purported, finally, to give voice to its women subjects.

About the speaker

Dr Molly Geidel is a Senior Lecturer in American Cultural History at the University of Manchester, UK.

Earlier in the day, she will also give a publishing workshop for PhD candidates of the Research Centre.