The Human Story of Development: Alva Myrdal at the UN, 1949–1955

TitleThe Human Story of Development: Alva Myrdal at the UN, 1949–1955
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsSluga, Glenda
Book TitleInternational Organizations and Development, 1945–1990
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
CityBasingstoke, UK

When Swedish feminist and political activist Alva Myrdal (1902-1986) arrived in New York in February of 1949 to take up her unique position as “top-ranking” director of the United Nations Department of Social Welfare, the word “development” was relatively unfamiliar as a synonym for the modernizing impulse that would redefine the relationship between empires and colonies in the second half of the twentieth century. Instead, Myrdal’s arrival coincided with the testing of an international mission oriented around technical assistance, only belatedly assimilated into the larger concept of development. Thus, her international career offers historians a critical nexus for probing “the competing visions of modernity” that shaped international development in the early years of the UN. During Myrdal’s tenure as an executive in the UN bureaucracies, she was intent on a vision of development that addressed social and economic injustice, particularly regarding the status and advancement of women.

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