More than Food – Histories of Humanitarian Aid


Literacy project, Mocambique, 1985. Photo: Anita and Göran Sallnäs

Organizers: Arbetarrörelsens arkiv och bibliotek, Samtidshistoriska institutet vid Södertörns Högskola, Historiska institutionen på Stockholms Universitet

Location: Arbetarrörelsens arkiv och bibliotek, Flemingsberg

Three presentations of ongoing research projects, and a concluding discussion.

Improving the World: Swedish Development Assistance, 1945-1976

Urban Lundberg, Mattias Tydén and Annika Berg, Stockholm University

The purpose of our project is to investigate the emergence, consolidation and transformation of Swedish development assistance from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s. This period covers the era in which the United Nations launched its first development program, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) was established as a public authority with administrative responsibility for Swedish development assistance, and finally the fulfillment of the ambition to commit one percent of the Swedish GDP to development aid. Despite Sweden’s standing in the international aid community, there is still a noticeable shortage of research on Swedish aid governance based on public and private historical archives. Our approach differs from previous studies in the sense that we treat development aid as a political process. Our basic question deals with the interplay between policy formation and implementation. Building on theoretical perspectives derived from historical and social science policy research, we trace the aid issues from principal debates and political decisions to their actual execution on the local level. What happened when the Swedish government’s aid policies were converted into local field projects in the developing countries.

The History of Voluntary Food Aid and the Case of Ethiopian Famine Relief

Georgina Brewis, University College of London and Norbert Götz, Södertörn University

The presentation gives an overview of the project ”The Moral Economy of Global Civil Society: A History of Voluntary Food Aid”, funded by the Swedish Research Council 2013-2016. It discusses how the project links civil society action to a newly understood concept of moral economy, and how this is applied to various cases from the Napoleonic Wars to our time. The presentation examines in greater depth one particular case, namely that of food aid to Ethiopia during the famine 1983-85. In particular, the networks which emerged as part of the high-profile transnational fundraising effort are analysed, with special emphasis on the role of musicians and celebrities.

Food and Agriculture in the Cold War World

Susan Levine, University of Illinois at Chicago

The presentation will focus on the emergence of an international food aid system administered by private agencies but based on public resources – notably United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) surplus commodities. This relationship has been variously characterized as humanitarian – helping hungry people as well as American farmers – or as a cynical tool of American geopolitical interests, at best ineffective at alleviating world hunger and at worst an attempt to export American technocratic modernization, a means to prop up undemocratic regimes and a serious detriment to local markets. In a certain sense both assessments are true but the close relationship among private agencies, the USDA, and US Cold War aims was not a foregone conclusion in 1945. If we want to understand why a rather broad coalition of American and international interests – agricultural, political, and humanitarian – looked to the US government – and particularly the USDA – as the best option for post-war food relief, we need to understand the immediate historical context, the particular motivation of those individuals involved in developing large-scale food relief operations, and, finally, at the alternatives available at the time. The early history of CARE, one of the major U.S. post-war relief agencies, offers a glimpse into how and why American surplus commodities became so central to private as well as public food aid systems.

Why Studying the Histories of Humanitarian Aid? – Concluding Discussion

Panel: Katarina Friberg, Södtertörn University, Magnus Walan, Diakonia, TBA

The seminar will be held in English, and is open to the general public

For questions, contact jonas.soderqvist[snabel-a]