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Provincialising embedded liberalism: film, orientalism and the reconstruction of world order

  • ROB AITKEN

Abstract

This article explores conceptions of post-war world order promoted in appeals to ‘filmic internationalism’ – an Anglo-American movement of filmmakers, artists, and cultural bureaucrats who became committed to social-realist documentary films throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Examining this movement, I argue, allows us to reflect on the cultural consititution of embedded liberalsim, a vision of post-war order pursued not only in political-economic but also in cultural terms. Moreover, retelling the story of filmic internationalism also unsettles our accounts of embedded liberalism by foregrounding the lingering importance of imperial governmentality to interwar conversations regarding post-war world order. Traces of imperial governmentality are visible in both the ways in which filmmakers conveived the cultural agency of ‘other’ populations as well as the universal conceit with which they promoted a form of social governance. Recovering these ‘other’ stories, I argue, is a critical gesture which provincialises embedded liberalism by situating it in a more diverse set of contexts than is often acknowledged.

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1 Quoted in Anthony, Scott, Night Mail (London: British Film Institute, 2007), p. 9 .

2 Seabury, William Marson, The Public and the Motion Picture (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926), p. 161 .

3 This method involves re-assembling the narratives and self-conceptions of the film movement by drawing upon writing by film activists and enthusiasts in archival material and in the range of journals, book publications and newsletters that were central to the movement as it assembled a network of appreciation and reception. For a similar method, see Sexton, Jamie, Alternative Film Culture in Inter-War Britain (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2008) .

4 See Ruggie, John, ‘International Regimes, Transactions and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order’, International Organization, 36:2 (1982), pp. 379415 ; and Polanyi, Karl, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston: Beacon Press, 1944) .

5 Ruggie, ‘International Regimes’, p. 393.

6 See, for example, Blyth, Mark, Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) ; Kirschner, Jonathan, ‘Keynes, Capital Mobility and the Crisis of Embedded Liberalism’, Review of International Political Economy, 6:3 (1999), pp. 313337 ; Steffek, Jens, Embedded Liberalism and Its Critics: Justifying Global Governance in the American Century (London: Palgrave, 2006) ; and Best, Jacqueline, The Limits of Transparency: Ambiguity and the History of International Finance (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2005) .

7 For a general history of American popular culture in the post-war period, see Denning, Michael, Culture in the Age of Three Worlds (London: Verso, 2004) . Bruised by the restrictive policies of the New Deal, American business turned to the new mass media and the new scientific domains of marketing and opinion analysis in order to reassert some influence over mass and popular culture. The classic history of advertising the reassertion of corporate hegemony is Bird, William L. Jr., ‘Better Living’: Advertising, Media and the New Vocabulary of Business Leadership, 1935–1955 (Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999) . See also, Cynthia Lee Henthorn, who has documented the role of American business and public relations during World War II and the post-war period in ways which contributed to an ideological struggle against the New Deal. Henthorn, Cynthia Lee, From Submarines to Suburbs: Selling a Better America, 1939–1959 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006) . Formed in the early moments of the war to coordinate the role of the advertising industry in wartime information efforts, and to counter anti-advertising and anti-business sentiment associated with the New Deal, the Advertising Council emerged as one of the most important private groups concerned to mobilise and produce overseas public information related to Cold War images of America. See Lykins, Daniel L., From Total War to Total Diplomacy: The Advertising Council and the Construction of the Cold War Consensus (Westport: Praeger, 2003), p. 2 . See also, Griffith, Robert, ‘The Selling of America: The Advertising Council and American Politics, 1942–1960’, Business History Review, LVII:2 (1983), pp. 388412 and the Advertising Council, ‘People's Capitalism: A Contribution to US Overseas Information’, Advertising Council: Annual Report 1955–56 (New York: Advertising Council, 1956) .

8 Barnhisel, Greg, ‘Perspectives USA and the Cultural Cold War: Modernism in Service of the State’, Modernism/Modernity, 14:4 (2007), p. 730 . As put by Giles Scott Smith, this was an explicit strategy designed ‘to normalize the view that the USA and Western Europe belonged to the same intellectual-cultural heritage’. Scott-Smith, Giles, The Politics of Apolitical Culture: Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA and the Post-War American Hegemony (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 6 .

9 The Ford Foundation, for example, assisted the distribution of American intellectual products abroad. Its activities, notes one historian, ‘meshed with the liberal view of American's mission in the world. The Foundation was deeply involved, and invested, in the US project of cultural diplomacy.’ See Barnhisel, ‘Perspectives USA’, p. 737.

10 Scott-Smith, Giles, The Politics of Apolitical Culture: Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA and the Post-War American Hegemony (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 2 . See also the essays collected in Scott-Smith, Giles and Krabbendam, Hans (eds), The Cultural Cold War in Western Europe 1945–1950 (London: Frank Cass, 2003) .

11 Petras, James, ‘The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited’, Monthly Review (1999) .

12 ‘Whatever their origin’, notes Schneider, ‘these various modes of creative expression formed part of an overall portrayal of the US as a country of individual freedoms, opportunity and tolerance.’ See Schneider, Cynthia, Culture Communicates: US Diplomacy that Works (Amsterdam: Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Discussion Papers in Diplomacy, No. 94) .

13 Kennan, George, ‘International Exchange in the Arts’, Perspectives USA, 16 (1956), p. 10 .

14 See Petras, James, ‘The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited’, Monthly Review (1999) : The ‘CIA and its allies in the Museum of Modern Art poured vast sums of money into promoting Abstract Expressionist painting and painters as an antidote to art with a social content […] They viewed AE as the true expression of the national will’.

15 Guilbaut, Serge, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. 8 .

16 Guilbaut, , How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, p. 200 . See also, Saunders, Frances Stonor, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta Books, 1999) . But for a contrasting view see Caute, David, The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy During the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) : ‘MOMA's defenders have consistently (and credibly) denied any connection to the secret state and have insisted on the Museum's exhibitions of abstract expressionism belonged to the late 1950s.’ (p. 552).

17 Isaac, Joel, ‘The Human Sciences in Cold War America’, The Historical Journal, 50:3 (2007), p. 746 .

18 Ibid.

19 Druick, Zoe, Projecting Canada: Government Policy and Documentary Film at the National Film Board (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007) .

20 Luft, Herbert G., ‘Rotha and the World’, The Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television, 10:1 (1955), pp. 8999 .

21 Grierson, John, ‘Public Relations’, Sight and Sound, 19:5 (1950), p. 201 . For a fuller discussion of the relationship to the practices of public relations, see Etang, Jacqui L', ‘John Grierson and the Public Relations Industry in Britain’, Screening the Past, 7 (1999) .

22 Anthony, Scott, Night Mail (London: British Film Institute, 2007) .

23 For a useful analysis regarding the notion of ‘culture’ and cultural internationalism see Reeves, Julie, Culture and International Relations: Narratives, Natives and Tourists (New York: Routledge, 2004) , ‘Cultural Internationalism’, pp. 37–62, chap. 2.

24 John Grierson, Propaganda and Education, Montreal: The National Film Board of Canada Archives, Speeches file (1943).

25 Iriye, Akira, Cultural Internationalism and World Order (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 27 . This agenda was focused around the League of Nations and its close association with the International Institute for Intellectual cooperation in Paris. See Leland, Waldo G., ‘The Background and Antecedents of UNESCO’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 90:4 (1946), pp. 295299 . Although the Paris Institute focused on scientific and intellectual cooperation, the League helped establish the International Educational Cinematograph Institute in Rome which operated between 1928 and 1937. See Druick, Zoe, ‘The International Educational Cinematograph Institute, Reactionary Modernism, and the Formation of Film Studies’, Canadian Journal of Film Studies, 16:1 (Spring 2007), pp. 8097 . See also, Wilke, Jurgen, ‘Cinematography as a Medium of Communication: The Promotion of Research by the League of Nations and the Role of Rudolf Arnheim’, European Journal of Communication, 6 (1991), pp. 337353 .

26 Grierson, John, ‘The Challenge of Peace’, in Hardy, Forsyth (ed.), Grierson on Documentary (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 325 .

27 Quoted in Iriye, , Cultural Internationalism, p. 70 .

28 Siepmann, Charles A., ‘Propaganda and Information in International Affairs’, The Yale Law Journal, 55:5 (1946), p. 1258 .

29 But for a sceptical view see Ziebarth, E. W., ‘The Mass Media in International Communication’, The Journal of Communication (1952), p. 24 .

30 Quoted in Iriye, , Cultural Internationalism, pp. 8283 .

31 Grierson, ‘The Challenge of Peace’, p. 328. See also, Benoit-Levy, The Art of the Motion Picture: ‘As an art industry’, Benoit-Levy argued, ‘the motion picture should give the finest example of intellectual and economic cooperation on an international scale.’ (pp. 250–1).

32 Expert Committee on UN Public Information Activities, Transcript No. 21 (10 April 1958), New York: UN Archives and Records Management Section, RG: Department of Public Information, Box S-0540–0004, p. 17.

33 Benoit-Levy, Jean, The Art of the Motion Picture trans. Jaeckel, Theodore R. (New York: Coward-McCann Inc., 1946), p. 212 . See also, McKeon, Richard, ‘A Philosophy for UNESCO’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 8:4 (1948) : ‘[W]e have become accustomed to the extrusion of economic institutions from the purely political frame in which social and economic problems were earlier treated […] A large number of economic and social questions are now recognized in all countries to be of public concern: UNESCO can best be understood in the context of this evolution’. (p. 574).

34 Best, Jacqueline, ‘From the Top-Down: The New Financial Architecture and the Re-Embedding of Global Finance’, New Political Economy, 8:3 (2003), pp. 363384 .

35 Benoit-Levy, , The Art of the Motion Picture, pp. 227228 .

36 Quoted in Sexton, Jamie, Alternative Film Culture in Inter-War Britain (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2008), p. 78 .

37 Although it is beyond the scope of this article to explore governmentality in much detail, it does form one of the key theoretical influences of this analysis. See, for example, Foucault, Michel, ‘Governmentality’, in Burchill, Graham, Gordon, Colin and Miller, Peter (eds), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991) ; Rose, Nikolas, O'Malley, Pat and Valverde, Mariana, ‘Governmentality’, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 2 (2006), pp. 83104 ; and Miller, Peter and Rose, Nikolas, Governing the Present: Administering Economic, Social and Personal Life (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008) . See also, Dean, Mitchell, Governing Societies: Political Perspectives on Domestic and International Rule (London: McGraw-Hill International, 2007) ; and Rose, Nikolas, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) .

38 Grierson, John, ‘The Challenge of Peace’, in Hardy, Forsyth (ed.), Grierson on Documentary (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 327 . See also, Grierson, John, ‘The Course of Realism’, in Davy, Charles (ed.), Footnotes to the Film (London: Lovat Dickson Ltd., 1970 [1938]) : ‘[B]ecause the citizen, under modern conditions, could not know everything about everything all the time, democratic citizenship was therefore impossible. We set to thinking how a dramatic apprehension of the modern scene might solve the problem, and we turned to the new wide-reaching instruments of radio and cinema as necessary instruments in both practice of government and the enjoyment of citizenship.’ (p. 153).

39 Hindess, Barry, ‘The Liberal Government of Unfreedom’, Alternatives, 26 (2002), p. 93 . See also, Neocleous, Mark, Critique of Security (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008) .

40 Brown, Wendy, Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), pp. 150151 .

41 Venn, Couze, ‘Empire, Sovereigtny and Postcolonial Power’, Political Geography, 23 (2004), p. 483 . See also, Venn, Couze, ‘Cultural Theory, Biopolitics, and the Question of Power’, Theory, Culture and Society, 24:3 (2007), pp. 111124 .

42 See Aitken, Rob, ‘“The Vital Force”: Visuality and the National Economy’, Journal for Cultural Research, 10:2 (2006), pp. 87112 , and Constantine, Stephen, ‘Bringing the Empire Alive: The Empire Marketing Board and Imperial Propaganda’, in Mackenzie, John M. (ed.), Imperialism in Popular Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986) .

43 Grierson, John, ‘The E. M. B. Film Unit’, in Hardy, Forsyth (ed.), Grierson on Democracy (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), pp. 165166 .

44 Quoted in Swann, Paul, The British Documentary Film Movement, 1926–1946 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 11 .

45 Orr, J. Russell, ‘The Cinema and the Empire’, Sight and Sound, 1:1 (1932), p. 20 .

46 Bjerre, Jens, ‘Filming the African Native’, Sight and Sound, 16:64 (1947/1948), p. 148 .

47 Benoit-Levy, , The Art of the Motion Picture, p. 215 .

48 For example, see Pearson, George, ‘The Making of Films for Illiterates in Africa’, in British Film Institute, The Film in Colonial Development (London: British Film Institute, 1948) : ‘To elevate the social life by broadening the minds of millions of loyal natives, at present illiterate and isolated from world contact, is the problem of the Colonial Film Unit […] If the child or the adult is unschooled […] then the school must go to them, make known the facts and cultural standards of the world they have never seen. It is here that the traveling cinema comes into a greater destiny[…] But the cinema used without an ever advancing wisdom can be tragically harmful as the reverse can be elevating.’ (p. 22).

49 Latham, G. C., ‘Films for Africans’, Sight and Sound, 5:20 (1936/1937), p. 123 .

50 Huxley, Julian, Unesco: Its Purpose and Philosophy (London: Preparatory Commission of Unesco, 1946), p. 17 .

51 Huxley, , Unesco, p. 17 .

52 Alongside this pessimism regarding the possibilities of film as tutelage is a thinly-veiled anxiety associated with difference. As Naeem Inayatullah and David Blaney have noted, International Relations has been strangely preoccupied with and anxious about the question of difference: ‘difference is placed at a distance […] and resolved into “sameness” within one's own political community’. See Inayatullah, Naeem and Blaney, David, International Relations and the Problem of Difference (London: Routledge, 2004) .

53 UNESCO Preparatory Commission, ‘UNESCO's Program of Mass Communication I’, The Public Opinion Quarterly, 10:4 (1946/1947), pp. 519520 , emphasis added.

54 Cooper, John M., ‘Problems of International Understanding’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 90:4 (1946), p. 315 .

55 Cooper, ‘Problems of International Understanding’, p. 316.

56 Grierson, John, ‘The Documentary Idea: 1942’, in Hardy, Forsyth (ed.), Grierson on Documentary (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 256 .

57 Dietze, Carol, ‘Toward a History on Equal Terms: A Discussion of Provincializing Europe, History and Theory, 47 (2008), p. 71 . See also, Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000) .

58 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, ‘In Defense of Provincializing Europe’, History and Theory, 47 (2008), p. 92 .

59 Chakrabarty, ‘In Defense’, p. 96. He continues: ‘I have argued not against the idea of universals as such but emphasized that the universal was a highly unstable figure, a necessary placeholder in our attempt to think through questions of modernity. We glimpsed its outlines only and when a particular usurped its place […] To provincialize Europe was then to know how universalistic thought was always and already modified by particular histories, whether or not we could excavate such pasts fully.’

60 Jaikumar, Priya, Cinema at the End of Empire: A Politics of Transition in Britain and India (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), pp. 13 . See also, Chapman, James, Cinemas of the World (London: Reaktion Books, 2003 : ‘[I]t is [not] always possible to locate films unproblematically within a particular national cinema.’ (p. 46).

61 One of the best general histories of the British documentary film movement remains Swann, Paul, The British Documentary Film Movement, 1926–1946 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) .

62 Sexton, , Alternative Film Culture in Inter-War Britain, p. 80 .

63 See Pudovkin, Vsevolod, Film Technique and Film Acting, trans. Montague, Ivor (London: Vision, 1958) .

64 Weinberg, Herman G., ‘The Language Barrier’, Hollywood Quarterly, 2:4 (1994), p. 333 . The original reference is from Pudokin, Vsevolod, ‘The Global Film’, Hollywood Quarterly, 2:4 (1947) : ‘I am convinced that this form of documentary feature film will […] be widely used for fully and profoundly acquainting peoples with one another and can serve to a very considerable degree in expressing universal ideas in a graphic and striking way.’ (p. 330). See also, Nichtenhauser, Adolf, ‘The Tasks of an International Film Institute’, Hollywood Quarterly, 2:1 (1946), pp. 1924 ; and Nichtenhauser, Adolf, Grierson, John, Edwards, Herbert and Griffith, Richard, ‘The Tasks of an International Film Institute’, Hollywood Quarterly, 2:2 (1947), pp. 191200 .

65 Jaikumar, , Cinema at the End of Empire, p. 19 .

66 Ruggie, ‘International Regimes, Transactions and Change’, p. 380. Perhaps the most detailed discussion of social purposes is found in Best, Jacqueline, ‘From the Top-Down: The New Financial Architecture and the Re-Embedding of Global Finance’, New Political Economy, 8:3 (2003), pp. 363384 .

67 Brodie, Janine, ‘From Social Security to Public Safety: Security Discourses and Canadian Citizenship’, University of Toronto Quarterly (2008) .

68 Rose, Nikolas, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 127128 .

69 Huxley, , Unesco, p. 62 .

70 See, for example, Grierson, John, ‘The Documentary Idea: 1942’, in hardy, Forsyth (ed.), Grierson on Documentary (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 254 .

71 Grierson, ‘The Challenge of Peace’, p. 326.

72 Grierson, ‘Postwar Patterns’, p. 164. It's important to highlight the gendered language of Grierson's formulation. Although it is beyond the scope of this article, the gendered formulation is important to explore.

73 Ibid., p. 163.

74 Ibid., p. 161.

75 Grierson, John, ‘Postwar Patterns’, Hollywood Quarterly, 1:2 (1946), p. 161 .

76 Wright, Basil (Director), Song of Ceylon (London: General Post Office Film Unit, 1936) .

77 Song of Ceylon won an award for best film at the International Film Festival in Brussels in 1935.

78 Sexton, Jamie, Alternative Film Culture in Inter-War Britain (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2008), p. 122 .

79 Ibid., p. 78.

80 UN Department of Public Information, National Film Committees of the UN. New York: UN Archives and Records Management Section, Record Group: Department of Public Information S-0540–0057, Folder: Notes from Provisional Film Committee Meetings (17 October 1946–December 1946).

81 Graham, S. E., ‘The (Real)Politicks of Culture: US Cultural Diplomacy in UNESCO, 1946–1954’, Diplomatic History, 30:2 (2006), pp. 231251 . To a certain extent there had long been contradictions in American information and cultural policy abroad. See, for example, Statement by Asst. Secretary of State William Benton, 16 October 1944, No. 766. New York: UN Archives and Records Management Section, Record Group S-0537–005, UN Information Organization, Box # 5: ‘Our military and economic power is now so great that it is bound to lead many people and groups throughout the world to distrust us, or fear us, or even hate us, and not all the information work in the world […] At least we can try to minimize the untruthful impressions of this country […] There is a commercial as well as security aspect here.’

82 Although the Film Board was well endowed in its first year of operation (1946), it was fiercely resisted by UNESCO and one of its leading mass communication experts, William Farr. Fearing that a centralised agency, under the auspices of the UN Department of Public Information would eclipse UNESCO's role in producing and distributing film, UNESCO resisted the work of the Film Board and refused to commit to an ambitious version of its mandate.

83 Experts Committee on UN Public Information Activities, Transcripts 9, 1 April 1958. New York: UN Archives and Records Management Section, Record Group: Department of Public Information, Box: S-0540–0004.

84 All of this, of course, occurs against a backdrop of declining public support for and sponsorship of documentary film. See, for example, Katz, Robert and Katz, Nancy, ‘Documentary in Transition, Part I: The US’, Hollywood Quarterly, 3:4 (1948), p. 429 . See also their review of international film initiatives in Katz, Robert and Katz, Nancy, ‘Documentary in Transition II: The International Scene and the American Documentary’, Hollywood Quarterly, 4:1 (1949), p. 64 .

85 The left-liberal leanings of some members of the movement, and the allegiance even Grierson felt to Soviet filmmaking, marked the movement out, in some circles, as untrustworthy.

86 Maclaren, Norman (director), Neighbours/Voisins (Montreal: National Film Board of Canada, 1952) .

87 See, for example, Engerman, David, ‘American Knowledge and Global Power’, Diplomatic History, 31:4 (2007), pp. 604605 .

* A much earlier version of this article was presented at the Annual Meetings of the International Studies Association in New York City in February 2009. I would like to thank Jacquie Best, Suzan Ilcan, Eric Helleiner, Nivien Saleh and the anonymous reviewers for the Review of International Studies for advice and suggestions of all kinds. A sincere thank you is also due to Remi Dubuisson at the UN Archives in New York for support and assistance ‘beyond the call of duty’. As usual, any errors or omissions are solely my responsibility.

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Provincialising embedded liberalism: film, orientalism and the reconstruction of world order

  • ROB AITKEN

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