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Saving the World?
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Book description

From the 1950s, tens of thousands of well-meaning Westerners left their homes to volunteer in distant corners of the globe. Aflame with optimism, they set out to save the world, but their actions were invariably intertwined with decolonization, globalization and the Cold War. Closely exploring British, American and Australian programs, Agnieszka Sobocinska situates Western volunteers at the heart of the 'humanitarian-development complex'. This nexus of governments, NGOs, private corporations and public opinion encouraged continuous and accelerating intervention in the Global South from the 1950s. Volunteers attracted a great deal of support in their home countries. But critics across the Global South protested that volunteers put an attractive face on neocolonial power, and extended the logic of intervention embedded in the global system of international development. Saving the World? brings together a wide range of sources to construct a rich narrative of the meeting between Global North and Global South.


‘Volunteer development agencies like the US Peace Corps promoted altruism but were deeply enmeshed in complex relations of global power. A returned volunteer herself, Agnieszka Sobocinska incisively unravels the paradoxes of the enterprise, laying bare its intentions, operations, and consequences with balance and critical insight.'

David C. Engerman - Yale University

‘Saving the World is a fascinating and compelling history of voluntary aid work. Sobocinska shows how young, idealistic ordinary volunteers not only legitimated humanitarian intervention in a world after empire, but through their naïve presence, also prompted neocolonialist critiques of development. An essential read for anyone interested in how the global aid system works.'

Matthew Hilton - Queen Mary University of London

‘Deftly weaving together the activities of three national programs across multiple continents, Sobocinska offers a truly global account of development volunteering. Attuned to both local experiences and transnational patterns, she underscores the tensions between individual altruism and neocolonial state power while highlighting the close links between humanitarianism and development.'

Julia F. Irwin - University of South Florida

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