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Contending masculinities: the gendered (re) negotiation

of colonial hierarchy in the United Nations debates

on decolonization
Vrushali Patil
Published online: 11 November 2008
Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2008
Abstract The emergence of legal decolonization in the mid-twentieth century, as
evidenced by the 1960 United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence
to Colonial Countries and Peoples, is often understood through the lens of race and
the disruption of racial hierarchy. If we take seriously the transnational feminist
contention that the colonial racial order was also gendered, however, how might this
perspective shift our understanding of decolonization? In this article, I explore the
debates on decolonization that take place in the UN General Assembly from 1946
1960 that lead to the 1960 Declaration from a transnational feminist perspective to
answer this question. Specifically, I use comparative historical and discourse
methods of analysis to explore how colonialists and anti-colonialists negotiate the
onset of legal decolonization, focusing especially on how colonialist hierarchies of
race, culture, and gender are addressed in these debates. I argue that, on the one hand,
colonialists rely on a paternalist masculinity to legitimate their rule (i.e., our dependencies
require our rule the way a child requires a father). In response, anti-colonialists reply with
a resistance masculinity (i.e., colonialismis emasculating; decolonization is necessary
for a return of masculine dignity). I argue that decolonization in the United Nations
transpires via contentions among differentially racialized masculinities. Ultimately, a
transnational feminist perspective that centers the intersection of race and gender
offers a richer analysis than a perspective that examines race alone.
Although the edifice of Europes colonial empires had already started to crumble
some time before, the passage of the 1960 United Nations Declaration on the
Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (Declaration) can be
seen as a crucial moment in the discursive delegitimation of colonialism on a global
scale (Crawford 2002; Strang 1990: 851; Ziring et al. 1999:312). Indeed when the
Charter for the United Nations was being drawn up after World War II, the all-
powerful United States and its allies were keen to protect states rights, and anti-
Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215
DOI 10.1007/s11186-008-9076-y
V. Patil (*)
Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Florida International University,
University Park, DM 212, 11200 S.W. 8th St., Miami, FL 33199, USA
colonialists goals of decolonization were thwarted (Lauren 1998). Anti-colonialists
attempts to bring decolonization onto the United Nations agenda continued to be met
by this prioritization of states rights for years to come. Nevertheless, when the
Declaration finally came to a vote in 1960, no country voted against it; and the mere
handful of opponents only abstained from voting.
How are we to interpret this shift? Many scholars have rightly recognized
decolonization as a decided if incomplete rupture with the white supremacist past
(Winant 2001:134), and a number of scholars have also examined the Declaration
itself from the perspective of race (Churchill 2003; Grovogui 1996; Obadele 1996).
Nevertheless, this work is curiously silent on an important transnational feminist
insight: that the multiply inflected hierarchies of the colonial era were not merely
racialized but also gendered/sexualized and that indeed, race and gender/sexuality
were thoroughly imbricated (see, for example, Burton 1994; McClintock 1995). By
transnational feminism, I mean feminist literature on the relationship of particular
gender ordersin their multiple configurations with various racial, sexual, class,
national, and cultural ordersto historical processes of globalization (for a nice
introduction, see Kim-Puri 2005; McClintock 1995). Whether the topic is imperial
and colonial formations (Hall 2002; Stoler 1997) or neo-liberal restructuring (Grewal
2005; Salzinger 2004) or contemporary cultural movements (Gerami 2005; Kimmel
2003), transnational feminist work explores both how multiple gender orders inform
particular transnational processes and how these orders are affected in turn. It makes
connections among seemingly disparate gender orders, and it also demonstrates how
arenas that seem to have little to do with gender may in fact benefit from gender
analysis. If we take the transnational feminist argument on colonialism seriously,
how might such a perspective shift our questions regarding the Declaration in
particular and the discursive delegitimation of colonialism more generally? What
might we learn from such an approach regarding gender relations in a transnational
frame in the post-1960s period?
Moreover the Declaration, beyond its location within the racialized and
gendered/sexualized context of European colonialism, is a document almost
entirely negotiated between (variously politically situated) men. That is, the great
bulk of the representatives of the member states of the United Nations General
Assembly, those who participated in the negotiation of and passage of the
document, were men. I am particularly interested in the implications of this
dimension of the discursive delegitimation of colonialism. In this article I
employ a transnational feminist perspective, particularly recent work on
masculinities in a transnational frame, to examine the debates on decolonization
that took place in the United Nations General Assembly from 19461960 that
lead to the passage of the Declaration. Furthermore, although the documents
significance lies primarily in its discursive interventions, most scholars have
focused either on institutional structure and politics (El-Ayouty 1971; Hovet
1960; Singh 1993) or international law (Araim 1976; Grovogui 1996; Obadele
1996). There has been some focus on discourse, particularly on ethical argument
(Crawford 2002), moral claims-making (Reus-Smit 2001), and the discursive
construction of subjectivity (Grovogui 1996). However, none of this work
examines the interrelationships between race and gender/sexuality. In this study, I
use narrative and rhetorical methods of analysis to explore the role of race and
196 Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215
gender/sexuality in these debates. I particularly explore how the largely male
speakers, situated in various ways in relation to the colonial question, renegotiate
notions of racial and cultural hierarchy, gender, and democracy and political
independence in this key moment of transition to the postcolonial world.
Thinking masculinities in a transnational frame
Recent work on masculinities in a transnational frame has emerged from a number of
(inter)disciplinary locations, including postcolonial feminism, feminist International
Relations, and sociological work on globalization and masculinities. Key contrib-
utors in this area are Connell and Messerschmidt (2005), who offer the concept of
global hegemonic masculinity. They write that we may understand hegemonic
masculinity as a normative masculinity defined in relation to femininity and a variety
of subordinated masculinities, and one level on which we can observe such
masculinity is the global arena (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005:842849).
Considering such global hegemonic masculinity historically, a world-historical
moment cited repeatedly as significant in both creating and relying on a certain kind
of global hegemonic masculinity is European imperialism and colonialism
(henceforth, colonialism) (Banerjee 2005:810; Connell 2000). Not only did
colonialism rely on a series of gendered practices (Connell 2000; McClintock
1995; Stoler 1997), masculinity was a key dimension of this gendering. Scholars
Banerjee, Connell, and Doty point to a set of overwhelmingly (racialized,
sexualized, and classed) masculinist discourses, which constructed a certain global
hegemonic masculinity through tropes such as the exploration, discovery, penetra-
tion, and conquest of distant, feminized lands (McClintock 1995). This global
hegemonic masculinity understood itself in relation to othered peoples, particularly
groups of othered men, as insufficiently masculine (Nandy 1988; Sinha 1995), as
hypermasculine (Fanon 1967; West 1993), and sometimes, as both (Hassan 2003;
Hooper 2001:72). Such feminization and/or hypermasculinization could intersect
with infantilization, as subordinated men were often understood as children that
(progressive) colonial enthusiasts spoke of training and parenting (Colwill 1998;
Nandy 1987; Nandy 1988). Moreover the United States, though distinct in a number
of ways from European colonial empires, is nevertheless the inheritor of some of
these masculinist discourses, including the hypermasculinization, feminization, and
infantilization of subordinated peoples/men and the association of imperialism and
colonialism with virility (Bederman 1995; Doty 1996; Gilmore 1996). Ultimately the
racial and cultural hierarchies of colonialism were enabled in large part through the
creation of a hierarchy of masculinities, the legacies of which are still with us today
(for a recent discussion, see Banerjee 2005).
Beyond European imperialism and colonialism, work on masculinities in a
transnational frame has also explored how contemporary processes of globalization
implicate gender in general and masculinity in particular. While akin to the
aforementioned global hegemonic masculinity, a transnational business masculinity
has been identified, scholars argue that contemporary transnational phenomena such
as neo-liberal restructuring and womens movements present a challenge to long
standing hegemonic masculinities (Connell 2005; Derne 2002; Kimmel 2003).
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According to Charlotte Hooper (2000), indeed, we may now understand globaliza-
tion itself as a site for
gendered interpretative struggles as the meaning of globalization is contested.
In the process, different elements or ingredients of masculinity and femininity
are coopted in new or old configurations to serve particular interests, and
particular gendered (and other) identities are consolidated and legitimated or
downgraded and devalued. This involves power struggles between men and
women, but also between different groups of men as they jostle for position and
control; articulating and re-articulating the relationship between masculinity
and power as they go. (Hooper 2000:60)
In this vein, foregrounding especially experiences of contemporary economic
globalization, Michael Kimmel argues that what connects numerous extremist groups
todayfrom white supremacists in the United States to Al Qaedais the experience of
massive male displacement and downward mobility in the global economy. He argues
that all deploy masculinity as a formof symbolic capital, an ideological resource to
understand and explicate their plight [and thus all attempt to] re-establish and reassert
domestic and public patriarchies (Kimmel 2003:605).
While there does appear to be a predominant focus on the economy in this work on
contemporary globalization, a smaller literature also focuses on the ongoing legacies of
histories of racialization. For example, in contrast to Kimmels economist approach
above, others point out that when it comes to groups like Al Qaeda, we cannot forget that
Islamic fundamentalism is essentially a form of resistance to western imperialism and
the repressive postcolonial governments that implemented failed projects of Eurocentric
modernization (Hassan 2003:321). In fact, this fundamentalism is a solution to the
problem of Muslim nations in the late 20
century (Gerami 2005). Indeed,
scholars that focus on the masculinity politics of historically racialized men in the
contemporary global arena underscore the necessity of exploring the ongoing legacies
of historical racialization. For example, regarding the aforementioned transnational
business arena, Dorrine Kondo (1999) examines an ad campaign for a Japanese suit for
men. She argues that the campaign constructs a notion of superior Japanese
masculinity in the world economy that necessarily must grapple with histories of
orientalization and emasculation. Interestingly, she argues that even as it attempts to
combat such racialization, the campaign inadvertently reinscribes it instead.
Indeed, the most compelling line of work here explores how the resistance politics of
historically racialized men inevitably embody such contradictions. For example,
Hodgson argues that during the colonial period, colonial interventions in Tanzania
marginalized Maasai men by defining them as traditional. Over time, Maasai men
themselves embraced such reifications and went on to critique other modern men
(Hodgson 1999). Similarly, during the colonial period, British colonialists argued that
Singapore lacked masculinized discipline, in order to legitimate its conquest. In the
period after independence, the new nation used this same colonialist notion of
masculinized discipline to produce the new nation (Holden 1998). Banerjee (2005)
adds how even militant Hindu masculinity, which explicitly defines itself in opposition
to a putative westernization, adapts colonialist notions of militarism. Again, these
tensions are especially striking in the case of Japan. According to Low, in the late
nineteenth century, the Japanese embarked on a programme of Westernisation that
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can be interpreted as the Caucasianisation of the Japanese and the appropriation of
Western ideas of masculinity (Low 2003:8182). Such self-conscious whitening-
masculinizing was to serve to distinguish Japan from its Asian neighbors and show
Europe that Japan was a world power worthy of respect (Low 2003).
Consequently, studies of historically racialized men in contemporary globalization
emphasize the ongoing significance of older histories of globalization, particularly
European imperialism and colonialism. They point out that the negotiation of
contemporary globalization processes is but the latest in a series of such negotiations
that have taken place for centuries. As such, contemporary negotiations are
potentially shaped by older negotiations, as the latter provide a repertoire of
discursive frameworks and strategies within which to make sense of newer
experiences. Collectively, the literature on masculinities in a transnational frame
offers three central insights. First, masculinities in particular and gender in general
must be explored within a transnational frame that takes account of historic
transnational power relations such as colonialism and imperialism as well as more
recent processes such as neo-liberal restructuring. Second, there are multiple
masculinities that exist at multiple levels in shifting, intersecting hierarchies. Finally,
power-laden transnational economic, political, and cultural processesto the extent
that they are dominated by groups of menare better understood via a transnational
feminist approach that centers masculinities.
What might a focus on the General Assembly debates and on the declaration add to this
literature? Firstly, they are particularly relevant to the discursive delegitimation of
colonialism on a global scale. They occur within an international forum in the context of
not just the delegates of other countries but also countless news media, and thus their
audience goes beyond the immediate gathering and can be assumed to be universal (See
Donahue and Prosser 1997). And yet, though the declaration is a major moment in the
transnational resistance of historically subordinated peoples and men to colonialisma
major moment when subordinate masculinities confront and contend with colonial
masculinitiesthere is very little work that looks at the declaration from the perspective
of contending masculinities. Moreover, given the two main foci in the literature
delineated above, historical colonialism and contemporary globalization, an examination
of the declaration provides a focus on a central point of transition and connection
between them. Finally, though colonialism was certainly enacted differently in different
times and places, transnational feminist scholars point out that it was a key moment in
the transnational story of gender and race. And yet, though scholars have examined
different instances of resistance to colonialism, including masculinist resistance, there
seems to be very little that also frames these multiple resistances as part of that one
transnational story. The declaration debates draw together different groups of
subordinated menas well as the apologists of this subordinationinto one
conversation. While the debates of course cannot give us unmediated knowledge on
any of these questions, they are one window onto these negotiations.
Data and method
The main source of materials for analysis is the General Assembly Official Records
for the years 19461960. These records are public documents and are available at
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the United Nations Information Centre of Washington, DC. The General Assembly
is the main deliberative organ of the United Nations. It meets annually for regular
sessions, as well as for special and emergency special sessions. Each session is
organized as a general debate, in which Member States, represented by their
diplomatic delegations, express their views on a wide range of matters of
international concern. Included are required reports submitted by the Secretary-
General, as well as by a number of other bodies. Because of the great number of
questions that the General Assembly is called upon to consider, the General
Assembly allocates most questions to its six Main Committees. Some questions are
considered directly in plenary meetings, rather than in one of the Main Committees.
All questions are voted on in plenary meetings, usually towards the end of the
regular session, after the committees have completed their consideration of them and
submitted draft resolutions to the plenary Assembly (UnitedNations 2003).
The Official Records of the General Assembly consist of the meeting records,
committee reports, and resolutions. The records of specific interest to me are the
Verbatim Records, or the meeting records of the statements/speeches made and
actions taken during General Assembly meetings. These include discussion of any
submitted committee reports and draft resolutions, as well as votes on draft
resolutions and explanations of particular votes. The Verbatim Records provide a
full, first-person account of the proceedings of a meeting, and are particularly useful
for discourse analysis.
The Verbatim Records are published as bound volumes, one (or two) for each
annual session. The front matter of each volume includes a Table of Contents with a
listing of the agenda for that session, as well as what was discussed. I selected
records for analysis by the subject headings that were listed on the agenda.
Specifically, I chose anything that mentioned the terms: NSGT Territories, Trust
Territories, and colonialism. (There were various indexes, which listed these records
and what they contained, including an online index, a Journal of the General
Assembly, an Index to Proceedings (formerly, Disposition of Agenda Items).
However, I found that such indexes often left out material I was interested in and
the most reliable method was to go through the Table of Contents of the actual
records themselves). I fully recognize that such a strategy may leave out important
debates on the problem of colonialism that are not captured by this terminology.
However, I adopted this strategy as a way of reducing and managing information. As
the agenda terminology guides the topic of discussion, I believe my focus on
NSGTs, Trusts, and colonialism will sufficiently capture the material that I require
for my purposes.
Debates of interest on particular agenda items sometimes spanned several
meetings. One meeting could also contain several debates of interest. Hence, there
is no direct relationship between the number of debates examined and the number of
meetings covered. In total, I examined the speeches/statements that transpired in
almost 100 debates on Trusts, NSGTs, or colonialism, spanning 100 meetings over a
15-year period.
The statements of diplomats within the General Assembly constitute a
particular genre of discourse. This genre includes a series of monologues in
which the head of each delegation takes a tour dhorizon of the current state of
the worlds problems as seen in light of the policy of her or his government and
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then takes a stance on the issue under consideration (Donahue and Prosser 1997).
The strategy of inquiry here consists of a discourse analysis of these statements.
Following Tischer, Meyer, Wodak, and Vetter (2000: 149), I first explore the
debates as constitutive discourse. That is, they are simultaneously constitutive of
different categories of identity (or identity distinctions), the relations among these
categories of identity, and systems of knowledge and beliefs about these identities.
To explore how the different arguments might constitute such alternative identity
distinctions, relationships, and knowledges regarding colonialism and decoloniza-
tion, I begin with the technique of analysis known as cluster-agon analysis.
Cluster-agon analysis was initially formulated by Kenneth Burke (1973; 1984) in
order to compare the worldviews and meaning systems of different speakers. Burke
argues that every work produced by a rhetor contains a set of implicit equations, or
associational clusters. The meanings that key symbols or terms (also known as
god terms) have for the rhetor can be discovered by charting the symbols that
cluster around those key symbols in the rhetorical artifact. In cluster-agon analysis,
key symbols or terms are first identified by their frequency or intensity within a
text. After the key terms/symbols have been identified, the words that cluster (i.e.,
appear in close proximity to the key term, or are joined by a conjunction to the key
term, or are connected by a cause-and-effect relationship to the key term, and so
on) around those key terms are charted. Next, any patterns that might appear within
the clusters are charted. For example, is a particular word or symbol always
associated with a key term? Next, one may perform an agon analysis, where
opposing terms (also known as devil terms) are examined. Here, the goal is to
discover what terms/symbols oppose or contradict the key terms/symbols. The final
step is to use the pattern that emerges in the analysis to identify the speakers
motive (Burke 1973; Burke 1984; Foss 1989). Cluster-agon analysis is particularly
useful for comparing the rhetoric of several speakers (Berthold 1976). Through the
comparison of different speakers key term clusters and opposing term clusters, one
may compare structures of binary logic that undergrid and constitute varying
meaning systems. In the case of this study, I use cluster-agon analysis to compare
the meaning systems of not only different speakers but also different groups of
Beyond this notion of constitutive discourse, the statements offered by different
diplomats in the United Nations General Assembly may also be seen as persuasive
discourse, aimed at justifying a speakers own stance on a draft resolution and also
of convincing others to take on a similar stance. I follow Walter Fishers approach to
persuasive communication that human beings are above all story-telling creatures,
and that human communication is composed of competing stories/accounts on the
world. From this perspective, a story/account is acceptable to an audience when
constituted by good reasons and when it satisfies certain requirements of narrative
probability and fidelity. Its central goal is identification with the audience, and it
inevitably functions as a moral inducement. I am also interested in these debates as
competing stories/accounts of the world. Ultimately, I am interested in the United
Nations General Assembly debates as simultaneously constitutive and persuasive, as
alternative visions of the meaning of colonialism and decolonization, which
themselves presume and imply alternative stories regarding colonialism and
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Although one might expect certain patterns of discourse based on political
perspective, particular groups were not identified a priori. Rather, groupings of
speakers (and the countries that they represented) that tended to make similar kinds
of arguments, to base their arguments on similar kinds of appeals, and to support one
another against others, were allowed to emerge from the data. In this fashion, two
overarching groupings emerged: first, former and contemporary European colonialist
powers, and second, former dependent, newly independent territories. The United
States and a number of former dependent territories in the Americas (such as
Argentina, Peru, and Columbia) tended to side with the first group. The Soviet
Union, and its associated bloc of countries, along with a number of different former
dependent territories in the Americas (such as Mexico and Guatemala), tended to
side with the second. As the first group tended to prioritize the perspective of the
colonialist powers, I term this group the colonialist view. As the second group did
the same for former and contemporary dependent territories, I term this group the
anti-colonialist view. I do not intend to imply unproblematically with these terms
that the United States was somehow a colonialist power or that the Soviet Union was
not a colonialist power. In what follows, I argue that while both perpetuated
hierarchical constructions of space and identity, as did the European colonialist
powers, the particular discourse of colonialism produced within the United Nations
did not allow for a ready recognition of these practices as colonialist practices.
Hence, although on occasion Soviet bloc countries especially targeted what they
termed the colonialist practices of the United States and vice versa, both the United
States and the Soviet Union were allowed to position themselves as outside the
history of colonialism. While at times, it was recognized that the United States was
indeed a colonialist power, it was nevertheless positioned as a good power
compared to other bad powers.
In what follows, I first perform cluster analyses of key terms within arguments
offered by colonialists and anti-colonialists, exploring how these arguments offer
different understandings of the meaning of colonialism and decolonization. I
describe how particular key terms were identified, what associational clusters were
found, and consider the competing stories/accounts of the world that are implied
within these worldviews. I also offer representative quotations from different
speakers to illustrate key differences among different groups.
The colonialist narrative: paternalist masculinity as wise beneficence
For colonialist argument, an initial examination of statements made indicates a
series of interrelated key terms: political independence, freedom, autonomy and
sovereignty, and so I began with a cluster analysis of these four terms. As
language is inexact, I examined any discussions of these terms without
requiring this precise language (as examples will demonstrate). The terms
found to cluster around these key terms were: progress, advancement,
development, evolution, higher civilization, and modernity. In the following
statement on colonialism, for example, development and independence are placed
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in a cause-and-effect relationship where (political) development is seen as a
precondition for independence:
We recognize that the colonial system is the best way of slowly guiding, by
gentle but ever-lengthening steps, peoples of little political education so that
they can develop their political sense and become independent nations able to
take their places with us here and thus constitute a truly universal assembly of
nations. (Mr. Sourdis, Colombia, Sess 2, 1947: 689)
Likewise, in the following statement made by a colonialist speaker on the
exclusive rights of administering authorities to determine the status of their
territories, the terms self-government and development are positioned within a
cause-and-effect relationship where development is seen as a precondition for
obtaining self-government:
Only the administering Power is left in the position to decide when a
particular Territory under its administration has reached a stage of political
development when it can be deemed to be self-governing. (Sir P. Spender,
Australia, Sess 9, 1954: 301)
For my purposes, I interpreted this discussion of self-government as a discussion
of political independence in the sense I am interested in, and I included this
discussion within the cluster analysis.
Moreover, all six terms that clustered around the key terms seemed to define each
other, as they repeatedly appeared in close proximity to each other, appeared in
conjunction with each other, appeared in cause-and-effect relationship with each
other, and functioned interchangeably within statements. In the following statement
on the Danish administration of the dependent territory of Greenland, for example,
the terms development and advancement are joined together by the conjunction and:
United we will work for the further advancement and development of the
Greenland community ... the new order will be a blessing and a benefit to the
people of Greenland. (Mr. Lannung, Denmark, Sess 9, 1954: 307)
Similarly, in this next statement, the terms advancement and progress seem to be
defined in terms of each other:
On principle, we sympathize with the advancement of the [dependent territories
called] NSGTs and consider that their political, social, and economic progress
should lead them to assume full responsibility for their own destinies, in
accordance with the spirit and the letter of the Charter. (Mr. P. Perez, Venezuela,
Sess 10, 1955: 461)
After exploring this first cluster, I next performed a second cluster analysis
concerning the key terms political dependence and lack of sovereignty. The terms
that repeatedly clustered around these key terms were: native, primitive,
backward, underdeveloped, incompetent, uneducated, lack of civilization, and
simplistic civilization. The logic of this cluster seems inherent in the logic of the
first cluster. That is, if development, advancement, progress, modernity, and so
forth are prerequisites for political independence, it follows that the lack of these
qualifying conditions is a justification for political dependence. Indeed, the most
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common argument made by colonialist powers and administering authorities to
legitimate their rule over a dependent territory was the notion that they were in fact
preparing and training their dependent territories, by virtue of imparting
modernity, progress and so forth, for independence at some future date. In the
following statement, for example, lack of education and preparation (which I
interpret here as a synonym for competence) are associated with political
dependence and so offered as the justification for political dependence by Brazil:
We must encourage the political education of the peoples that were not yet
ready for independence, and prepare the ground for them so that they might
shape their own future and direct their own affairs. (Mr. De Oliveira, Brazil,
Sess 12, 1957: 518)
Ultimately, both clusters relied on each other for their meaning and significance
within the debates. Considering the two in conjunction, colonialist discourse in the
General Assembly debates conjoined the abstractions of progress, advancement,
development, evolution, higher civilization, and modernity into a singular narrative
of linear progression. Separately and together, these abstractions were quantified
and placed on a linear scale. Countries that were higher or more advanced, with
a quantitatively greater amount of the qualities listed therein, were associated with
political independence. Countries situated as lower on the scale, or less
advanced, and possessing quantitatively less of the qualities listed therein, were
associated with political dependence.
While differential placement of territories on this scale of linear progression
helped to construct central identity distinctions such as independent territories versus
dependent territories, an additional set of images and symbols helped to construct
appropriate kinds of relationships between these categories of identity. Thus, a
second set of terms clustered around the key terms political independence, freedom,
autonomy and sovereignty and its associated imagery of linear progression: growth,
maturity, responsibility (including responsibility for self), autonomy, and the ability
to make decisions for self. How did this imagery facilitate certain kinds of
relationships between those higher and those lower on the scale of linear
progression? For starters, consider how the following speaker associates level of
advancement on the scale of linear progression and responsibility:
The struggle over backwards populations has passed from London to
Washington, from Lisbon to Rio, Rome to Addis Ababa; but the situation
always remains the same: a population of higher civilization, responsible for the
well-being and advancement of peoples of another race. (Mr. Ryckmans,
Belgium, Sess 2, 1947: 672)
Hence, a higher level of advancement on the scale of linear progression meant not
just the ability to be responsible for self, but also responsible for others. Meanwhile,
a lower level on the scale implied an inability to be responsible for self. Through
such imagery, political independence for dependent territories was envisioned as the
end product of a naturalized, evolutionary process of tutelage under a more
responsible state until one was determined capable of taking responsibility for
self. This argument could of course also be used to justify the denial of political
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independence, as in the following case where the United Kingdom explained its
views on political independence in a general sense:
Democracy is a growth. In the case of all the territories coming under our
jurisdiction, we have been attempting, will continue to attempt, to provide all
the assistance we can towards this growthand, as I have said, it is essentially
a growth. With all our cooperation and all the help we can offer, time is needed
to build tradition and, to create political and public responsibility and to create
the social services which are the only sound foundation for political freedom.
(Mr. McNeil, United Kingdom, Sess 2, 1947: 666)
As in the two opposing clusters for linear progression, if this second set of terms of
maturity, responsibility, and so forth clustered around the key terms of political
independence, autonomy, freedom, and sovereignty, its binary opposites again clustered
around the key terms political dependence and lack of sovereignty. Particularly evident
were the terms/symbols immaturity, lack of responsibility (including responsibility for
the self), dependency, wards, and children. In the following statement, for example,
the speaker makes clear the connection between political dependence and child-like
status: Those under the Trusteeship System are wards of the international
community (Mr. Soward, Canada, Sess 11, 1956: 667).
Hence, dependent territories were imaged here, above all, as children. The easy
slippage between the naturalized condition of childhood and the status of political
dependence is evident in their characterization throughout the 15 years examined as
minors, wards, not yet able to stand alone in the modern world, unable to
govern themselves, and not developed enough to have an opinion that counts. Lack
of sovereignty was especially figured as a state of irresponsibility. Against this, the
state of independence was characterized as the ability to have full responsibility for
the self. In contrast, administering authorities were parents given the duty, the
sacred duty, and the sacred trust of guiding dependent people, providing wise
guidance, tutelage, political education, and teaching responsibility for self.
Thus, in these debates, the overwhelmingly male colonialist speakers constructed
distinct identities, relations between these identities, and knowledge about them with
two primary sets of images. First, the image of linear progression provided an entire
lexicon of quantified and linearized abstractions, including progress, advancement,
development, modernity, evolution, and higher civilizationall terminology that has
been identified as constituting a post-Enlightenment metanarrative (Harding 2000;
Lyotard 1984). This metanarrative produced particular kinds of identities based on
where territories were deemed to be located along the scale of linear progression,
including backwards, primitive, and less evolved dependent territories versus
advanced, modern, and civilized countries. Beyond this, hierarchical sets of
relationships between these identities was constructed through a racialized, gendered
paternalism that distinguished more childlike and incompetent dependent
territories from wiser and more competent administering authorities. Such
distinctions produced and indeed naturalized the paternalistic relationship of tutelage
and guidance between them:
We in the United Kingdom are proud of what we are doing in the colonial field.
It is with great pride that we have been able to bring various members of the
Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215 205
British Commonwealth and Empire along the road to full self-government. We
feel the same pride that a parent feels when he sees his children going out into
the world and making their own waywe have seen growing affection between
ourselves and our children and we look forward to an extension of that process.
We shall feel increasing pride as we see ourselves able to bring more and more
of the dependent peoples who look up to us, along this road to self-government
and independence. (Mr. Thomas, United Kingdom, Sess 1, 1946: 1271)
In constructing these identity distinctions and the relationships between them,
these two sets of images (re)produced the historic colonialist knowledge that while
dependent peoples were children, the guidance of more responsible colonial powers
could bring them into growth and maturity. This colonialist narrative persisted
throughout the 15 years of debate. Thus, the male representatives of European
colonial empires and their allies in the United Nations General Assembly debates
articulated a certain kind of historic, colonialist masculinitya paternalist
masculinitythat, within the context of mounting challenges from its recipients,
stressed its benevolence, wisdom, and good intentions.
But why is this a masculinist rhetoric and not simply a parental or even a maternal
rhetoric? While there is no essentially masculine or feminine rhetoric and its substance
may clearly shift across space and time, a rhetoric can be said to be masculin-ized (or
femin-ized) if it connects with the production of masculine (or feminine) identities
within a particular historical context. The above discussion of benevolent tutelage and
guidance constitutes the reproduction of a paternalist masculinity, connected with the
speakers identities as men, because of the history of paternalism within colonial rule.
That is, as outlined above, European colonialism was primarily a masculinist affair
(for more on this, see Colwill 1998; de Groot 2000; Hall 1999). Particularly from the
Enlightenment period, it acquired a paternalist tenor that emphasized its benevolence
toward dependent territories (McClintock 1995; Nandy 1987; Nandy 1988). As one
scholar puts it, for example, Victorian ideals of manliness and gentlemanliness shaped
colonial strategies of rule, as administrators conceived of themselves as fathers to
childlike natives(Conklin 1999: 97). Thus, the arguments of colonial speakers in
these debates reproduce a paternalist masculinity that historically constitutes a
centerpiece of colonialist discourse.
The anti-colonialist response: ambiguity, contradiction, and the reclaiming
of masculinity
To their historical experiences of colonialism and to its defense as articulated by
colonialist speakers in the General Assembly, anti-colonialists launched a decided
yet ambiguous challenge. As a recurring term in their statements was backward-
ness, I began with a cluster analysis of the term that reveals that various anti-
colonialists actually understood their designation as backward within the
colonialist narrative in some very different ways from one another. In one response,
what I term the colonialist anti-colonialist narrative, backwardness was tantamount
to a lack of linearized abstractions such as development, advancement, progress, and
evolution. In consequence, this narrative agreed that dependent territories must be
206 Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215
prepared for independence, and so must be developed, advanced, and helped to
evolve. This colonialist, anti-colonialist narrative also appealed to both sets of
images that the colonialist narrative deployed, those of linear progression and
paternalism. For example, one speaker in the anti-colonialist camp proclaimed:
The [United Nations] Charter, with the object of leading the backward peoples
step by step towards the light and towards an evolution which will enable them
to take their responsibility for their social and political destinies upon their
shoulders [and] the Trusteeship System [are] more in keeping with our
modern ideas, which require that the peoples of the world should rise from one
stage of civilization to the next. (Mr. Vieux, Haiti, Sess 2, 1947: 611)
This colonialist anti-colonial narrative was the most common anti-colonialist
narrative throughout the 15 years examined.
In contrast, while the second anti-colonialist narrative agreed that backwardness
was indeed about lack of development, which was also connected to a lack of
political independence, it made the critical distinction that this lack of advancement
was actually not an inherent condition but caused by the exogenous factor of
European colonialism:
[The Colonial] Powers alleged among other things that the colonial peoples still
lacked the necessary maturity to administer themselves. Those arguments show
the complete hypocrisy and bad faith of these Powers. On the one hand the
Colonial States actually keep the countries under their domination at an extremely
low standard of living, exploit them ruthlessly and withhold from them, even the
most elementary means of education. On the other hand, whenever it suits their
convenience, they use as an argument a state of affairs which is merely the result of
their own policy, in order to demonstrate that the conquered peoples would not be
capable of self-government. (Mr. Winiewicz, Poland, Sess 10, 1955, p. 370371)
Articulated in the early years to a limited extent by the Soviet bloc and its associated
countries, towards the close of the fifties newly independent countries started joining in
as well, making this the second most common anti-colonialist narrative. Together, these
countries argued that colonialismis not civilization, that before colonialism, Africans
were highly developed, that colonialism [itself] is bad for development, is indeed
emasculating, and that there is a new kind of backwardness [that of] those who
continue colonialism. From this perspective, the civilizing mission or white mans
burden was seen as a guise and an excuse. One speaker argued: youve been
claiming to train us for 350 years, and havent done so. Furthermore, because this
discourse dissociated colonialism from development, this approach could deconstruct
the notion of advancement or progress on a linear scale as the precondition for
independence. This discourse thus inverted the relationship between progress on a
linear scale and independence, arguing that progress did not so much lead to
independence, but rather, that independence would lead to progress or develop-
ment. With regard to the image of paternalist guidance, it argued that independence
would lead to maturity, and that independence is the best way to mature the people.
Overall, while this narrative accepted the identity distinctions of backwards versus
advanced in the colonialist narrative, it rejected the purported relationship between
Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215 207
these identities as well as the colonialist knowledge about them. In the process, it
redefined the significance of those identity distinctions themselves.
Against both of these perspectives, the third anti-colonialist narrative problem-
atized the notion of backwardness as defined by the colonialist powers:
Former colonial peoples and those who are still not independent have their own
cultures, their own civilizations, their own traditions, their own languages and
their own customs. They are not only proud of their heritage but they want to
maintain it. They are determined to preserve it and to develop it in their own
way [italics added] these activities can be carried out just as well, if not
better, if the colonialists make an exit, and a quick exit now. (Mr. Asha, United
Arab Republic, Sess 15, 1960: 1048)
It necessarily, then, also rejected colonialist knowledge about these entities and
ultimately, this discourse rejected each element of the colonialist discourse. While
appearing throughout the fifteen-year time span and intensifying especially toward
the end, relative to the other two, this argument was less common in the debates.
Despite these variable understandings of the notion of backwardness, therefore, it
is evident that most speakers actually accepted their colonialist designations as
backward, underdeveloped, and so on. How, then, was the argument for changefor
decolonizationarticulated? The debates reveal that this challenge was posed
primarily on the gendered/sexualized terrain of nature, violation, and mascu-
linity. Firstly, colonialism was challenged as against the rules of creation:
[At the eve of World War II, colonialism was so extensive that] contrary to the
rules of creation, the child was manifoldly bigger than its parents, indeed all the
parents put together. (Mr. Shukairy, Saudi Arabia, Sess 15, 1960:101314)
As an unnatural circumstance, it was understood as a violation, or a moral
prostitution and a rape (Mr. Perera, Ceylon, Sess 15, 1960:1001)one that
served, moreover, to emasculate already grown men:
[Colonialism] is a system that takes the manhood out of those exposed to it.
(Mr. Dosumu-Johnson, Liberia, Sess 15, 1960:1069)
[The colonized] man, in whom all dignity has been blunted, is thus morally
diminished. (Mr. Kaka, Niger, Sess 15, 1960:1125)
Decolonization, from this perspective, was necessary for redressing this emascula-
tion. One speaker described having freedomreturned after being colonized, for instance,
as once again being master in ones own house (Mr. Thors, Iceland, Sess 15, 1960:
1147). Speaking of the decolonization process already underway, another argued that
nearly a thousand million men have recovered their outraged dignity and freedom
(Mr. Champassak, Laos, Sess 15, 1960:1108).
Moreover, as the paternalistic relations of colonialism violated the rules of nature,
anti-colonialists now sought to replace them with the more natural masculinist
relations of brotherhood:
[This moment is the] universal moment of truth. It is a moment between a past
of inequality and a glorious future, in which all peoples of the world seem
208 Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215
resolved to re-establish human brotherhood, now won back at last, and to work
together for their common happiness, on a footing of equality and the solidarity
of free men. (Mr. Vakil, Iran, Sess 15, 1960:990)
Our age is one of co-operation among free and equal peoples and men. More
still, it is an age of human brotherhood, association and mutual assistance. (Mr.
Ammoun, Lebanon, Sess 15, 1960:1162)
[With this new Declaration, a new chapter is opened] one based on equality and
the brotherhood of man. (Mr. Rossides, Cyprus, Sess 15, 1960:1281)
Thus in anti-colonialist discourse, a transnational resistance masculinity defined
both the experience of being colonized and the freedom being fought for,
transforming the struggles of still-dependent peoples into the adult, masculine
battles of our brethren in Africa, our Algerian brothers, our Congolese
brothers, and our brothers in courage.
And yet, the ambiguous positioning in relation to the notion of backwardness
introduced certain tensions and contradictions into this politics of adult masculinity.
While for some anti-colonialists, every territory was always already of age, for
others, the once young territories had only now come of age and so only now
deserved freedom. Describing his own country of India, one speaker transformed
one of the oldest civilizations in existence into a young country, and the
representative from Ghana described his country as at once ancient and reborn.
This ambiguous relationship of many anti-colonialists to the imagery of birth, youth,
growth, and adulthood, clearly emergent from the history of colonialist paternalism,
is especially evident in the following speech:
Every child, in his youth, inexperience and lack of initiative, lives under the wing of
his parents. When he grows up, he leaves his parents home, goes out into the world
and makes a home for himself far from those who reared him, because he feels free
in his person and personality. Then should the colonized, ever submissive, have his
freedom rationed by his colonizer? Not long ago we were being poisoned with
the sugared venom of colonialism but we have outgrown the stage of servitude,
we are no longer credulous children who can be made to believe in Santa Claus
forever. Those days are over, and colonialism has been outstripped at every point.
(Mr. Lheyet-Gaboka, Congo (Brazzaville), Sess 15, 1960: 1178)
Here, the speaker moves between the image of a (male) child who grows up and
obtains his freedom to the notion of a fleeting credulity or gullibility that is now
decidedly gone. Such ambiguity made itself felt in an uneven critique that embraced
and sought economic and technical development assistance even as it decon-
structed political tutelage:
Assistance and co-operation are indispensable for the progress of under-
developed countries, [as] the gap separating them from the technically
advanced countries can only be bridged if loyal cooperation is established
within the framework of national independence for all countries, for the task of
transforming and industrializing the economic structures of backward countries.
(Mr. Ismal, Guinea, Sess 15, 1960: 1083)
Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215 209
Thus, while paternalist tutelage in the political arena had been thoroughly
critiqued, economic and technical assistance between brothers was deemed
acceptable and even necessary:
Real brotherhood [means that] the strong supports the weak; the wealthy helps
the needy; the developed assists the under-developed; and when all such aids
are made without conditions or strings attached. (Mr. RifaI, Jordan, Sess 15,
1960: 1057)
Finally, such assistance was especially appropriate if provided by the machinery
of the United Nations:
Newly liberated countries will need such aid, whether economic or technical.
None of these States will be able to do without it if it wants to develop
economically and socially. In general, this urgent need of new States provides a
good opportunity for competition between the different forces in the world, and
particularly between the two [Cold War] blocks, each seeking to impose its
influence therefore, the value of this aid would be enormously advanced if it
were given through the United Nations. (Mr. Slim, Tunisia, Sess 15, 1960: 1045)
What do these conversations tell us? At the simplest level, to the racialized,
sexualized paternalist masculinity (re)produced by colonialists, anti-colonialists in
the post-1945 United Nations General Assembly debates responded with a certain
kind of resistance masculinity. The counter-politics of historically racialized men,
this masculinity negotiated an in-between space premised on simultaneously
accepting and rejecting key elements of the logic of its subordination. While, on
the one hand, it overwhelmingly accepted its location as backward, underdevel-
oped and so forth within the colonial narrative and sought assistance to rectify this
situation, it also demanded the return of a masculinity denied.
How did the shifting post-war global power structure condition this discourse?
Both colonialist and anti-colonialist categories, as mentioned earlier, were blocks
made up of discrete groups of countries, each with differing goals in the post-1945
world. The block that I termed colonialist was composed of former and
contemporary European colonial powers, the United States, and a number of Latin
American countries such as Argentina, Colombia, and Peru. Each of these had
distinct reasons for their similar rhetorical and voting patterns. For example, this was
a moment characterized by a decline in the hegemony of European colonial powers.
Thus in these conversations, colonial powers like Britain and France were engaged
in defending a world order quickly losing its legitimacy, and so they stressed
especially a gentle, well-intentioned fatherhood (while at the same time,
attempting to maintain power through new politico-economic structures such as
the Commonwealth and French Union). This order, moreover, was being eclipsed by
a new global-scale conflict and the rising power of especially the United States. On
one level, the United States is harder to pin down than European colonial powers,
with its professions of support for democracy and the anti-colonialist cause. Scholars
210 Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215
point out, however, that in the Cold War climate, an American cold warrior
masculinity either sought to contain the threat of communism (Clark 2003) or
worried that it was not masculine enough to do so (Cuordileone 2005; Dean 2001).
U.S. professions of support for democracy and development for underdeveloped
nations were made with such concerns in mind (Dean 2001; Grosfoguel 2003).
Others add that any support anti-colonialists did get was also about reducing the
power of European rivals (Kelly and Kaplan 2004). Regardless of such complexities,
however, in rhetorical and voting patterns, the United States perpetuated the colonial
narrative. Finally, many Latin American countries also aligned themselves with
colonialist Europe and the United States, which should perhaps come as little
surprise. The legacies of Spanish colonialism left a privileged elite, mainly white
descendants of the European conquerors, later joined by immigrants from Europe,
which preserved their power over mestizos, native Indians and descendants of
African slaves (McWilliams and Piotrowski 2001:311312). There is no reason to
assume the elites that represented these states felt any association with newly
independent Asian and African countries. Indeed, countries like Argentina and
Colombia contributed some of the most racist arguments to the colonialist narrative
in the United Nations General Assembly debates. Additionally, despite growing
resentment toward US power, the United States also dangled military and economic
aid (McWilliams and Piotrowski 2001:313); and in international organizations the
Latin American states were usually found supporting U.S. positions (Robertson
Constituents of the anti-colonialist block, too, came together for varying reasons.
The core of this block was newly independent Asian and African countries, which
coalesced especially after the Bandung Conference (Hovet 1960:8788), and which
continued to develop a sense of collective identity and purpose throughout the 1950s
(Berger 2004; Legum 1958; Mortimer 1984). While the analysis above identifies
two key anti-colonial narratives, with one emphasizing that underdevelopment leads
to dependency and the other arguing that dependency leads to underdevelopment, I
do not want to make too much of this distinction. Not only did individual speakers
often vacillate between the two, both narratives agree on the fundamental condition
of underdevelopment. The central element to focus on here is the acceptance of this
dimension of the colonialist narrative.
Additionally in the shadow of the aforementioned growing resentment to US
power, Latin American states were split in the United Nations General Assembly,
and so countries like Guatemala and Mexico also contributed to anti-colonialist
rhetorical and voting patterns. In the 1960s, these states also started to produce
whats been called dependency theory (Robertson 1997:175), which echoed
especially the second anti-colonial narrative discussed above. Finally, these anti-
colonialists were joined by the Soviet Union, which despite its own racialized
identity (see especially chapters 2 and 3, Patil 2007), in its new contest with the
United States sought to connect western colonialism with capitalism. In this, it was
uniformly joined by the Soviet-bloc.
In the context of the shifting political climate, and with a general orientation to
development and any development assistance offered by their new superpower
suitors on the part of newly independent countries (see also Gelvin 2002; Mason
1997), these countries especially targeted European powers. The problematic
Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215 211
practices of both the United States and the Soviet Union were largely ignored. While
there may have been some connection to the emerging position of non-alignment,
newly independent Asian and African countries were acutely aware of the imperialist
practices of the Soviet Union regarding its satellites and republics, as well as
problematic relationships between the Unites States and its own dependencies like
Puerto Rico. Indeed, both issues were debatedboth within the United Nations
General Assembly meetings and without. Nevertheless, on all counts, newly
independent Asian and African countries chose to focus on and target Europe (see
especially chapters 2 and 3, Patil 2007).
Ultimately, this shifting global power structure was central in shaping anti-
colonialist discourse. While most anti-colonialist speakers critiqued the political
dependence imposed by European colonialism, they failed to engage sufficiently the
potentially problematic relationships with those that might now offer economic
development and other kinds of assistance. In the case of the second anti-colonialist
narrative, which argued that dependency leads to underdevelopment, perhaps the
notion that development aid would come largely through the auspices of the United
Nations mitigated this contradiction. Nevertheless, scholars continue to comment on
this moment and its consequent complexities to this day. In the case of the third anti-
colonialist narrative as expounded by the United Arab Republic, which in the United
Nations General Assembly rejected the very notion of development itself in 1960,
such nationalist radicalism (Mason 1997) was short-lived. The United Arab
Republic came into existence in the late 1950s when, in the wake of the Suez War
and Syrian fears of a US plot to compromise its sovereignty, the government in Syria
decided to merge with a stronger Egypt (Mason 1997:169170). Both Syria and
Egypt, however, had long had orientations to development (Gelvin 2002:8485).
Their union fell apart only a few years later in 1961.
Ultimately, the negotiation of the 1960 Declaration sheds light on some important
transnational feminist concerns. If in this moment of resistance to racial and cultural
hierarchy, freedom is articulated as the reclaiming of a masculinity hitherto denied,
what might be the implications for women, as well as for other masculinities? That
this resistance emerges in the UN debates, moreover, points to its transnational
dimension. Although I do not wish to argue that this resistance masculinity manifests
in the same way in every postcolonial country, or that it manifests in the same way
in 2008 as it did in 1960, this sort of resistance masculinity is also clearly still
relevant today. It is evident from the insistence on an authentic masculinity that
actually adapts colonialist notions of masculinity to definitions of the modern nation
or culture that do the same (Banerjee 2005; Hodgson 1999; Holden 1998; Low
2003). Moreover, even more local studies point to the prevalence of this sort of
resistance masculinity in the politics of racially marginalized men (see, for example,
Archer and Yamashita 2003; Chen 1999; Messner 2000; Weis et al. 2002). Thus if
we connect these instances of resistance masculinity as exhibiting a key transnational
pattern of resistance today, we may see the United Nations debates as one
significant, constitutive moment in the formation of this transnational pattern of
212 Theor Soc (2009) 38:195215
resistance. Moreover, it is a moment that provides a discursive framework that
historically racialized men (and perhaps others) continue to draw from to make sense
of their experiences today.
Finally, although my analysis does not tackle this question directly, the debates
also point to the complexity of this masculinity politics as it becomes intertwined
with multiple negotiations of development and by implication, multiple approaches
to state and nation-building. Thus, we need to pay better attention to how different
negotiations of development implicate different definitions of masculinity (and
femininity). Indeed, as development continues to be articulated and rearticulated
by subjects previously excluded from the sites of its negotiation (womens
movements, indigenous movements), we need more work exploring the interrela-
tionships between these different negotiations of development and the formation of
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Vrushali Patil is a sociologist. She holds a joint appointment with the Department of Global and
Sociocultural Studies and the Womens Studies Center at Florida International University. Patil is the
author of Negotiating Decolonization in the United Nations: Politics of Space, Identity and International
Community (2008). She is currently working on an examination contemporary tourism promotion
strategies within India from a postcolonial and feminist perspective.
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