The Death of Idealism: Development and Anti-Politics in the Peace Corps

Kallman, Meghan Elizabeth. 2020. The Death of Idealism: Development and Anti-Politics in the Peace Corps. Columbia University Press.

Death of IdealismPeace Corps volunteers seem to exemplify the desire to make the world a better place. Yet despite being one of history’s clearest cases of organized idealism, the Peace Corps has, in practice, ended up cultivating very different outcomes among its volunteers. By the time they return from the Peace Corps, volunteers exhibit surprising shifts in their political and professional consciousness. Rather than developing a systemic perspective on development and poverty, they tend instead to focus on individual behavior; they see professions as the only legitimate source of political and social power. They have lost their idealism, and their convictions and beliefs have been reshaped along the way.

The Death of Idealism uses the case of the Peace Corps to explain why and how participation in a bureaucratic organization changes people’s ideals and politics. Meghan Elizabeth Kallman offers an innovative institutional analysis of the role of idealism in development organizations. She details the combination of social forces and organizational pressures that depoliticizes Peace Corps volunteers, channels their idealism toward professionalization, and leads to cynicism or disengagement. Kallman sheds light on the structural reasons for the persistent failure of development organizations and the consequences for the people involved. Based on interviews with over 140 current and returned Peace Corps volunteers, field observations, and a large-scale survey, this deeply researched, theoretically rigorous book offers a novel perspective on how people lose their idealism, and why that matters.

Public Perception of International Crises: Identity, Ontological Security and Self-Affirmation

Chernobrov, Dmitry. 2020. Public Perception of International Crises: Identity, Ontological Security and Self-Affirmation . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Public Perception of Internal CrisesHow do people make sense of distant, but disturbing international events? Why are some representations more appealing than others? What do they mean for the perceiver’s own sense of self? Going beyond conventional analysis of political imagining and perception at the level of accuracy, this book reveals how self-conceptions are unconsciously, but centrally present in judgments and representations of international others.
Combining international relations and psychosocial studies, Dmitry Chernobrov shows how the imagining of international politics is self-affirming and is shaped by the need for positive societal self-concepts. The book captures evidence of self-affirming political imagining in how the general public in the West and Russia understood the Arab Uprisings and makes an argument both about and beyond this particular case. The book will appeal to those interested in perception and political imagining, ontological security, identity and emotion, collective memory, international crises and political psychology.

First Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship: Elite Politics and the Decline of Great Power

Lachmann, Richard. 2020. First Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship: Elite Politics and the Decline of Great Power. Verso Books.

First Class PassengersThe extent and irreversibility of US decline is becoming ever more obvious as America loses war after war and as one industry after another loses its technological edge. Lachmann explains why the United States will not be able to sustain its global dominance. He contrasts America’s relatively brief period of hegemony with the Netherlands’ similarly short primacy and Britain’s far longer era of leadership.

Decline in all those cases was not inevitable and did not respond to global capitalist cycles. Rather, decline is the product of elites’ success in grabbing control of resources and governmental powers. Not only are ordinary people harmed, but also capitalists become increasingly unable to coordinate their interests and adopt policies and make investments necessary to counter economic and geopolitical competitors elsewhere in the world.

Conflicts among elites and challenges by non-elites determine the timing and mold the contours of decline. Lachmann traces the transformation of US politics from an era of elite consensus to present-day paralysis combined with neoliberal plunder, explains the paradox of an American military with an unprecedented technological edge unable to subdue even the weakest enemies, and the consequences of finance’s cannibalization of the US economy.

 Exit and Voice: the Paradox of Cross-Border Politics in Mexico

Duquette-Rury, Lauren. 2019. Exit and Voice: the Paradox of Cross-Border Politics in Mexico. University of California Press.

 Available through UC Press and Amazon.

 Exit and Voice Sometimes leaving home allows you to make an impact on it—but at what cost? Exit and Voice is a compelling account of how Mexican migrants with strong ties to their home communities impact the economic and political welfare of the communities they have left behind. In many decentralized democracies like Mexico, migrants have willingly stepped in to supply public goods when local or state government lack the resources or political will to improve the town. Though migrants’ cross-border investments often improve citizens’ access to essential public goods and create a more responsive local government, their work allows them to unintentionally exert political engagement and power, undermining the influence of those still living in their hometowns. In looking at the paradox of migrants who have left their home to make an impact on it, Exit and Voice sheds light on how migrant transnational engagement refashions the meaning of community, democratic governance, and practices of citizenship in the era of globalization.