The Origins of Cultural Development

Drama, Theatre and Performance Research Seminars, Online: Zoom

17:30 - 19:00

Presented by Rashna Darius Nicholson

This paper provides an overview of the complex transnational processes that lead to the global conceptualization of culture as a tool for development, a paradigm that assumed a distinctive tenor of Cold and post-Cold War diplomacy. Drawing on primary sources from the Rockefeller Archive Center, it examines how the performing arts were instrumentalized as tools for development in emerging countries — a legitimation narrative for culture that facilitated heterogeneous objectives — from national ‘'modernization' projects, U.S. 'soft' or 'smart' power activities to international cooperation. Due to its strategic location, non-aligned political status and symbolic value as the largest Asian democracy, India functioned, in the words of a Ford Foundation officer, as a 'guinea pig' for this experiment. The paper will analyze how the performing arts were posited by local politicians and American foundation officers, as key drivers of productivity and economic growth in India, a model that was subsequently replicated and transposed to other cash-strapped emerging countries. By tracing the institutional development of theatre in the subcontinent, the growth of an epistemic community of state and non-state actors and the reciprocal flows of knowledge between India and the U.S., the paper will show how American Foundations transformed existing disciplines such as Theatre Studies, facilitated the growth of new artistic movements and scholarly fields such as Intercultural Theatre and Performance Studies and assisted the United States' rise to global leadership in the arts.

Rashna Darius Nicholson is Assistant Professor, Drama and English Literary Studies at The University of Hong Kong. Prior to joining HKU she held a research fellowship at the ERC-Project "Developing Theatre", LMU Munich. Her research and teaching specializations include nineteenth, twentieth and twenty first century theatre history, historiography and practice; postcolonial and world literature and cultural development.