Rhode, Maria

Colonial Questions and Colonial Science? Anthropology and the State in Interwar Poland


A talk held in the framework of the Prisma Ukraïna Workshop “Transnational Conversations: Scientists and the Big Questions of Twentieth-Century History”, 25 June 2018 in Berlin.

In my presentation, I will address the relationship between science and colonialism in interwar Poland. Scrutinizing an article written by the leading Polish anthropologist Jan Czekanowski in 1937, and analysing a Polish scientific expedition to Uganda in 1939, I will point to two crucial characteristics in the Polish colonial discourse: the effort to invent a colonial tradition on the one hand, and to implement modern elements of social engineering on the other.

The interwar Polish discourse on colonies and colonialism intersected with the European one but had also specific Polish characteristics. Looking at both, the discourse and the expedition, I will examine the degree of collaboration between the administration and scientists. Doing so, I will discuss the relationship between transnational and national factors, especially the impact of the existence or non-existence of a nation state on the process of knowledge production.

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