Abstract

In 1954, the Ford Foundation, new to international grant-giving, administered a small grant to a U.S.-educated Tehran native, Najmeh Najafi, to begin a development program for “village women” in rural Iran. Development was fast becoming a central transnational discourse of the post-war decolonization period and the early Cold War, and Najafi appears as a unique contributor to this discourse, as investment in women and women's programs would not become commonplace in international philanthropy until the early 1970s. But rather than a mere footnote, Najafi's case represents an important example of Ford's surveillance and increasingly “projectized” approach to development processes in strategic areas of the world, even as Najafi evaded Ford's attempts to make her “legible” in their global philanthropic system. This essay offers a rhetorical history of Najafi's negotiations with Ford and the tensions that arose between them around the binaries of North/South, East/West, developed/developing, and masculine/feminine. Using a lens of “scalar geopolitics” to emphasizes linkages between the local, national, and global, the article mines both Najafi's memoirs and Ford's grant archives in order to reflect on the complex ways development and philanthropy were framed and constituted during a tumultuous era in Iran and beyond.

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