CfP: International Organizations in the Global South: Body Politics, Power Relations, Local Impacts

20. April 2023
Call for papers

International Conference, 19-22 June 2024, Geneva Graduate Institute
The conference will discuss the role of international organizations in shaping body politics in countries of the Global South during the twentieth century.

The conference will discuss the role of international organizations in shaping body politics in countries of the Global South during the twentieth century. International organizations often took upon themselves responsibilities regarding the bodies of populations across the globe. Defending bodies from sickness, substance abuse, hunger, trafficking, and harmful labor was an official goal of organizations such as the League of Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, International Atomic Energy Association. etc.. Other international organizations such as missions, global businesses, humanitarian and aid organizations have equally dealt with body politics in their respective frameworks. The conference invites historians to discuss the agendas of international organizations from a critical perspective, questioning their neutral stances in the understanding and definition of the physical needs of societies in the Global South. (With Global South, we refer to regions outside of Europe and North-America, which are newly industrialized, in the process of industrialization and are frequently current or former subjects of colonialism.)

Historians have often referred to racial and gendered biases in the agendas of international organizations towards non-European societies. Yet, the impact of their understanding of the bodies of the people they encountered is not yet sufficiently explored. The focus on bodies and body politics is usually considered in gender and sexuality studied, but less so in studies of international organizations. Examining the actions of international organizations can offer new insights on how colonial bodies were constructed by such organizations, how local actors reacted to such interferences, to what extent these constructions had an impact on social and political structures, and in which ways these constructions are perpetuated in the present.

Based at the Geneva Graduate Institute, the conference will also include meetings and guided tours in the archives of organizations such as the League of Nations, WHO, ILO, International Committee of the Red Cross, the Olympic Committee etc. With the help of archivists, we will try and find traces of the body and of international perceptions of it in the archives.
Abstracts up to 300 words of previously unpublished papers discussing, but not limited to, the following questions are welcome:

- How did international organizations understand and construct the body of the man, the woman, and the child, and how did this understanding influence local actors?
- To what extent did the actions of international organizations differ between countries under direct colonial rule and independent albeit semi-colonial countries?
- To what extent did constructions of the body as ‘weak’, ‘degenerated’, ‘addicted’, ‘effeminate’, etc. serve for international organizations to perpetuate colonial power relations in subtle ways of silencing ‘indigenous’ voices?
- How can we conceptualize agencies of local actors and their potential in changing political structures in the context of values and practices promoted by international organizations?
- How did local notions of the body influence international approaches to indigenous populations and to populations at the Center?
- How was science used and misused in order to understand, categorize, typologize, and represent bodies in the Global South?

Abstracts deadline: 20 April 2023. Please also send a short CV (up to 2 pages) with your contact details. Abstract and CV should be sent to:

Decisions on acceptance will be sent during June 2023. Participants accepted to the conference will be asked to send their papers in advance, in order to facilitate an in-depth discussion of each paper. The organizers aim to publish selected papers from the conference in a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal. The organizers are applying for funding for the conference, and partial or full coverage of participants’ travel, accommodation, and visa costs will be available according to the results of our application.

This conference is an event of the research network “History of Body Politics in the Global South'' in cooperation with the Geneva Graduate Institute. The network’s aim is to create a long-lasting academic cooperation across countries and academic institutes through joint meetings, publications, workshops, and research visits. If you wish to join the network, please contact Elife Biçer-Deveci at:

Organisiert von
Elife Biçer-Deveci (Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen/Nürnberg), Sivan Balslev (Hebrew University Jerusalem), Esther Möller (Leibniz Institute for European History, Mainz), Cyrus Schayegh (Geneva Graduate Institute), Davide Rodogno (Geneva Graduate


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