International Social Reform and the Invention of Development

43 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2016 Last revised: 25 Sep 2016

See all articles by Guy Fiti Sinclair

Guy Fiti Sinclair

Victoria University of Wellington School of Law

Date Written: September 1, 2016


This paper challenges the standard narrative of the ‘birth’ or ‘invention’ of development, which depicts development as primarily an American invention of the decade following World War II, forged by US policy makers in the context of the Cold War and decolonization. in contrast, the account presented in this paper focuses on the sources of development thinking in the international social reform movement of the early twentieth century. In particular, the paper focuses on the European discourses of social reform and social law that arose in the nineteenth century and were promoted vigorously after World War I by the International Labor Organization (ILO). As this paper shows, the ILO's special contribution to the emergence of development stemmed from its efforts to apply a European model of social government to non-European societies, in both colonial and postcolonial settings; and from its work on scientific management, rationalization, and economic and social planning, at both a national and an international level. Moreover, the ILO was an important vector for transmitting these discourses and practices into the postwar United Nations system.

Keywords: International Law, International Organizations, Development, Modernization, International Labor Organization, Social Reform, Social Law, Technical Assistance, Social Insurance, Scientific Management, Rationalization, Economic Planning

Suggested Citation

Sinclair, Guy Fiti, International Social Reform and the Invention of Development (September 1, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Guy Fiti Sinclair (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington School of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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