Public and Private Lives

Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska

Peace Corps volunteer Janet Hanneman at work nursing in Pakistan, 1965.

About the project

I am currently completing a project titled “The Interpersonal and the International: Bodies of Global Politics in the 1950s and 1960s”.’ This project seeks to upend the top-down conventions of diplomatic history by exploring the role of non-elite actors in international affairs.

The project focuses on development volunteering, a global phenomenon during the 1950s and early 1960s, to suggest that the intersection of decolonization and the Cold War catalyzed the emergence of a new discourse situating ordinary citizens as actors in international relations and global diplomacy.

As the world fractured into competing geopolitical blocs, and was divided into First, Second and Third Worlds, international friendship and global brotherhood were routinely posited as a first step towards world peace. National governments harnessed development volunteering programs to counter negative opinion about their nation, and claimed volunteers as an embodiment of an ideal national character.

This overt alignment of volunteers with the national reputation bridged the divide between personal bodies and the body politic, and rendered the interpersonal relationships of otherwise ordinary individuals into a form of diplomatic encounter. Within development volunteering, a broad range of intimate behaviors - private relationships, interpersonal conflicts, even personal views expressed in letters and postcards - came to be imbued with diplomatic meaning.