Science and decolonisation in UNESCO

Authored by: Casper Andersen

The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire

Print publication date:  July  2021
Online publication date:  July  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367221256
eBook ISBN: 9780429273360
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter analyses processes of decolonisation in the science activities of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Based on close readings of the key scholarly literature and primary UNESCO sources the chapter argues that understanding the role of UNESCO in the world of science during the endgame of empire requires us to take into account the national, international, and imperial layers in an evolving tripartite structure of science. The chapter reviews the literature on imperial legacies during UNESCO’s founding moment and unravels the organisation’s endeavour to establish a global international science infrastructure in a decolonising world. It covers also the environmental sciences which became the largest area for UNESCO science in terms of budget and discusses how decolonisation agendas shaped UNESCO’s engagements with race science—an area in which historians have teased out thoroughly the layers in the tripartite structure of national, imperial, and international science in UNESCO.

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