The history of the rise and fall of “modernization theory” after World War II has been told as a story of Talcott Parsons, Walt Rostow, and other US social scientists who built a general theory in US universities and sought to influence US foreign policy. However, in the 1950s anthropologist Robert Redfield and his Comparative Civilizations project at the University of Chicago produced an alternative vision of modernization—one that emphasized intellectual conversation across borders, the interrelation of theory and fieldwork, and dialectical relations of tradition and modernity. In tracing the Redfield project and its legacies, this essay aims to broaden intellectual historians’ sense of the complexity, variation, and transnational currents within postwar American discourse about modernity and tradition.

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Copyright © 2012 Cambridge University Press. This article first appeared in Modern Intellectual History 9:3 (2012), 565-595.

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