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Experts and Expertise in the League of Nations Mandates

Experts et expertises dans les mandats de la Société des nations

Figures, Fields and Tools

Figures, champs et outils

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Published on Monday, July 21, 2014


Our vantage point is to consider the growing in importance of expertise during the twentieth century within the management of the colonial world and hence to study the emergence of the international sphere as a level of decision making. The purpose of this conference is to investigate the influence of early international agendas, advanced across the colonial world by experts operating in the orbit of international organizations. The investigation should also focus on the procedures and framework of international recognition of expertise at the intersection of the colonial and the international spheres. A first line of enquiry tackles the relations between the epistemologies that underpinned scientific knowledge in the colony and the metropolis. Another one looks into the sites of production of Mandatory expertise. Finally, we want to investigate the explicitly evolutionary conceptual framework for the mandates and its influence on the work of experts. We invite contributions dealing with the figure of the expert, whether official or not, and the various fields and tools of Mandatory expertise. Part and parcel of our reflexion is also a study of the limits and scope of expertise.



Our starting point is a basic observation: between the wars, expertise grew in importance not only in the administration and politics of nation-states, but in the international handling of colonial matters as well. The League of Nations mandates, spread across the Middle-East, African and the Pacific, provide us with an illuminating example. Two features distinguish them from other colonies. First, international oversight of the mandates was meant to improve colonization techniques through comparison and the exchange of methods. Second, indirect rule was the official normative model of colonization for the mandates. Both of these features ran counter to national models of colonization which were used to order colonial knowledge, even if historians and anthropologists of colonial sciences have shown since the 1980s that there was a wide gap between the unifying colonial theories across each of the colonial empires and the endless complexity of situations on the ground. The purpose of this conference is to investigate the emergence of the international as a level of decision-making, to determine whether—and how—it altered colonial knowledge. We hope to question the influence of early international agendas, advanced across the colonial world by experts operating in the orbit of international organizations. At the same time, procedures of expertise—and frameworks for recognizing it—were being constructed at the intersection of the colonial and the international spheres, amid a constant tension between the League and colonial powers over sovereignty. How did this process develop, and what kind of recognition did mandatory experts receive? Our position is to consider both official and unofficial experts, without privileging institutionally recognised expertise. A first line of enquiry tackles the relations between the epistemologies that underpinned scientific knowledge in the colony and the metropole. Did international expertise expand the logic of colonial sciences as tools of empire and instruments of domination? Or did the international trend towards the homogeneization of expertise, as explicitly promoted by the specialized commissions of the League, bring forward criteria and methods devised outside the colonial realm (and most often aimed at the populations of Europe)? Did the policy recommendations formulated by experts betray this tension? Closely linked with this alternative is a second line of enquiry. We would like to investigate the sites of production of mandatory expertise, including the Permanent Mandates Commission (PMC) and the Mandates Section of the League secretariat. The PMC, charged with overseeing the mandates, and the Mandates Section, which managed the administrative aspects of mandatory affairs at the League, seemed to be among the main frameworks of mandatory expertise. Yet we should question the respective importance of and the articulation between the narrowly political and knowledge-related dimensions of their work, which possibly changed over time. Who was entitled to express their views on the topics of expertise? Did the procedures for recognizing expertise produce a monopoly for colonial experts over the mandates, or do we see them in confrontation with specialists coming from different backgrounds with non-colonial norms and standards? Did such interactions between experts tend, through the imposition of universal standards, to dissolve the notion of colonial specificity—something which the historiography generally locates after 1945? A third topic is the explicitly evolutionary conceptual framework for the mandates, and its influence on the work of experts. To what extent did the evolutionary perspective shape the discourse of the experts and condition their findings and conclusions? Did it pervade the different fields of expertise mobilized in the mandates equally? And what were consequences? We propose to study these questions across the period 1919-1948. These were the years when the legal form of the mandate was fully functional across the various categories of mandates and the PMC, extended to include the UN commissions of enquiry on Palestine, which bring our topic to a close. This is, however, only the first part of a wider project on expertise, leading to further reflection on the links between expertise and political dependence in the territories under UN trusteeship.

Main themes

We invite participants to submit proposals focusing on four main themes:

1- The figure of the expert. How did the training, nationality, and recruitment of experts—and their involvement, or not, in official institutions—influence their views and recommendations? What does an analysis of their training reveal? How did the circles of advisors surrounding experts holding an official position work? How were the members of such circles placed within both bureaucratic hierarchies and colonial networks on the ground? We welcome biographical and prosopographical approaches, as well as analyses of career trajectories.

2- The different fields of expertise. Were these exclusively defined by mandatory obligations and international conventions? This normative corpus guided the production of information by the mandatory powers ahead of PMC meetings. It therefore produced a surfeit of documentation on certain topics (e.g., the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the circulation of alcohol, or the conservation of archaeological heritage), but left countless gaps in documentation as well. The members of the PMC often hesitated to venture into certain fields under their jurisdiction for lack of competence. Did the organisations and specialized commissions of the League (such as the Health Organisation, the Opium Commission, the Advisory Committee on the Traffic of Women and Children, or the International Labour Organisation) step in to fill the void? Conversely, did ‘turf wars’ arise? And how did private foundations – the Rockefeller Foundation perhaps comes first to mind here – deal with the mandates?

3- The tools of expertise. Inasmuch as expertise in a mandatory context was not necessarily based on intimate knowledge of the situation on the ground, how did experts work? What kind of tools did they use? Two main categories of instruments emerge here: indicators (e.g. indicators of malaria, with Palestine serving as a testing ground for their robustness and their use in policy making) and norms (such as criteria for « harmful drugs » or minimal food rations, whose definition and enforceability concerned a wide array of social actors). Did these tools respond in their conception to existing colonial concerns, to international agendas, or to disciplinary standards of validation within the scientific community? (It being understood that all of the above could overlap.) Were these tools a matter of consensus, and how did unofficial experts react to them? What effects did these tools, in their evolving forms, have on mandatory policies and international recommendations?

4- The limits and scope of expertise. Some limits were imposed by the statutory production of documentation, as mentioned above. But what other difficulties arose on the ground in the process of gathering data or implementing policy? Did expert face resistance or ‘inertia’ on the part of mandatory subjects? Did counter-expertise emerge locally or from below, perhaps produced by missionaries or disgruntled mandatory civil servants? Did indigenous actors use expertise to assert themselves politically, or as a form of an anticolonial dissent?


Abstracts (300 words max.) may be sent in French or English. Proposals should be sent by

15 September 2014

to the following email address: mandate.experts@gmail.com. Replies will be sent out by 15 October 2014, after examination by the scientific committee.

The colloquium will take place the 26-27th March, 2015, Paris, France 

Presentations and publication

Presentations should last no more than 20 minutes, and may be given in English or French. An edited book will be published to collect the most significant contributions to the conference. We therefore ask the candidates whose proposals are accepted to send their contribution to the same address by 20 January 2015.

Transportation and accommodation: Participants’ transportation and accommodation will be arranged and paid for by the organizing institutions.

Contact info: Philippe Bourmaud (Université Jean Moulin – Lyon 3): philippe.bourmaud@univ-lyon3.fr Chantal Verdeil (INALCO / IUF): chantal.verdeil@inalco.fr Norig Neveu (IFPO): n.neveu@ifporient.org

Scientific committee

  • Vincent Bonnecase (CNRS – LAM),
  • Anne Cornet (Africa Museum, Bruxelles),
  • Véronique Dimier (ULB),
  • Michael Fischbach (Randolph-Macon College),
  • Simon Jackson (Université de Birmingham),
  • Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen (INALCO),
  • Nadine Méouchy (IFPO),
  • Sarah Mohammed Gaillard (INALCO),
  • Benjamin Thomas White (Université de Glasgow),
  • Guillaume Lachenal (Université Paris 7 - IUF),
  • Emmanuelle Sibeud (Université Paris 8).


  • Auditorium - 65 Rue des Grands Moulins
    Paris, France (75013)


  • Monday, September 15, 2014


  • expertise, figure de l’expert, norme, outil, mandat, international, monde colonial


  • Philippe Bourmaud
    courriel : philippe [dot] bourmaud [at] univ-lyon3 [dot] fr
  • Chantal Verdeil
    courriel : chantal [dot] verdeil [at] inalco [dot] fr
  • Norig NEVEU
    courriel : norigneveu [at] hotmail [dot] fr

Information source

  • Norig NEVEU
    courriel : norigneveu [at] hotmail [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Experts and Expertise in the League of Nations Mandates », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, July 21, 2014, https://calenda.org/293728

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