Rethinking the Post-War Hegemony of DDT: Insecticides Research and the British Colonial Empire

  • Sabine Clarke


The historical literature on insecticides and tropical disease is focussed overwhelmingly on the global Malaria Eradication Programme launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1955. The dominance at the WHO of the view that an aggressive programme of eradication using insecticides was the only acceptable option in the fight against malaria has led to the notion of the post-war hegemony of DDT.1 What this hegemony meant in practice, according to historians such as Randall Packard, was a significant decline in scientific research after 1940.2 It is repeatedly asserted that the dominance of insecticide-based control programmes retarded the understanding of malaria both as a biological and public health event. Packard states ‘The adoption of a global malaria eradication programme by the WHO eradicated malariologists’.3 A dis-tinction has been set up in the literature between research capable of producing nuanced understandings of tropical disease and the crude application of the technological quick fix in the form of DDT. The recurring theme in the narrative of DDT use by rich nations is technological hubris. Post-war interventions in the tropics are said to have been characterised by uncritical faith in the superior nature of Western technology and its transformative power, which is said in the case of DDT to have had its origins in the experiences of the Second World War.4


Malaria Control Tropical Disease National Archive Synthetic Insecticide Colonial Government 
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© Sabine Clarke 2012

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  • Sabine Clarke

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