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Malaria control in the Tennessee Valley Authority: health, ecology, and metanarratives of development
Journal of Historical Geography (2014)
  • Eric D. Carter, Macalester College

Starting in the 1930s, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created a globally influential model of regional development through centralized planning of massive public works to re-engineer social and natural systems in impoverished areas. TVA invested heavily in malaria control, since its own reservoirs created perfect breeding grounds for malaria-carrying anopheles mosquitoes. Eventually, both the TVA and malaria control would become key elements in an influential metanarrative in which an American ideology of 'technological modernism' dominated international development in the post-World War II era, until modern environmentalism and other social movements undermined the assumptions and goals of this ideology. This paper argues that a more subtle understanding of the history of ecological thought in regional development and malaria control challenges the dominant metanarrative. TVA malaria control actually reflected a tension between two important and competing ideological threads of TVA's master ethos of integrated regional development: socio-ecological holism and techno-scientific reductionism. Socio-ecological holism provided the grand vision for a transformation of nature and society, conceived as a unitary whole. But it was techno-scientific reductionism, which accommodated intimate, ecologically grounded knowledge of the habitats and behaviors of anopheles mosquitoes, that made malaria control possible. In this way, the TVA experience reflected theory and practice in malaria control internationally, before the advent of DDT.

  • malaria,
  • public health,
  • ecology,
  • Tennessee Valley Authority,
  • New Deal,
  • development
Publication Date
Citation Information
Eric D. Carter. "Malaria control in the Tennessee Valley Authority: health, ecology, and metanarratives of development" Journal of Historical Geography Vol. 43 (2014)
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