Cold War social science in action: The Ford Foundation and liberal adult education in the United States (1945-60)

Willem Pieter Theodoor (Wim) De Jong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This paper scrutinises the Ford Foundation’s Fund for Adult Education from the perspective of Cold War social science. Its massive Experimental Discussion Project was an attempt at scientifically grounded social engineering in American communities in the field of liberal humanistic education. This civilisation-saving mission to foster critical democratic citizenship and world-understanding ran into aparadox of scientific social engineering and organic community growth, expertise, and planning versus lay leadership. Discussion groups opened up space for discussing politics during the McCarthy era, while its scientific evaluation was characteristic of the 1950s Culture Wars in its value neutrality and race-blindness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCold War History
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes



  • Democracy
  • social engineering
  • liberal education
  • Ford Foundation
  • Cold War culture
  • Cold War social science
  • anticommunism

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