david scott interview


Stuart Hall: David, your book Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment is written in the shadow of what you call the exhaustion and collapse of “the social and political hopes that went into the anti-colonial imaginary and postcolonial making of national sovereignties.” What do you think went wrong, fundamentally, with that project?

David Scott: Stuart, here’s one way of answering your question. I was born in 1958 in Jamaica. And since Independence came in 1962 I am part of the first generation to grow up more or less entirely inside the New Nation. I have no personal experience of colonialism. I have no memory of the Union Jack coming down, no sense of an ending and a new beginning. I live, therefore, not so much the contrast between the colonial and the postcolonial as the early internal struggle over the kind of nation it would be. The 1970s was my generation’s short decade of hope and expectation and longing. Whether you were a Rastafarian (as I was for a while in high school), or whether you were part of Michael Manley’s democratic socialist People’s National Party or the communist Worker’s Party of Jamaica (or, as I was, on the fringes of both), you lived inside a surging momentum (well, maybe not surging) for radical social change. The 1980s brings this lurching to a close with the assassination of Walter Rodney in June 1980; the defeat of Michael Manley in October of the same year; and the implosion of the Grenada Revolution in 1983. I am old enough to have believed in the 1970s, but I am also young enough to be skeptical of the mythology of the narrative of emancipation and to be able to cast an impassive eye on its rhetorical structure. This is the generational vantage from which I come at Conscripts of Modernity.

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