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'Conscripts of modernity: the tragedy of colonial enlightenment,' David Scott

About the author
Danny Postel is Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He is the author of Reading "Legitimation Crisis" in Tehran and co-editor, with Nader Hashemi, of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future and The Syria DilemmaFormerly senior editor of openDemocracy, he is a Contributing Editor of Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture and a blogger for forCritical InquiryTruthout, and the Huffington Post. His website is here. On Twitter: @dannypostel


“Conscripts of modernity: the tragedy of colonial enlightenment”
by David Scott
Duke University Press | November 2004 | ISBN 0822334445

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Recommended by Danny Postel: “This book is fascinating, and I recommend it highly. It is about the legacy of anti-colonial struggles and their overall failure to realise the emancipatory ideals they upheld. To make sense of this, Scott proposes that what he calls the spirit of ‘romantic anti-colonialism’ be replaced by a tragic sense of history. He interweaves a reading of C.L.R. James’ classic study The Black Jacobins with Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution. Tremendously thought-provoking and relevant.”

What the publisher says: “At this stalled and disillusioned juncture in postcolonial history — when many anti-colonial utopias have withered into a morass of exhaustion, corruption, and authoritarianism — David Scott argues the need to reconceptualise the past in order to reimagine a more usable future. He describes how, prior to independence, anti-colonialists narrated the transition from colonialism to postcolonialism as romance—as a story of overcoming and vindication, of salvation and redemption. Scott contends that postcolonial scholarship assumes the same trajectory, and that this imposes conceptual limitations. He suggests that tragedy may be a more useful narrative frame than romance. In tragedy, the future does not appear as part of a seamless forward movement, but instead as a slow and sometimes reversible series of ups and downs.”

About the author: David Scott is Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. He is the author of Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality and Formations of Ritual: Colonial and Anthropological Discourses on the Sinhala Yaktovil. He is editor of the journal Small Axe.


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