A titan in the field of global politics and development studies, Professor Scott spoke about the differences between vernacular knowledge and official knowledge. Using several fascinating examples, Prof. James demonstrated the tensions that ensue worldwide when standardized processes are imposed from above by authorities and how this results in idiosyncratic systems. He cited the recent introduction of patrimonial last names around the world, and explained that not all peoples used last names, and in some countries like Thailand and Turkey, phone books were organized according to first names in keeping with local custom.
From this starting point, Prof. Scott went on to describe how government’s attempts to standardize society by creating national systems of taxation, legal codes, language, and even weights and measures follows a logic of control, manipulation and management over populations. Prof. Scott explained how the “Washington consensus”, an international effort to “harmonize” the world’s economies by establishing individual freehold land title in all countries, is itself a vernacular approach of the nineteenth century North Atlantic world. He suggested that today’s NGO’s could be seen as a product of this same hegemonic order, and challenged the audience to consider if they bear any relationship to nineteenth century Christian missionaries and the colonialist agenda.
Prof. Scott’s provocative ideas generated several excellent questions from the audience, leading to an engaging exchange between Trent students, faculty members. This robust interaction between this leading figure in political science and the Trent community was much enjoyed by Professors David Morrison and Alena Heitlinger, who endowed this lecture series for exactly this reason. In 2007 they made a significant donation to Trent to create this endowed lectureship to provide new learning experiences for Trent students and faculty for years to come.
For more information about International Development Studies at Trent, please visit their website.
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2008.