Seeing Like a Scott: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Historiographical Condition Have Failed

Bodhisattva Kar, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

The parodic ring of the title of this paper must be taken seriously. Like all parodies, this paper too simultaneously confirms and subverts the canonical status that James Scott’s self-professedly anarchist histories have come to occupy in the field of the Indian North-east studies. Like all parodies, this one too pushes irony to its militant extreme, and finds a seemingly implausible continuity between the presumptions of James Scott the radical historian and David Scott the colonial administrator. In trying to understand how the Scott-inspired histories have had the unwitting and rather paradoxical effect of reinforcing identitarian politics, frontier exceptionalism and a certain shade of primitivism, this paper wishes to critically reevaluate the spate of new historical researches on the Indian northeast. At one level, Scott is a pretext for this paper to raise certain fundamental questions about the politics and ethics of writing history in and of the region. At another, the Scott moment in the regional historiography is its very text which is necessarily exceeded by its constitutive relations.