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Small Axe 7.2 (2003) 1-22

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Political Rationalities of the Jamaican Modern

David Scott

Clientelism in the Third World is more than a device to win votes for competing parties. It is a mechanism by which to institutionalize a power structure.
—Carl Stone
With government it is a question of not of imposing law on men but of disposing things: that is, of employing tactics rather than laws, and even using laws themselves as tactics—to arrange things in such a way that, through a certain number of means, such-and-such ends may be achieved.
—Michel Foucault

In recent years, there has been something of a revival of the theoretical analysis of Jamaican politics. A small but growing number of scholars have turned—or more properly, returned—their attention to an investigation of questions concerning power and state legitimacy, community and justice, and authority and civil order in contemporary Jamaica. Perhaps the reasons for this renewed preoccupation are not hard to come by. After all, it is all too clear that the old terms of political analysis (whether derived from versions of liberal nationalism, liberal constitutionalism, Fanonian liberationism, Black Nationalism, or Marxism) are less than adequate to the task of gaining conceptual uptake on the conditions and features—the new volatilities, so to call them—that mark [End Page 1] and shape the social-political landscape of the Jamaican present. It is hardly necessary to rehearse the grim dimensions of this crisis of economic stagnation, political legitimacy, and personal security. But what makes this time in Jamaica so out of joint, the problems so seemingly intractable, is less the singularity of any particular feature—crime, corruption, or economic malaise—than the pervasive sense that frames it of the exhaustion of the energies necessary to think it through afresh, politically. This is the historical moment I have called the end-point of the Bandung project—the moment at which an entire historical form of the problem of sovereignty, nation, economy, citizen, has played itself out. The renewal of the theoretical preoccupation with Jamaican politics is partly an attempt to get a grip on this new and difficult context.

But the renewal of interest in critically engaging the question of politics and the political in the Jamaican present also takes place in a larger intellectual context characterized by the revitalization of the field of political theory in the last two decades or so, not least in the English-speaking world. The story of this revitalization, needless to say, is not easy to summarize or compress. Too many competing themes and problems and too many rival perspectives and agendas crowd the densely performative stage of critical discourse. But any survey of the range of preoccupations that has animated this work would, I think, have at least to comprehend the various re-interrogations of the state, nation, civil society, and sovereignty, of liberalism's autobiography of liberty, of constitutionalism's dependence on distinctive conceptions of legal and political reason, and of democratic pluralism's entanglement with secularism and with particular assumptions about the body, gender, race and culture. 1 There is, in short, a good deal of productive energy circulating in contemporary political theory. And while it is true that not all (perhaps not even many) of its themes have entered directly into the specific debates about Jamaican politics, they serve nonetheless to shape (or reshape) the language-game of the political in terms of which theoretical debates are rendered intelligible, if not necessarily, or always, desirable or compelling. [End Page 2]


One kind of intervention into the Jamaican political present, one with considerable currency and appeal among a wide cross section of the educated public, frames itself in terms of a normative or recuperative discourse on civil society and democracy. In the style of a good deal of contemporary democracy-talk, it stages a worry about the erosion of civic order and a decline in citizen participation in public life. Trevor Munroe's book Renewing Democracy into the Millennium is perhaps the best—or anyway the most symptomatic—elaboration of this direction of our...


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