Ryan Jobson, University of Chicago | Newberry

Ryan Jobson, University of Chicago

Friday, January 18, 2019

3 to 5pm

History of Capitalism Seminar

Unlocking Modernity: From Brown Sugar to Steel

In August 1973, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Eric Williams announced his impending retirement from political life. Tasked a decade earlier with the cultivation of a postcolonial nationalism centered in principles of multiracial harmony and Westminster parliamentary democracy, Williams prepared to exit the political arena at a moment of mounting economic insecurity. Mere months after his retirement speech, however, Williams returned to political life. The explosion in oil prices in 1973— regarded elsewhere as an “energy crisis”—was opportune for an elite Trinbagonian bureaucracy under sustained assault from factions of the radical left and breathed new life into a creole nationalist ideology that Black Power had confronted in its clamors for radical democratic futures. Emboldened newly unearthed natural gas reserves, Williams promised to “go for steel” in order to secure the economic future of the fledgling postcolonial state. Yet, after steel production began, contracting markets caused ISCOTT to suffer massive losses of TT$1,132,700,000 from 1983 to 1986. Intended as a buffer to secure political and economic futures against the comparative unpredictability of oil and gas prices, steel proved to be an albatross. Accordingly, this paper considers the relationship between metallurgic production and postcolonial state development. As the ISCOTT saga demonstrates, heavy metal production is complicated by external contingencies that can reverse industrial refining and purification. Refined metals are always susceptible to corrosion. While iron and steel are descriptive of dynamic states of matter, we tend to discuss heavy metals of this variety as inexorably solid in their chemical composition. An equally misleading impression of political order governs the emplotment of postcolonial futures. Just as metals are not pristine substances that exist in isolation from external forces, neither is the state an independent object as it appears, or proclaims, to be.

Respondents: Paige Glotzer, University of Wisconsin-Madison and David Stebenne, The Ohio State University

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