Event—Scholarly Seminars

Najnin Islam, Colorado College & Eli Cook, University of Haifa


“One of the best schemes possible”: Racialization, Caste, and the Production of the Indian Coolie

Walter D. Scott and the Rating of the Modern Self

Najnin Islam and Eli Cook

“One of the best schemes possible”: Racialization, Caste, and the Production of the Indian Coolie

Najnin Islam, Colorado College

This paper examines the construction of the figure of the Indian indentured servant or the coolie in the British Caribbean after emancipation. While the “new world” coolie is understood to be the product of a racialized division of labor in the nineteenth century, I show how discourses of race and caste articulated to make the Indian coolie legible as a suitable replacement for emancipated Africans. Restoring caste to the conversation about capitalism in the Caribbean, I offer an analysis of how such forms of differentiation, often described as local, regional, and atavistic to the project of colonial modernity, were carefully mobilized in the service of racial capitalism in the Atlantic world.

Walter D. Scott and the Rating of the Modern Self

Eli Cook, University of Haifa

This paper focuses on Northwestern Professor and industrial psychologist Walter Dill Scott. Scott wrote some of the first works ever on the psychology of advertising, labor motivation, and personnel management. His goal was usually the same: How to get people to do what capitalists wanted. By far his most influential invention was a 5-point rating scale which required bosses to rate their workers on such things as “appearance,” “loyalty,” “manner” “tact”, “energy” and “personality.” After testing this rating system on officers during World War 1, these scales took off in the early 1920s – despite pushback from unions. Unlike industrial laborers whose productivity could often be tracked, white-collar and service workers required a new form of Taylorism which relied not on objective measures but subjective opinion. In an emerging consumerist society in which smiling, energetic, loyal and clean-cut salespeople and managers were not really selling goods as much as they were selling a part of themselves, Scott's rating of the modern self became the perfect disciplinary device.

Respondent: Cindy Hahamovitch, University of Georgia


This event is free, but all participants must register in advance and space is limited. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.

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About the History of Capitalism Seminar

The History of Capitalism Seminar provides a works-in-progress forum for work from scholars at all levels. Proposals may consider a variety of subjects, including the history of race and racism, gender and feminist studies, intellectual history, political history, legal history, business history, the history of finance, labor history, cultural history, urban history, and agricultural history. Elizabeth Tandy Shermer (Loyola University Chicago) and Andrew Hartman (Illinois State University) are the co-coordinators of the seminar.


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