The youngest child of working class, depression-era parents, Scott Peters grew up in a small town nestled in the corn and soybean deserts of the Midwest. He fell in love with stories and storytelling as a child. And music, which he pursued first with trumpet, baritone and tuba, and then with a Fender Stratocaster. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he recorded his first album with his band, Crayon Rubbings, at a recording studio in a converted packinghouse in Denver, Colorado. He then left the glamourous world of rock and roll for a decade of equally glamorous work as a political activist in Illinois and Minnesota. Troubling questions about higher education’s roles in supporting or hindering democracy led him to pursue a PhD in history and political theory with Harry Boyte at the University of Minnesota, which then led him to his faculty position at Cornell University in 1999.
Soon after beginning his work at Cornell Scott’s childhood love for stories and storytelling was revived, thanks to his colleague, mentor and friend John Forester. As a professor in Cornell’s Department of Development Sociology, he now uses a range of narrative methods—including oral history—to co-construct and interpret stories about people’s life and work experiences. In line with the scholar as human project, he is most interested in exploring the humanizing power of stories and storytelling. Situating his work in the transdisciplinary field of civic studies, he focuses on the social, cultural and political dimensions of what is often referred to as “development.” His latest book, Making Democracy Work as it Should, will be published by the Kettering Foundation Press in 2017. In collaboration with Appalshop and Roadside Theater, he is currently co-leading the research for a national initiative called Performing Our Future. From 2012-2017 he served as faculty co-director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life.
In all aspects of his life, Scott is encouraged by what has become his favorite sentence. It comes from page 7 of Arthur Frank’s powerful book, Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology (University of Chicago Press, 2010):
“People are like actors cast into multiple scripts that are all unfinished.”