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The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

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For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, essentially an “anarchist history,” is the first-ever exami For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, essentially an “anarchist history,” is the first-ever examination of the huge literature on state-making whose author evaluates why people would deliberately and reactively remain stateless. Among the strategies employed by the people of Zomia to remain stateless are physical dispersion in rugged terrain; agricultural practices that enhance mobility; pliable ethnic identities; devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders; and maintenance of a largely oral culture that allows them to reinvent their histories and genealogies as they move between and around states. In accessible language, James Scott, recognized worldwide as an eminent authority in Southeast Asian, peasant, and agrarian studies, tells the story of the peoples of Zomia and their unlikely odyssey in search of self-determination. He redefines our views on Asian politics, history, demographics, and even our fundamental ideas about what constitutes civilization, and challenges us with a radically different approach to history that presents events from the perspective of stateless peoples and redefines state-making as a form of “internal colonialism.” This new perspective requires a radical reevaluation of the civilizational narratives of the lowland states. Scott’s work on Zomia represents a new way to think of area studies that will be applicable to other runaway, fugitive, and marooned communities, be they Gypsies, Cossacks, tribes fleeing slave raiders, Marsh Arabs, or San-Bushmen.


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For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, essentially an “anarchist history,” is the first-ever exami For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, essentially an “anarchist history,” is the first-ever examination of the huge literature on state-making whose author evaluates why people would deliberately and reactively remain stateless. Among the strategies employed by the people of Zomia to remain stateless are physical dispersion in rugged terrain; agricultural practices that enhance mobility; pliable ethnic identities; devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders; and maintenance of a largely oral culture that allows them to reinvent their histories and genealogies as they move between and around states. In accessible language, James Scott, recognized worldwide as an eminent authority in Southeast Asian, peasant, and agrarian studies, tells the story of the peoples of Zomia and their unlikely odyssey in search of self-determination. He redefines our views on Asian politics, history, demographics, and even our fundamental ideas about what constitutes civilization, and challenges us with a radically different approach to history that presents events from the perspective of stateless peoples and redefines state-making as a form of “internal colonialism.” This new perspective requires a radical reevaluation of the civilizational narratives of the lowland states. Scott’s work on Zomia represents a new way to think of area studies that will be applicable to other runaway, fugitive, and marooned communities, be they Gypsies, Cossacks, tribes fleeing slave raiders, Marsh Arabs, or San-Bushmen.

30 review for The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

  1. 4 out of 5

    James

    Masterful, and even though I've been studying many aspects of history for forty years, for me it lives up to the front cover blurb by one reviewer who said it would "change the way readers think about human history - and about themselves." It's dry in places, and it took me a while to get into it, but once I did it kept me up at night reading it. The author's theme is that in many places, peoples who have historically eked out subsistence livings in isolated and rugged environments have not been Masterful, and even though I've been studying many aspects of history for forty years, for me it lives up to the front cover blurb by one reviewer who said it would "change the way readers think about human history - and about themselves." It's dry in places, and it took me a while to get into it, but once I did it kept me up at night reading it. The author's theme is that in many places, peoples who have historically eked out subsistence livings in isolated and rugged environments have not been unfortunate, backward, uncivilized semi-savages, as they've been portrayed by neighboring civilizations in terms like 'our living ancestors', but rather people who've chosen to make themselves hard-to-reach and unappealing targets for control, taxation, involuntary military service, slave raiders, and so on; that they've more often than not lived contentedly and lived longer, healthier, freer lives than most people - typically poor farmers - in the 'civilized' lands they've avoided or fled; and that despite the scorn with which the farming societies in the valleys below their mountains have written about them, the two have almost always been trading partners, with the hill peoples having the upper hand in those trading relationships. Scott focuses on highland Southeast Asia, but notes parallels in many other places. He makes his case with an incredible amount of supporting data from cultural history to linguistics to botany to trade records. He concludes, sadly, with the fact that this kind of life is rapidly becoming impossible as technology has made the hard-to-reach places accessible and population growth has kept pushing more people into areas that had always been thinly settled. This book has been an eye-opener for me, and I'm very glad the title caught my eye. I enthusiastically recommend it for anyone interested in history, sociology, economics, and/or anthropology.

  2. 5 out of 5

    André

    Just as promised, the book changed my understanding of human history indeed. At least of the history of "Zomia", the mountainous region stretching all over continental Southeast Asia. And also other commentators here were right: The author *is* very repetitive. So repetitive in fact, that I now wish I hadn't spend all that time reading through every chapter. The introduction and the conclusion chapters might have been sufficient to get the general idea Scott wanted to bring across: namely that t Just as promised, the book changed my understanding of human history indeed. At least of the history of "Zomia", the mountainous region stretching all over continental Southeast Asia. And also other commentators here were right: The author *is* very repetitive. So repetitive in fact, that I now wish I hadn't spend all that time reading through every chapter. The introduction and the conclusion chapters might have been sufficient to get the general idea Scott wanted to bring across: namely that the people living in the hilly areas in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Yunnan aren't actually pre-civilized and not as highly developed (agri-)culturally and politically as the large and relatively rich lowland states, but in fact chose to live in this way - far away from the reach of the states with their taxes, slave raids, military services etc. They fled there or stayedin the region voluntarily, escaping thus the power the state has on them. James C. Scott describes why this is the case, how it came about, and what measures the inhabitant of Zomia (Kachin, Chin, Karen, Akha, Lisu, Kinh and many more) took to be able to live off the radar. He also references Leach's work and describes in what ways the peoples in that area shift their ethnicity, culture, affiliations with smaller "statelets" and sometimes language (although I wished he would have mentioned more on language). It's a very interesting perspective and sounds very convincing to me, however, I prefer books with more inner structure, perhaps some more conclusions inbetween and less repetition of the same facts.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I'd read Scott's Seeing Like a State and had absolutely loved it - in my review, I'd described my experience reading it "as if someone's opened a window to let the light in". I wanted to love The Art of Not Being Governed and ten pages in, I had high hopes for the book - just as Seeing Like a State sought to provide a new lens with which to understand how our landscape/operating context is shaped and managed, The Art of Not Being Governed seeks to provide a new lens with which to view the relati I'd read Scott's Seeing Like a State and had absolutely loved it - in my review, I'd described my experience reading it "as if someone's opened a window to let the light in". I wanted to love The Art of Not Being Governed and ten pages in, I had high hopes for the book - just as Seeing Like a State sought to provide a new lens with which to understand how our landscape/operating context is shaped and managed, The Art of Not Being Governed seeks to provide a new lens with which to view the relationship between the "civilised" and the "uncivilised", through the example of Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries). Scott argues that the conventional view - that those who live in the rice-growing valleys are the civilised, while those who live in the higher altitudes, who subsist by foraging and growing crops in swiddens, have yet to be touched by civilising influences - is misguided. It is inaccurate to view the two groups as opposite ends of an evolutionary spectrum that dovetails nicely with "social Dawinism". Rather, the latter are those who have chosen to live beyond the controlling grip of the state and their social organisation (small, highly mobile groups that were highly egalitarian), agricultural practices (which emphasised mobility e.g. swiddens and crops that were easy to grow but hard for the state to appropriate e.g. root vegetables), and use of oral traditions rather than writing as a medium for transmitting knowledge are designed to evade state detection and capture. To regard the "civilised" e.g. the Hans, the Shan, the Tai, etc and the "uncivilised" e.g. the Karen, the Cossacks, the Hmong, the Miao, as monolithic entities is also misguided; both the civilised and the uncivilised were amalgamations of many different ethnic groups that were either captured or absorbed to swell the ranks, or who had chosen one side or the other for political or economic reasons. Indeed, terms for such "ethnic" groups e.g. the Miao, was often less meaningful as a term to designate a group of people who shared some common genealogy, culture or language, than it was as a term to designate "the other", in this case "not under Han control". So while we might regard the Great Wall(s) and the anti-Miao walls of Hunan as barriers to barbarism, Scott points out that "they were built just as surely to hold a taxpaying, sedentary cultivating population within the ambit of state power". So far so brilliant? The problem was that in many ways, The Art of Not Being Governed felt like a rehash of Seeing Like a State. The context might be slightly different - Scott argues that in the European context, it is the size of a ruler's dominions that gives a sense of his power and importance. But in the Asian context, it is the manpower one could summon, than the sovereignty over land that had no value in terms of labour - that determined a ruler's effective power. But how the tension between the civilised and uncivilised was framed - the state's preference for padi, which had a predictable growing cycle and was easily valued, taxable and appropriable vs the preference of fugitive communities for swidden agriculture; the use of writing in states to shape and control the narrative and hence conception of the state, vs the pre/post-literacy of fugitive communities that preferred to use the more flexible and mutable oral tradition - was very much in the same vein as the arguments and examples in Seeing Like a State. Moreover, I felt that that in the first few chapters of the book, Scott was essentially making the same point ad nauseum. Things picked up slightly in chapters 6 and 61/2 on "State Evasion, State Prevention: The Culture and Agriculture of Escape" and "Orality, Writing and Texts" respectively. In Chapter 6, Scott explains how "a society that cultivates roots and tubers can disperse more widely and cooperate less than grain growers, thereby encouraging a social structure more resistant to incorporation, and perhaps to hierarchy and subordination". What was interesting was his comment that it is not necessarily the case that it is in the valleys that the "civilised" dwell, while those seeking to escape the reach of the state had to flee to higher altitudes. This really depends on the characteristics of the crops that support/hinder resistance to incorporation and the altitudes at which they flourish best. The Incans for instance, lived at high altitudes while those seeking to escape their control fled to the lowlands. In Chapter 61/2, Scott argues that the lack of literacy in fugitive communities should not be seen as an indictment of their "uncivilised state"; literacy simply had no role in such societies, unlike in a state where literacy was used to codify law, for record keeping, for taxes and other economic transactions and to document the "official narrative" of the state. (Indeed, Scott reminds us that we should be wary of the version of history that we receive from the historical records, since this represents only one version, and not necessarily the most authentic version, of history). "There is no place in any of the standard civilisational narratives for the loss or abandonment of literacy. The acquisition of literacy is envisaged as a one-way trip in just the same fashion as is the transition from shifting agriculture to wet-rice cultivation and from forest bands to villages, towns, and cities. And yet lieracy in pre-modern societies was, under the best of circumstances, confined to a minuscule portion of the population...It was the social property of scribes, accomplished religious figures, and a very thin stratum of scholar gentry in the case of the Han. To assert, in this context, that a whole society or people is literate is incorrect; in all pre-modern societies the vast majority of the population was illiterate and lived in an oral culture, inflected though it was by texts. To say that, demographically speaking, literacy hung by a thread would in many cases be no exaggeration. Not only was it confined to a tiny elite, but the social value of literacy, in turn, depended on a state bureaucracy, an organised clergy, and a social pyramid, where literacy was was a means of advancement and a mark of status. Any event that threatened these institutional structures threatened literacy itself. Overall, there were some lovely bits in the book but these mainly came early on in the book as Scott was framing his thesis and as I mentioned, in Chapters 6 and 61/2. Perhaps if I'd have liked this book better had this been the first book of Scott's that I'd read. But coming after Seeing Like a State, it was a bit of a disappointment.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    So. I've always been an anarchist in principle (didn't Merlin say in The Once and Future King, every decent person is?) and I come to this, not with a special interest in upland SE Asia, but after this on hunter-gatherers Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior and after this on pastoral nomads Pastoralists: Equality, Hierarchy, And The State, and after a brave foray into the classic Pierre Clastres too. Wherein I've learnt statelessness is common, and clung to stubbornly, So. I've always been an anarchist in principle (didn't Merlin say in The Once and Future King, every decent person is?) and I come to this, not with a special interest in upland SE Asia, but after this on hunter-gatherers Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior and after this on pastoral nomads Pastoralists: Equality, Hierarchy, And The State, and after a brave foray into the classic Pierre Clastres too. Wherein I've learnt statelessness is common, and clung to stubbornly, which gives me hope for the species. This one is about defections from civilization, that are much more common than our ‘civilizational discourse’ has allowed us to see. As such, its relevance is far wider than SE Asia. He draws in others' work from other areas, ethnographers' examinations of cultures wherever they have found these political strategies. At the close he says: “I have come to see this study of Zomia, or the massif, not so much as a study of hill peoples per se but as a fragment of what might properly be considered a global history of populations trying to avoid, or having been extruded by, the state.” My own area of study is steppe history, for which I have found this of the most fantastic use. I'll declare it a need-to-read, in another geography altogether. It covers far too much to try to sum up. I found the most thought-provoking chapters to be the three last. Though in fact he calls one of them chapter 6 ½, because he's just feeling his way: it's on 'Orality, Writing and Texts', and talks about possible attitudes to writing that go dead against civilized assumptions. Might a people reject writing, the orthodoxy of a text, that is a foundation-stone of states, and feel they are better off with oral history? That was fascinating, and the next chapter is 'Ethnogenesis: A Radical Constructionist Case' on the artificiality or fictionality of tribes. He comes at this from two sides. Administrators have to order populations into tribes that weren't there beforehand; but the peoples themselves have uses for a fictional ethnicity – several uses that Scott explores. This chapter includes the why of state mimicry, or what he calls 'cosmological bluster' – where tribal peoples take on the trappings of states, in ways that may be more subversive than subservient. Lastly, 'Prophets of Renewal', on the question of how and why (and what type of) religion has served in revolts of the marginal and the dispossessed. This is a terrific chapter, that does begin on explanations, and those might not be what you thought. In the end, even though my eye was caught by that title, I wonder whether we have to call this an anarchist history? It’s a history – a neglected history, one we have been blind to, exciting to discover.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dorsey Bass

    A fairly interesting read on a region I knew little about, but this book has several problems. It feels pretty repetitive—Scott tends to make the same points over and over again. He also relies on a concept of political "choice" that is never really defined, but allows him to view pretty much all aspects of SE Asian hill societies as aligning with his own anarchist politics. Although (because?) I'm an anarchist myself, it doesn't make for a convincing or enlightening read. In many ways this book A fairly interesting read on a region I knew little about, but this book has several problems. It feels pretty repetitive—Scott tends to make the same points over and over again. He also relies on a concept of political "choice" that is never really defined, but allows him to view pretty much all aspects of SE Asian hill societies as aligning with his own anarchist politics. Although (because?) I'm an anarchist myself, it doesn't make for a convincing or enlightening read. In many ways this book belongs to a long history of leftist idealization of societies outside civilization's reach. Oh, and don't expect a nuanced analysis of gender. However, the sections on ethnogenesis and the historical relationship between hill and valley societies were fascinating.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    An honest attempt at an anarchist history, well-written, and full of detail about the highlands of Southeast Asia, a place I love deeply. It presents any number of radical theories about how supposedly “primitive” peoples came to be through intention rather than any kind of putative underdevelopment. Is this an interesting theory, and one with serious potential? Absolutely. Is it something that merits further, data-driven research? Totally. Is there much in the way of data? Not so much. For a se An honest attempt at an anarchist history, well-written, and full of detail about the highlands of Southeast Asia, a place I love deeply. It presents any number of radical theories about how supposedly “primitive” peoples came to be through intention rather than any kind of putative underdevelopment. Is this an interesting theory, and one with serious potential? Absolutely. Is it something that merits further, data-driven research? Totally. Is there much in the way of data? Not so much. For a series of claims this bold, Scott plays it awfully fast-and-loose, and while a lot of the information is necessarily going to be qualitative, there's a lot that could be backed up by more quantitative information. Furthermore, he seems bogged down in a rather romantic vision of these mountain peoples as idealized, indigenous anarchist formations. Readable, engrossing, should be taken with a grain of salt (or a drop of fish sauce).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Babak Fakhamzadeh

    An extensive description of ‘Zomia’, the highlands of South East Asia, spread across countries like Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, India and China. On the fringe, ungoverned, considered barbaric, but, as the author successfully argues, purposefully so. The hills of South East Asia, like fringe societies everywhere, are regions of political resistance and cultural refusal. Not being remnants of the past, nor a homogenous ethnicity or tribe, they consist of individuals who actively avoided being taken in An extensive description of ‘Zomia’, the highlands of South East Asia, spread across countries like Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, India and China. On the fringe, ungoverned, considered barbaric, but, as the author successfully argues, purposefully so. The hills of South East Asia, like fringe societies everywhere, are regions of political resistance and cultural refusal. Not being remnants of the past, nor a homogenous ethnicity or tribe, they consist of individuals who actively avoided being taken in by state control, leaving the governed lowlands for the ungoverned highlands. Then, the author keeps on reiterating his central point until he’s beaten the reader to near-death with it. Thankfully, there are several interesting little tidbits to keep turning the pages, most of the time. + “Ethnicity and tribe begin exactly where taxes and sovereignty end." + Rice farming is efficient for its yield and the concentrated populations it requires, and that the hills of South East Asia make travel difficult, and that land empires trump sea empires, essentially for the manpower they are able to muster. + Where in Europe wealth begat power, in South East Asia, manpower begat power, hence, South East Asia's poorer modern states were based on both rice farming and slavery. + "Far more egalitarian settlements were founded by runaways then by revolutionaries." + Cassava is an easy crop to maintain, requiring virtually no attention, while it can be left to grow for years, underground, and while its leaves can also be consumed. Perfect to grow in many little plots over a large area, when you’re forced to move around a lot. + The interesting point that the lack of writing and the shorter scope of history (of hill tribes), maintained through oral traditions, are possibly a coping mechanism to fight hierarchy and to facilitate societal fluidity.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Randall Wallace

    Homo Sapiens have been existing for 200,000 years and the vast majority of that time was living outside of state structures. Contrary to what we were told, foragers and hunters stayed in one area, it is grain agriculture that was nomadic and aggressive. As late as the 18th century, the greatest portion of the earth’s land mass was still occupied by non-state people. They lived in the least accessible parts of the planet beyond state control. “It is difficult or inaccessible terrain, regardless o Homo Sapiens have been existing for 200,000 years and the vast majority of that time was living outside of state structures. Contrary to what we were told, foragers and hunters stayed in one area, it is grain agriculture that was nomadic and aggressive. As late as the 18th century, the greatest portion of the earth’s land mass was still occupied by non-state people. They lived in the least accessible parts of the planet beyond state control. “It is difficult or inaccessible terrain, regardless of elevation, that presents great obstacles to state control.” Historically, while states were saying they had a barbarian/tribe problem, barbarians/tribes were saying that they had a state problem. “Tribes are not prior to states. Tribes are, rather, a social formation defined by its relation to the state.” If you can grow “concentrated grain production” at a location, then it will probably become state space. Back then when the state gazed in your direction, it looked not at the number of your Instagram followers, or at your fly sneakers or your ride, but at your “suitability for appropriation and subordination.” James wants you to see Southeast Asia’s rugged mountainous area overlayed against eight nations as one place called Zomia. “The innumerable peoples of Zomia …have been avoiding states for more than a millennium.” Its history is highly informative because it illuminates the initial conflict between state and non-state people at the rise of agriculture. Zomia is roughly the size of Europe. Water joins people, mountains divide people. Even in Europe, Fernand Braudel noted that “the steepest places have always been the asylum of liberty.” China’s expert Owen Lattimore noted the same thing in China where formal civilization avoided “the higher latitudes.” “As late as 1740, it took more time to sail from Southampton to the Cape of Good Hope than to travel by stagecoach from London to Edinburgh”. You can’t understand the history of Asian valley states unless you know the history also of Zomia. Women have a higher status in Zomia. Hill people were largely animist, now they are also Christian. In Zomia, some uppity chiefs found themselves killed as a cautionary sign to others, and many districts have a tradition of revolt. The whole area of Zomia, James says, has seen thousands of rebellions. “The stories the Lisu tell of murdered assertive and autocratic headmen are legion. Similar stories circulate among the Lahu.” “As recently as 1973, many Lahu left Kengtung Burma, for the hills, following a failed revolt against taxation and corvee imposed by the Burmese regime.” I spent time with the Lahu in the Burmese triangle in 1979 just after college, as a photographer. They were opium harvesters and my team was delivering them voluntary birth control injections from the Thai government. Hill people are known for “the utter plasticity of social structure.” Think of Hill peoples having a Maroon element (runaways from state-making). Pre-colonial wars in Asia were not about land theft, but were about slave raiding. The fierce Cossacks started out as runaway serfs. Roma and Sinti were slave raided and became nomadic and that is why they became outlaws from the state. The Berber have a slogan, “Divide that ye be not ruled.” Surinam has the largest maroon population in the hemisphere. James wants you to see also “marshes, swamps and deltas”, as other perfect historical refuges from the state. The Ottoman Empire actually came from the Osman, a “motley” collection of different peoples and religions. “Political control sweeps readily over a flat terrain. Once it confronts the friction of distance, abrupt changes in altitude, ruggedness of terrain, and the political obstacle of population dispersion and mixed cultivation, it runs out of political breath.” In addition, monsoon rains would make roads impassable between May through October. Thus, war became like fire, “a dry-season phenomenon”. “Slaving expeditions were a regular, dry-season commercial venture in much of the mainland.” “Whole regions were largely stripped of their inhabitants.” “State formation creates, in its wake, a barbarian frontier of tribal peoples to which it is the pole of comparison and, at the same time, the antidote.” State making = weather + geography. Colonial rule demanded “concentration of population and sedentary agriculture”. Travel was 15 miles a day on the flat, less than that as a porter, and far less than that in hilly areas. Asian hills often meant footpaths only which meant you couldn’t use a bullock cart (which let you move seven to ten times the weight a single porter). European rulers knew how insanely expensive it was to transport goods inland without the help of water. The waterways of the Netherlands gave it great advantage. When China took over Tibet in 1951, getting there was so hard that delegates had to get back to Tibet via the sea through Calcutta and then overland north via train and horseback. Thucydides, Peloponnesian War shows however that maritime states (Athens) could be undone by agrarian states (Sparta and Syracuse). You only found concentrated manpower where you already had sedentary agriculture. In 1600, China was seven times more populated than the rest of Southeast Asia. And so, in sparsely populated Southeast Asia they controlled people to control the land, while in populated China, they controlled land to control people. Control of people was the main source of pre-colonial post-agriculture wealth. What the state wanted from the hills and forest the most was less forest products and more just the people to be used as slaves. In China and India, manuals of statecraft “urged the king to prohibit subsistence activities in the mountains and wetlands in order to increase the involvement of the people in the production of grain.” Did you know English and French courts in the 13th century had to keep moving once they exhausted either the food supply or goodwill of the local population? States thus needed access to food, fodder, and firewood. They also needed monoculture for tax collecting reasons. Otherwise, collecting taxes was hard because you collected stuff like “millet, sesamum, cattle, fishing, coconut palms, and handicrafts” that were harder to collect and brought less income to the state. Swidden agriculture is slash and burn or “shifting cultivation/agriculture”. It became stigmatized by the state because it produced more for the producer and less for the state. In history there were actually many times where it was more common to see people leaving state space than entering it. “Barbarians are then a state effect.” “Only conquest produced real knowledge of the barbarian world, but then it ceased to be barbarian.” Celts in Gaul were stateless, had fortified towns and agriculture, yet were considered barbarians by Rome. Beltran in his “Regions of Refuge” noted that the same Zomia effect happened in Latin America where “a preconquest society remained in remote, inaccessible regions far from the centers of Spanish control.” Beltran saw that in Latin America the best places to hide for the indigenous became deserts, jungles and mountains. Key was also the fact the Spanish had no economic interest in those areas. Incas reversed things by being up high and to evade them you went low. Peru has more arable land above 2,700 meters. On islands people would live inland to escape slavers arriving by boat. Those living on the coast built watchtowers. Think of Northern Luzon historically as a small-scale Zomia. Today, think Hmong/Miao 9,000,000, Lahu 650,000, and Karen 4,000,000 people. “Islam was the faith of the sedentary elite. Bedouins were regarded as wild men.” “In civilizational terms, nomadism was to the Arab State what elevation was to the padi state.” Brilliant. From 1450 to 1650, pepper was king of commodities among traders. The peopling of Zomia was largely a state effect. Think of Zomia as “a catchment area” and an asylum for banned religious sects and ideas that were the “casualties of state-making”. Many hill people are descendants of valley people. “The term savages, used by so many authors to denote all the hill tribes of Indo-China, is very inaccurate and misleading, as many of these tribes are more civilized and humane than the tax-ridden inhabitants of the plain country, and indeed merely the remains of the once mighty empires.” -Archibald Ross Colquhoun, Amongst the Shans, 1885. As James points out, the state kills diversity: “the pluralism expelled from the valleys can be found in profusion in the hills.” “The Alps generally were seen as the cradle of heresy by the Vatican.” The Reformation splintered in Switzerland Geneva going Calvinist and Basel going Zwinglian. The first historical advertisement was a billboard of a Geneva priest and his choirboys with the tag line “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.” It didn’t matter whether the army passing through your area was friendly or not, you and everyone local had to provision it. Let’s say you had a European army of 60,000. Impressive. For that you’d need 40,000 horses, 100 carts of provisions, and, I forgot, you’ll need almost a million pounds of food per day. And sacking the landscape to take people’s shit is going to make a lot of new friends. Isn’t Civilization fun? “The first aim of a civilian is to evade conscription.” The easiest way was to move away from the state core. Protecting your mountain hideaway successfully from the state and bandits is called “encapsulation”. Most of the deadliest epidemic diseases are zoonotic, coming from domestication post-agriculture. “Nothing is more difficult than to conquer a people [the Igorats] who have no needs and whose ramparts are the forests, mountains, impenetrable wildernesses, and high precipices.” – Spanish official, 18th century Philippines “We know that some of the border Chinese began to follow the same line of divergent evolution [pastoral nomadism] and that it was to retain the Chinese within China as well as to keep the new style barbarians out of China that the Great Wall was built”. – Owen Lattimore, “The Frontier in History”. Runaway slaves knew to plant root crops (manioc, cassava, yams and sweet potatoes) which were hard to find. No maroon community could be self-sufficient. Wet rice is better with lots of people but swidden is better for less work per calorie. Coercion was needed to make shifting-cultivators go down and become work-intensive padi-farmers (who could also be taxed). Tax collectors did not want short-lived foods like vegetables or fruits. Roots and tubers became “nearly appropriation-proof” or “an escape crop” and growing them became known as “escape agriculture”. The Irish also grew potatoes because they were hard for the tax collector to find. Prussia rose because of the potato. Fredrick William and Fredrick II pushed growing potatoes to give it “unique invulnerability to foreign invasion.” You could get their grain, fodder crops, and livestock but the potato stayed hidden under ground. Normally a defeated population had to disperse or starve, but this way you could return home and dig up “a meal at a time.” The sweet potato was a high value escape crop, had a high caloric yield, and could be grown at higher elevations than yams or taro. Maize showed up in the 15th century in South East Asia was a big hit, including as escape agriculture. Where hill rice stops (1,000 meters) growing, the opium poppy thrives. The Hmong found that maize also grew in that niche and so they could live. Bad guys could burn your cassava plants and they’d survive underground. Cassava is the champion of being the least labor for the greatest return. Nomads could plant it, leave and come back years later. “Hacienda owners in Central America claimed that with a cassava, all a peasant needed was a shotgun and a fishhook and he could cease to work regularly for wages.” Use “orality” or “non-literacy” instead of “illiteracy”. Around 750 B.C. the Greeks regained literacy after their Dark Ages (which lasted from 1100 BCE to 700) with an alphabet borrowed from the Phoenicians. Orang Laut are Sea Gypsies and their non-state option was to take to the water. Still confused about non-state? Think Berbers, Gypsies, Cossacks, and Mongols. Fernand Braudel wrote that mountain people think their “history is to have none, always on the fringes of the great waves of civilization.” To picture World History picture first: a stateless era lasting over 90% of human history, second: an era of small states encircled by non-states, and third: full-on (screw nature and your neighbor) Western Civilization. “Tribes and ethnicity begin, in practice, where sovereignty and taxes stop.” This is one of the most important books I’ve have ever read, easily in the top 50. I love books that say what almost no one else is saying. My second James C. Scott book reviewed, I must continue reading him, he’s just too damned good, everyone should read him.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Laszlo Szerdahelyi

    Do not cultivate the vineyard, you'll be bound Do not cultivate grains, you'll be ground Pull the camel, herd the sheep A day will come, you'll be crowned Much of our histories is narratives, stories that have been spun together from the works of historians, archeologists, anthropologists and so on. Much of that history, is the history of kings and nobles, of states, kingdoms and grand rulers, of civilizations against barbarians and so on. Scott offers a radical look at how we perceive the notion of Do not cultivate the vineyard, you'll be bound Do not cultivate grains, you'll be ground Pull the camel, herd the sheep A day will come, you'll be crowned Much of our histories is narratives, stories that have been spun together from the works of historians, archeologists, anthropologists and so on. Much of that history, is the history of kings and nobles, of states, kingdoms and grand rulers, of civilizations against barbarians and so on. Scott offers a radical look at how we perceive the notion of civilized, what that means and how much of that is simply the assimilation or lack thereof into state structures. Basing his studies in the area of S-E Asia, in a vast area designated as Zomia, Scott explores through the economic, social and political lives and relations of an extremely varied peoples ,ranging from the Naga in India to the Hmong in Vietnam, of the hills and mountains with their valley dwelling counterparts, the type of relations and dynamics that have led to such a varied people's who have lived historically outside the grasp of the ancient(and modern) states. Scott essentially offers a 'people's history' of a vast ethnic tapestry of people without a written history, whom, he eloquently argues, have chosen to actively live outside of the grasp of the state, have organized themselves and their lifestyles so as to escape said grasp and have actively resisted assimilation. Exploring facets ranging from economic life such as choice of agricultural practices like slash and burn as opposed to wet-field rice growing, trade, raiding, dispersal and mobility, fluidity of ethnic and religious identities, he constructs a history of an intricate system of resistance, that has consistently thwarted the incorporation into the role of tax-paying subjects of states and all the coercive and destructive outcomes of this: war, epidemics and exploitation. Furthermore, Scott outlines the limitations of state projects in the area in their ability to both extend their rule above a certain altitude or geographical terrain, their inherent fragility and dependence on low land rice cultivation and attraction of populations, the vicious infighting between said states and the complex relationship between these entities and their hill counterparts in terms of cultural, economic and political relations, exchange and mutual dependency. The book is extremely well researched and although Scott presents hypotheses that can be debated or critiqued by virtue of taking leaps of faith in for example presenting the vast tapestry of resistance to hierarchical entities, one cannot disagree with the inherent logic of these fluctuations over time and in opposition to states, that, have historically been extremely coercive and hegemonic and against whom various peoples, not limited to Zomia, i.e Cossacks, Rroma etc. have fought to maintain their freedom and autonomy and which said struggle against state entities and their coercive institutions, continues both from the liminal spaces such as the Zapatistas all the way to the cores of the most tightly wound Western countries.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Richard Reese

    James Scott is a political scientist at Yale University, an advocate of anarchy lite — not “smash the state” but “make the state more wise and fair.” Originally, the ancestors of all humans were wild folks living in sweet freedom on open lands owned by no one. Then came agriculture, private property, inequality, and the rise of creepy states, in which well-fed rulers exploited mobs of unlucky subjects and slaves. The Art of Not Being Governed examines the power dramas between free folks and stat James Scott is a political scientist at Yale University, an advocate of anarchy lite — not “smash the state” but “make the state more wise and fair.” Originally, the ancestors of all humans were wild folks living in sweet freedom on open lands owned by no one. Then came agriculture, private property, inequality, and the rise of creepy states, in which well-fed rulers exploited mobs of unlucky subjects and slaves. The Art of Not Being Governed examines the power dramas between free folks and states in Southeast Asia. In this region, states first arose in the valleys and lowlands, especially in locations suitable for growing rice in flooded paddies. Rice produces high yields, but is labor intensive. Land that is ideal for raising crops only generates wealth when there is an adequate workforce of fairly obedient taxpayers and slaves. Alas, wading in paddies, in clouds of mosquitoes, baking in the heat, constantly bent over, was not everyone’s idea of a good time. Persistent misery inspired many non-elites to envision a beautiful alternative — escape!!! Most of the landscape surrounding the valley states was mountainous and rugged, unsuited for conventional agriculture, but ideal terrain for state-evading sanctuaries of freedom. So, the higher elevations were home to small groups of hill people who preferred autonomy to subservience. They hunted, foraged, and grew food in scattered locations. Root and tuber foods, like yams, cassava, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, did not ripen at once, or require storage. They could be left in the ground up to two years, and dug up as needed. Scattered amidst the natural vegetation, they were not easy for outsiders to discover. These scattered communities of hill people often had little, if any, contact with outsiders. Their primary desire was to live in freedom. All of them were refugees, coming from a diverse mixture of cultural, ethnic, and religious traditions. Hill folks had no official name, so a scholar invented one. He called them Zomians, the people of Zomia (highlands). The numerous remote hill communities that comprised Zomia were widely dispersed across an area the size of Europe. Zomian groups inhabited a region that spanned across five nations, and four Chinese provinces. [MAP] Down in the valleys, the rice producing states were often disrupted by ongoing conflicts and instability. Scott noted that these states “tended to be remarkably short-lived.” The lives of subjects and slaves were miserable, which is why they never stopped running off into the hills. From most rice paddies, the hills of Zomia were always visible. In a prison without cages or walls, freedom was just a walk away. Physical flight was the primary check on state power. It was usually less dangerous than revolt. The constant loss of manpower was a serious challenge that required constant efforts to snatch fresh replacements. Military campaigns brought home prisoners who were forced to begin exciting new careers in slavery. States often sent slave raiders into the hills of Zomia, in efforts to find free folks and drag them back to the rice paddies. Classroom history books focus on stuff like wars, empires, heroes, and progress. Slavery gets slight mention, if any. Students will read about classical Greek intellect, art, and architecture; not slavery. There were times when the population in Athens had five times as many slaves as full citizens. Around the world, slavery was a standard component of most agriculture-based civilizations, until recently, when mechanization sharply reduced the need for two-legged farm implements. Your extended family tree likely contains more than a few slaves. Visit Wikipedia’s article on slavery. [HERE] Clive Ponting published an excellent history that focused much attention on how the hungry dirty commoners actually lived, suffered, and died. He wrote, “Until about the last two centuries in every part of the world nearly everyone lived on the edge of starvation.” J. R. McNeill noted that in preindustrial times, horses and oxen were often luxuries that were too expensive for poor farmers. Humans were far more energy efficient than draft animals, and they were capable of performing clever tricks, like digging up spuds, or planting rice. Having a gang of slaves boosted the net profits for their masters. Lords adored hoards of gold. In the hills, Zomians were wizards at utilizing “geographical friction” to make it harder for slave raiders to find them. Rather than courteously providing their pursuers with smooth well-marked paths, they deliberately preferred to reside in locations that were not highly visible, or easily accessible. Some locations were perfect for defensive warfare, because they enabled a small number of guardians to block or ambush a larger force of aggressors. The most secure refuges were places “only accessible to monkeys.” Geographical friction is an interesting idea. Our wild ancestors lived in lands where free movement originally had many natural obstacles. Friction was provided by rugged mountains, swamps, dense jungles, vast deserts, rivers, seas, etc. Friction hampered the expansion of early states. It wasn’t quick or easy to suppress a revolt ten miles away. Friction could be reduced by roads, bridges, boats, beasts of burden, and contraptions with wheels. Today, far less geographical friction remains. We have long distance travel via highways, railroads, air travel, and cargo ships. We can instantly send info anywhere. Scott refers to these as “distance demolishing technologies.” With great pride, we have dumped trash on the moon. Scott was fascinated by the deep human desire to live in freedom. Genetically, we are alert and intelligent wild omnivores, not dimwitted feedlot critters, or hive insects. His discussion of Zomia revealed patterns that parallel a similar downward spiral of trends around the world. Folks went from nomadic to sedentary, which led to plant and animal domestication, slavery, patriarchy, population growth, perpetual conflict, civilization, industrialization, and our remarkably victorious world war on everything. For almost the entire human saga, our ancestors enjoyed the freedom of living in small nomadic groups. Our mental equipment is fine-tuned for this way of life. The hill people of Zomia focused on equality, autonomy, and mobility. For them, the concept of “chief” was incomprehensible. Lads who got too assertive sometimes had to be ethically euthanized, in order to maintain the coherence of the group. Smooth cooperation worked far better than compulsory obedience to sharp orders from big daddy buttheads. Societies took a sharp turn for the worse with the shift toward private property, when the open commons got chopped into chunks of exclusive, inheritable, real estate. Equality was displaced by hierarchies based on wealth, class, and status. Social rank was based on wealth. More was always better. Strive to climb the social pyramid. Primary emphasis shifted from “we” to “me.” It’s like a silly goofy bratty children’s game. When our wild ancestors evolved in the tropics, food was available year round, nobody owned it, and it was acquired when needed. Later, when folks colonized temperate regions, food storage was required for winter survival. This eventually inspired plant and animal domestication, which created food that was owned, and held in concentrated locations — granaries and enslaved herds. These treasure chests of valuable grain, meat, and muscle power were “appropriable and raidable.” They provided irresistible temptation to ruthless geeks who were allergic to hard work and honesty. Indeed, this led to the creation of a new career path. Stealing food required far less labor than producing it, and raiding was far more adventurous and exciting for adults who had testicles. At this point, the need to eradicate looters led to the emergence of armed defenders, a military class. These warriors could also serve as armed aggressors, looting the treasure chests of other communities. Since then, the military sphere has never stopped growing in size and power. With the transition to hierarchy, the old fashioned tradition of mutual support took the back seat to a competition-based, winner take all culture. When you’re a slave in a rice paddy, and your master is a cruel bastard, and your foreseeable future is perpetual misery, you begin to contemplate the meaning of life. You can go crazy, you can flee into the hills, or you can float away into magical thinking. The hill people were primarily animists. They enjoyed a life of freedom in places of healthy wild nature. They developed intimate relationships with the surrounding flora, fauna, and landscape — here and now reality that you could see, touch, and smell. For them, the living world was spiritually alive. Directly experiencing this profound coherence did not require imagination or belief. It was deeply meaningful. The stressed and oppressed valley people were more inclined to seek solace in salvation religions, primarily Buddhism and Islam. Christianity arrived more recently. Slavery was an institution with deep roots in many cultures around the world. Until recently, salvation religions treated it as normal. Slaves must be obedient. What these religions promised was that the sucky life you have today will pass, and your soul will continue its journey forever via reincarnation, or admittance to a beautiful eternal paradise (if you weren’t too naughty). Religion provided something to hope for, a better future. Multinational salvation religions can be practiced anywhere on Earth. They are highly portable because their focus is on great mysteries. Worship often takes place inside buildings, shut away from the family of life. Paradise is somewhere unseen, a faraway realm. Some preach millenarian visions of a new and enduring era of peace, justice, and prosperity — a miraculous transition that is inevitable, and may arrive soon. Wickedness will be destroyed, and the righteous will receive their just rewards. Even though the hill people enjoyed some advantages over the valley slaves, nobody in the realm of Zomia enjoyed a life of bliss. Hill folks were frequently pursued by hostile outsiders, and valley slaves were frequently abused by their masters. Many folks passionately dreamed that their painful way of life would somehow someday be completely turned upside down, and then move in a new and better direction. Prophets and messiahs often fell out of the sky, describing their divine revelations, fanning the flames of resentment, and triggering thousands of uprisings and rebellions. Make Zomia great again! Folks desperate for any possibility of emancipation were vulnerable to the tempting promises of ambitious, slick talking, charismatic blowhards. Sadly, a better tomorrow missed the bus somewhere down the road. States got bigger and more powerful, and then they got blindsided by steamroller colonizers from outer space, like the empire-building British, French, and Japanese. By 1945 it was pretty much bedtime for Zomian freedom. Variations of this tragic drama took place around much of the world. Today, virtually all humans are subjects of states. Fleeing to zones of refuge is nearly impossible. Tyrants now have fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, missiles, cluster bombs, land mines, drones, satellites. Good luck with that rebellion. Scott laments the outcome. “The future of our freedom lies in the daunting task of taming Leviathan, not evading it.” He says that our best tool for the challenge is representative democracy. Good luck conjuring virtuous government. He was writing in 2009, back in the happy days when there were a billion fewer primates on the ark. More recently, hopping mad, power-hungry, nationalist psychopaths have been popping up in nations all over the place, like mushrooms after an autumn shower. Oh wow! Look! A pair of 800 pound gorillas has jumped into the brawl — the climate crisis and resource limits — two invincible giants spawned by the unintended consequences of our obsession with idiotic cleverness. Their plan is to act like bulls in a china shop, and smash up Fantasyland. This should be interesting.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    He has some really interesting things to say but basically just keeps repeating himself over and over. If this was something like a hundred pages it would be a lot easier for me to recommend it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    DowdyGUMP

    I wanted to LOVE this book so much, but it’s all based on the authors personal theories, not necessarily facts. The biggest issue that I have (and you’ll read about early on) is that he generalizes numerous tribes that share no relation to one another, together. Also, he refers to the land(s) they occupy as “Zomia”, which isn’t a real thing; let me clarify, it’s a termed coined by a Dutch Historian in 2002. He doesn’t examine the individual histories nor origins of the peoples he’s writing about. I wanted to LOVE this book so much, but it’s all based on the authors personal theories, not necessarily facts. The biggest issue that I have (and you’ll read about early on) is that he generalizes numerous tribes that share no relation to one another, together. Also, he refers to the land(s) they occupy as “Zomia”, which isn’t a real thing; let me clarify, it’s a termed coined by a Dutch Historian in 2002. He doesn’t examine the individual histories nor origins of the peoples he’s writing about. He only speculates why they are where they are. While tedious, if you’re interested in the ethnic tribes of Asia/upland Asia, I’d suggest doing your research elsewhere; unless it works in your favor to loosely group the Asian tribal communities together in a broad sense. In that case, no harm no foul.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aj

    Interesting book, interesting premise. several hundred pages longer than it needed to be.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Celeste Teng

    “what, after all, is the history bearing social unit? [...] The relationship of a people, a kinship group, and a community to its history is diagnostic of its relationship to stateness.”

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian

    Scott presents to us a history of Zomia: a contiguous region in southeast Asia, spanning Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, northern Myanmar, and southwest China (Yunnan, etc) whose topography and climate has made largely ungovernable. Only the book isn't really a history -- it's an anthropology. And Scott is not just talking about Zomia, but really lots of different places like the Tigris-Euphrates marshes, the American west, the Teutoburg Forest, the Darien Gap, the metaphorical woods in A Midsummer Nig Scott presents to us a history of Zomia: a contiguous region in southeast Asia, spanning Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, northern Myanmar, and southwest China (Yunnan, etc) whose topography and climate has made largely ungovernable. Only the book isn't really a history -- it's an anthropology. And Scott is not just talking about Zomia, but really lots of different places like the Tigris-Euphrates marshes, the American west, the Teutoburg Forest, the Darien Gap, the metaphorical woods in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the internet... OK, probably went too far on those last two but you get the idea. The argument Scott is making is something like this: - There has historically been a notion of state space and non-state space. State spaces are defined by a monopoly on coercive force within a geographic region (11). - As time has gone the state space to non-state space ratio approaches infinity (Bir Tawil is still up for grabs!!!) - The non-state to state transition is viewed as a sort of natural step on a continuum of human evolution. The Romans absorb the barbarians. Miao join the Han state. Etc. - But -- and here's the real crux of the book -- this view of non-state people as pre-state people is totally wrong (337). It is an easy criticism to level given that many prefer oral to written history, practice swiddening agriculture if not hunting and gathering, lack dense cities, etc. But many of these humans are reacting to the state, forming a "purposeful statelessness". It's a choice. There is nothing that says humans have to organize into these weird, artificial state things and grow wheat in these nice rows and so forth. Civilization VI is a story written by the victors. The correct way to see these tribes is as in dialogue with the state, not suboordinate to it or andecedent on the Great Timeline of Man. Scott talks a lot about the features of these "hill peoples" (c.f. the civilized "valley peoples"). They tend to be more egalitarian (157) -- acephalous groups are harder to co-opt into some state corvee scheme (208). Common property is the norm vs. enclosures. They prefer oral to written histories. They forage for a varied diet and practice polycropping vs. the predictable cereals of civilization. Etc. I think this goes on in a bit too much detail at a bit too much length. The important take away was that these features are so frequently cast as primitive or barbaric or pre-civilized. But what is inherently "barbaric" about oral history? What's wrong with anarchism? Enslaving ourselves to grain (Yuval Harari has a good passage about this) is arguably one of the worst things that humanity has ever done. This point becomes even clearer when we consider that most of the non-state tribes are really just ... ethnic majorities who have fled the state. Not some long-separate and genetically distinct people. The Great Wall to some degree was in some part a program of the state to keep tax-paying citizens in the state so that their property could be more easily appropriated (173). The frontier is actually a sort of check on state power and a place for experimentation. It should probably be a bit worrying that states have carved up the entire world. This is definitely a historical anomaly.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Wim

    I took me a whole month to finish this book, not because it was boring or too voluminous... it is just a book that you have to digest sentence by sentence, page by page, and that demands your full concentration. I had the same issue with Scott's great book Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. If you want to take the effort, the book is amazingly insightful. And does not just apply to Zomia or South-East Asia, but to many areas in the world, although I took me a whole month to finish this book, not because it was boring or too voluminous... it is just a book that you have to digest sentence by sentence, page by page, and that demands your full concentration. I had the same issue with Scott's great book Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. If you want to take the effort, the book is amazingly insightful. And does not just apply to Zomia or South-East Asia, but to many areas in the world, although increasingly less and less as state power consolidates and extends to every inch of the earth... I read the book with the West-African Sahel in mind, and did have several aha-moments while reading. The basic idea that people throughout history have tried to prevent, avoid, evade and escape state control and appropriation (with its taxes, slavery, corvé labor and recruitment for wars) is a true paradigm shift: looking to human history through this lens, puts everything in a different perspective, especially for westerners having a completely biased view of the state. I especially liked the discussion of the concept of "barbarians" (how backwardness is actually just being unintelligible for the state), the chapter on ethnogenesis (how fungible and fluid identities have always been), how people deliberately stopped using written records (to adapt more easily to changing circumstances), and the role of religious revolutions (and prophets) as attempts to reinvent social order. As I compare with the current "terrorist" crisis in the Sahel, the following lines are very inspiring (p. 298 in my edition): (...) peasant communities already incorporated into a state-based order are prone to support radical prophetic movements whenever their relatively autonomous village order (local dispute settlement, managing grazing rights and common land, selecting their own leaders) is threatened by an intrusive centralizing state. Again it appears to be less a question of income and food supply than one of autonomy. And oh yes, I only discovered at the end that the book provides a glossary situating the tens of peoples of South-East Asia continuously discussed in the book. I should have known that from the start...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joe Hay

    This book has an amazing thesis that will change your perspective on human history and civilization; it is also terribly written. I am adding my voice to the chorus on this issue. I'm not going to spend much time talking about the content of this book, because, if you've heard of it, you know what it's about. It introduces the reader to the concept of intentionally stateless peoples and does a good job explaining what they are, why they exist, how they exist, and how they've been mislabelled as p This book has an amazing thesis that will change your perspective on human history and civilization; it is also terribly written. I am adding my voice to the chorus on this issue. I'm not going to spend much time talking about the content of this book, because, if you've heard of it, you know what it's about. It introduces the reader to the concept of intentionally stateless peoples and does a good job explaining what they are, why they exist, how they exist, and how they've been mislabelled as primitive or aboriginal by governments. More broadly, It makes a great case for the fluidity of ethnicity and culture and the duality between state enclosures and their frontiers. The author maintains a respectable amount of objectivity throughout, neither lionizing the main subject peoples nor villanizing their antagonists. I know he's an anarchist, and he does indeed portray state formation as a horrible, overgrown slaving expedition - but that's because it was and continues to be, objectively speaking. Sounds interesting? Well, it truly is, for about 60 pages total, scattered throughout the book. Most of it is bloated and repetitive, with the same points being made over and over again from microscopically different points of view, with an incredibly interesting point randomly appearing every 20 to 30 pages. I wish I could tell you to read just the introduction and the conclusion, but the jewels are scattered and hidden - you have to dig through all of it. This book really does not deserve to be called a 'history' - it's a presentation of a general sociopolitical thesis that uses historical facts as evidence. It's clearly based on Upland Southeast Asia, but the book does not discuss the land or the people in great detail. Instead, morsels about the various peoples of this region are cluttered together like appetizers and nibbled and set aside, nibbled and set aside, not giving the reader any substantial flavor. The thesis is the main course. It feels sad and frustrating that the people of the region weren't given the spotlight. The underlying issue is that there is a lack of narrative structure. I would love if what ended up as the entire book had merely been a 50 or 60 page introduction to three or four larger narratives from the perspective of a particular people, say, the Hmong, Akha, and the Karen. It could be I am not the intended audience for this book. It could be described as an academic proof-of-concept. But, even so, I can't see how it wouldn't have benefited from greater coherence and focus. It reads like a series of section headings with a list of examples that came off the top of the author's head. Academics are capable of more than that. In conclusion, I am glad I read it, and I'm glad to be finally done with it. If you are deeply interested in history and the history of politics/society, this is an essential read. I wish I could say it were a better experience, though. Stay focused, and try to get through it quickly.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, a history book about how a number of nonstate peoples in upland southeast asia have limited the influence of various configurations of state power on their autonomy. Has a fair amount of details about agriculture and terrain, which I appreciate -- I like an eye to those kind of material conditions. I particularly got into the bit about the kinds of social structures fostered by different staple foods, I've been telling everybody that sweet potato is t pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, a history book about how a number of nonstate peoples in upland southeast asia have limited the influence of various configurations of state power on their autonomy. Has a fair amount of details about agriculture and terrain, which I appreciate -- I like an eye to those kind of material conditions. I particularly got into the bit about the kinds of social structures fostered by different staple foods, I've been telling everybody that sweet potato is the food of a free people. more broadly, scott makes the case that we should look at the religious, social, ethnic, economic etc organisation of these societies not just as givens, but as adaptive responses that have allowed them to evade state power. it's a provocative point that challenges a lot of things I thought I knew, and definitely deserves further thought. this was a really good thing to read after walled states, waning sovereignty. I mean, that's a great book. but I think wendy brown is wrong that national sovereignty has been eroded in recent years. there's this fairly prevalent idea in the Anglophone leftish theory world that all certainties, all sovereignties, all state powers are being eroded in this postmodern, post-communist age. scott's historically and materially grounded work is a pretty great reality check here. one caveat: this is definitely a bit of a slog to read. it's quite dry, plus scott is very attached to his rather laboured metaphors, and misuses the phrase "the exception that proves the rule" (a hanging offence) at least three times. it's also not what you'd call an inspirational read; at times, it's downright depressing. the societies Scott looks at were far from utopian; in fact, a lot of them were economically reliant on the slave trade. moreover, the kind of fragmentation and flexibility that's allowed these societies to maintain their autonomy is not well adapted for direct confrontation with the state. with the technologically expanded capacity of state powers to actually exert their powers to the limits of their borders, nonstate peoples can't run or hide anymore, and it's not pretty.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael W.

    I reviewed this in 2011 elsewhere: "Scholars, with the exception and vision of a few such as Jared Diamond and David Christian, do not usually cut such a huge swathe of territory and time as James C. Scott does in The Art of Not Being Governed. The present book though represents the latest installment of a series of studies by Scott that speak at least at some level to anyone interested in the relationship that society has with the state. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale I reviewed this in 2011 elsewhere: "Scholars, with the exception and vision of a few such as Jared Diamond and David Christian, do not usually cut such a huge swathe of territory and time as James C. Scott does in The Art of Not Being Governed. The present book though represents the latest installment of a series of studies by Scott that speak at least at some level to anyone interested in the relationship that society has with the state. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, although he admits that research for the current volume has rendered him a historian in a sense. Certainly, his ideas and conclusions are as relevant to historians as much as to anyone else. Histories with lens wrought wide are popular both because they are accessible and because they are relevant. Anyone who reads this volume will find themselves frequently pausing to reflect on their own society and their relationship with state institutions. This is, in a more limited sense of the term grand history, although it is mainly limited to the historical period. It follows that there is little attention to individuals (King Bodaw-hpaya of Burma is one among several exceptions)– one will find few personalities here. The focus here is one huge generalizations, some of which will surely evaporate upon close scrutiny, but many that are truly – if not absolutely convincing – thought provoking. Scott admits as much in the introduction but argues that even if some of his assumptions are wrong, the basic ideas he has offered, he is convinced, will hold to be true. In seeking to escape the state’s stamp on history and on the register by which we interpret (and have interpreted) the world around us, Scott is unable to escape it himself in his analysis. This is, after all, not a history outside of the state but, as Scott has aptly subtitled his book, An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. The state as leviathan captures free, mobile populations, and makes them sedentary, controllable, and taxable and the survivors, those not dragged heel before head by state administrators and armies, have sought refuge in topographies ever more distant from and difficult to the state, until we arrive at the last major remaining bastion of non-state space, the Southeast Asian massif (elsewhere more broadly defined by Willem van Schendel as Zomia). It follows from such a broad handling of societies, states, and geography, on such a large terrestrial canvass that the reading has been relatively broad. One cannot, perhaps, hold one seeking to write an anarchist history to the task of dealing substantially with the general literature focused on the lowland states whose reach Scott’s highland refugees have thus far skirted. There are weighty volumes of documentation of highland groups that raided the lowlands for people and things and dragged both up into the hills despite the best efforts of lowland states to secure their frontiers. For Scott, this story is an illusion, the product of state-centred historical narratives to use Prasenjit Duara’s (a scholar who is clearly influential here) terminology or “standard civilisational narrative” to use Scott’s, that obscures and warps the story of people versus the state. That narrative, Scott argues, ignores two chief facts—many (and perhaps most) people in early states were only there “under duress” and that state subjects frequently ran away. In the untold (until now) story, nearly all people lived outside of the early states (classical Greece or Republican Rome, for example). States were mere blips on the map whose existence would have been indiscernible to the untrained eye a 1 millennium ago: “To an eye not yet hypnotized by archaeological remains and state- centric histories, the landscape would have seemed virtually all periphery and no centers” (5). For the last thousand years and more, state administrations in Southeast Asia have steadily expanded, displacing non-state spaces with state spaces, close on the heels of fleeing populations that wanted to escape control by the state. In this view, what we have thus far seen as lowland political centres securing their frontiers was everywhere really simply an act of enclosure, an attempt not to keep out, but to cement in place, mobile populations. For Scott, then, populations in the highlands are not tribal groupings that push into the lowlands, but aggregates of centuries of escapees who seek and find a new life (and form together with others new ethnic cultures) on the frontiers of lowland states, the Cossacks on the edges of the Russian steppes being a good example (260-261). Scott turns around the discussion of the cultural, ethnic, religious, and social legacy of state formation processes in Southeast Asia (most recently examined elsewhere at length by Victor Lieberman) by suggesting that many of those features of Southeast Asian highland groups that have been viewed as original and barbaric, from the perspective of lowland civilizations, can instead be seen as a reaction to the threat of state expansion and the state-making processes that are brought with it. As Scott asserts, “Most, if not all, the characteristics that appear to stigmatize hill peoples ... far from being the mark of primitives left behind by civilization, are better seen on a long view as political adaptations of non-state peoples to a world of states...” (9). Some of his assertions will certainly, as Scott himself admits, invite controversy. Perhaps the best example, discussed at length by Scott, is his view of orality over literacy as a choice for a society, ensuring for a highly mobile society greater intellectual flexibility than is possible with (permanent and orthodoxy-buttressing) written documentation in rendering histories and constructing genealogies. Less convincing are Scott’s views on the relationship between religious orthodoxy/heterodoxy and upland/lowland distinctions, which is much more complicated and the areas of context located differently (relationally to the center of power) than suggested here. This is overall an erudite book and one that will be relevant and important to anyone working on state and society in Southeast Asia, lowland and highland, premodern and modern. Its importance is not so much in its conclusions, but in the intellectual stimulation of reading the thoughts of an insightful man on a topic not often dealt with at this scale and level of analysis. The prose is so clear and unfettered with the usual social science jargon -- Scott is very self-aware as writer, includes myriad anecdotes, and makes frequent use of contractions -- the mesmerized reader has no choice but to lay down their guard. One has thus to avoid the temptation of replacing too quickly and without sufficient consideration one paradigm with another, however well crafted, once convinced by the latter’s internal logic. We are not at the end of the road here with this topic, but still at the beginning. Certainly, both the lay and the academic reader will find an intellectual engagement with the present volume immensely rewarding."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    This book is impressively multidisciplinary — the closest comparison that comes to mind is Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel in the way it sets out to explore interlinked concepts across history, varying political systems, and the physical world. I have to acknowledge that my Southeast Asian history and political knowledge is minimal, one class in undergrad aside, so I’m not in a position to confirm or correct the historiography involved. That said, this book offered me insights relevant to This book is impressively multidisciplinary — the closest comparison that comes to mind is Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel in the way it sets out to explore interlinked concepts across history, varying political systems, and the physical world. I have to acknowledge that my Southeast Asian history and political knowledge is minimal, one class in undergrad aside, so I’m not in a position to confirm or correct the historiography involved. That said, this book offered me insights relevant to the study of state-building; how communities at the periphery evade or resist the imposition of state authority; the intersections between ecology, agriculture, and human settlement patterns; the role of the “tribe” as a state-constructed concept; the process of community differentiation and ethno-genesis; the role of millenarian uprisings as a means of overcoming the collective action problems inherent to fractured periphery communities whose structures normally inhibit the consolidation of authority; and more. There is some repetition between chapters of the author’s core themes and references, so if you are in a rush, the introductory chapter gives a decent summary of the argument; but I found the book as a whole to be very readable. Although subtitled an “anarchist history,” the book does not greatly over-romanticize the state-evading peoples that Scott studies, although his sympathies clearly lie with those residing outside the traditional narratives of “civilizing” state-building projects. Even though Scott cautions that the expansion of state authority in the post-World War II era (in part through technologies and new norms that have reduced tolerance for ungoverned spaces generally throughout the world) has eroded many of the social, political, and economic practices he suggests the hill people of Southeast Asia use to evade state incorporation, there are still many useful lessons here, particularly for disputed territories and not-yet-fully consolidated states elsewhere in the world. On the whole, this was a very interesting and provocative read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    "Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion? (How serious people's faces have become) Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly? Everyone's going home lost in thought Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come And some who have just returned from the border say There are no barbarians any longer And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution." -C. Cavafy An illuminating read about the relationship between "civilization" "Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion? (How serious people's faces have become) Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly? Everyone's going home lost in thought Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come And some who have just returned from the border say There are no barbarians any longer And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution." -C. Cavafy An illuminating read about the relationship between "civilization" and "barbarism", culture as state-evasion strategy, and the history of [i]zomia[/i], one of the last remaining places on the planet beyond state reach. The book runs though the thousands of years of interrelationship between padi states and highland peoples, and posits that barbarism is not a step on a journey towards civilization but rather a reaction to (or position away from) the poisoned fruits of civilized existence (i.e. forced labor, conscription into the military, taxes, slavery). Scott discusses several features of upland cultures as strategies for opposing state power, and his work is very well researched and annotated. my only gripe is that academics should write less academic versions of their work--this could have been 100 pages shorter and about 100% more engaging with a non-academic editor. It's a shame this will only be picked up by scholars of anarchy or SE Asian history, as it has wonderful lessons about identity, religion and cultural practices as state-resistant strategies.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Виктор Кэди

    A comprehensive and mostly persuasive argument from anthropology's very particular bias, which sometimes tends to some hand-waving social scientism and just-so story. Scott's "Zomia" thesis is certainly worth a look for any student of history or political science; many of these insights inform historical and political analysis in other contexts. This book came to mind again, years after having first read it, during the 2016 American election. After rereading it again in the wake of Trumpism, I g A comprehensive and mostly persuasive argument from anthropology's very particular bias, which sometimes tends to some hand-waving social scientism and just-so story. Scott's "Zomia" thesis is certainly worth a look for any student of history or political science; many of these insights inform historical and political analysis in other contexts. This book came to mind again, years after having first read it, during the 2016 American election. After rereading it again in the wake of Trumpism, I got the odd feeling that Scott could just as well have been describing the (not unreasonably) disgruntled so-called "Depolrables" (viz. the ethnic Scots-Irish of Appalachia and their diaspora in the swing states that tipped the election) of Hillary Clinton's fever dream, as much as the ethnic Karin or whatnot of the Southeast Asian Massif.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Binit

    The book is about Zomia, a stretch of upland territory in Southeast Asia made up of a number of peripheral contiguous territories of different countries where the state authority of each country is largely absent. One major feature of Zomia is statelessness. James C. Scott, the author, discusses the emergence of such non-state space in relation to the emergence of state space in pre-modern and precolonial times in Southeast Asia. He argues that non-state space is not remnant of civilization, but The book is about Zomia, a stretch of upland territory in Southeast Asia made up of a number of peripheral contiguous territories of different countries where the state authority of each country is largely absent. One major feature of Zomia is statelessness. James C. Scott, the author, discusses the emergence of such non-state space in relation to the emergence of state space in pre-modern and precolonial times in Southeast Asia. He argues that non-state space is not remnant of civilization, but in fact an effect of civilization which he calls 'state effect'. State formation in pre-modern pre-colonial era, according to him, happened when two conditions were met: 1) the possibility of wet-rice agriculture; 2) the concentration of manpower. In the past, state formation entailed taxation, forceful extraction of labour power and prevalence of diseases, among others, for the population. It was therefore common for people to flee the state space for places with no state presence, which would be mostly hills. Migration to non-state spaces allowed people to escape the oppressive state structure. Scott thus emphasizes that the hill people were not uncivilized people who failed to evolve culturally. Rather, these people exercised their agency to keep valley civilization at bay as they found it contrary to their well-being and aspirations. The demography of non-state space would be extremely diverse, as they drew its population from various valley states. The social structure in the hills was marked by egalitarian relations, fluidity of identities and high degree of mobility. Scott also mentions that the hill communities didn't have the incentive to maintain complex and long lineages, unlike the residents of the valley states. Owing to their lightness on lineages and history, combined with a range of flexible subsistence strategies, they were able to adapt to new circumstances readily and take up new identities as and when needed. This also prevented internally the formation of state structure. It would be erroneous however to say that hill people avoided the valley states altogether. In fact, the book shows several instances of economic co-operation between people in the hills and those living in the periphery of the valley states. However, such relations were maintained only insofar as it didn't threaten the autonomy of the hill people. Valley residents and hill residents both benefitted from trade as one party was able to supply items which were not available in the ecological settings in which the other was located. Apart from places where such trade existed, the general relationship between valleys and hills was more of distrust and othering. One key term in the book is 'oscillation', meaning that there was no finality attached to being a hill dweller or a valley dweller; as well as being of one ethnicity or another. People moved between the hills and valleys whenever it suited them. Similarly, it was common to switch ethnic identities in accordance with the changing context. As the state space expanded to include hitherto non-state people, these people would be assimilated into the ethnic identity and culture of the core valley state. Those who fled were usually able to preserve their distinct identity in the hills but individual members were not constrained to be loyal to anyone particular identity. The book gives an interesting explanation of the spread of Christianity in the hills. Lacking institutionalized social and state structures, non-state people often had faith in prophet or a divine liberator who were able to bring people together for specific ends. These prophets were looked upon as divinely-ordained individuals who were able to deliver people from their sufferings. In fact, many rebellions against the state in pre-modern era were led by god-men. While the common mode of escaping the expanding state was migration, this route was not always available and the frustration would ultimately culminate in the form of open rebellion with a prophet at the helm. Hill people also tended to maintain boundaries with the valley states and religions. However, some religious and ritual influences did make it to the hills. When this happened, the hill people would take heterodox and magical elements from the valley states but reformulate them to suit the context of the hills. Christianity, according to the author, was perceived as suitable to the pre-existing religious orientation and public disposition. Interpreting the elements of Christianity from their own cultural lens, non-state hill people were able to justify to themselves the embracing of this religion. Christianity also offered them a modern identity, literacy, health and education, among others, which they found further attractive. Scott notes that non-space is becoming increasingly rare in today's world of nation-states. Previously, state simply didn't have the technology to administer their entire territory because of distance and friction of terrain (rugged terrain). Peripheries of the states would therefore always be devoid of government, which ipso facto became a sanctuary for those who wanted to flee the state. With the emergence of distance-demolishing technologies such as transportation and communication as well as modern bureaucracy backed up by increasingly sophisticated military capabilities, the fate of non-state people has already been sealed. They have largely been incorporated into state space and those remaining few, if any, are not going to survive the state juggernaut. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested to learn about state formation and its implications in Southeast Asia or elsewhere.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jim Rimmer

    An engrossing work filled with clarity of purpose and rich observations. Informed by a growing body of anarchist history and focusing on communities living in the 'shatter zones' of world affairs this is incredibly unlikely to attain the anything near the readership of Kenneth Clark's Civilisation, and more's the pity. Highly recommended to those with a deep interest in SE Asia, and the very real current impacts of political histories which reach back centuries (and on occasion millennia). An engrossing work filled with clarity of purpose and rich observations. Informed by a growing body of anarchist history and focusing on communities living in the 'shatter zones' of world affairs this is incredibly unlikely to attain the anything near the readership of Kenneth Clark's Civilisation, and more's the pity. Highly recommended to those with a deep interest in SE Asia, and the very real current impacts of political histories which reach back centuries (and on occasion millennia).

  25. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    A comprehensively argued case for cultural fluidity and “simplification” as a political response of state-evasion. This is enormously helpful in looking at history with fewer state-friendly assumptions, even if it can be a little overwhelming to a reader unfamiliar with Southeast Asia. It doesn't pretend to ring true today, but it's enlightening in creating more complete histories. So good. So good and so needed. A comprehensively argued case for cultural fluidity and “simplification” as a political response of state-evasion. This is enormously helpful in looking at history with fewer state-friendly assumptions, even if it can be a little overwhelming to a reader unfamiliar with Southeast Asia. It doesn't pretend to ring true today, but it's enlightening in creating more complete histories. So good. So good and so needed.

  26. 4 out of 5

    P Sangsuradej

    The author made a very bold claim on his argument over the nature of ethnic minorities of Southeast asia's Zomia. Very interesting read. The author made a very bold claim on his argument over the nature of ethnic minorities of Southeast asia's Zomia. Very interesting read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kapil Yadav

    paradigm-shifting work... i wish the book was less repetitive in its first half.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Steven Scribner

    “The geographical distribution of …languages is intricate and difficult to map with precision. In the highly fragmented environment most ethnic groups live in villages interspersed among those of other groups… Height up or down a mountainside is usually the most critical factor in determining where an ethnic group will live... On any given mountain, high above the rice paddies in the valleys, there may be several different villages occupied by as many peoples speaking totally unrelated languages “The geographical distribution of …languages is intricate and difficult to map with precision. In the highly fragmented environment most ethnic groups live in villages interspersed among those of other groups… Height up or down a mountainside is usually the most critical factor in determining where an ethnic group will live... On any given mountain, high above the rice paddies in the valleys, there may be several different villages occupied by as many peoples speaking totally unrelated languages." (S. Robert Ramsey, “The Languages of China”.) These innumerable tiny nations are traditionally regarded as remnants of people who didn’t move down into the more “advanced” valley civilizations. In this book, James C. Scott turns that idea on its head and makes the “bold claim” that they are, rather, populations who in the past 2000 years or so (up until WWII) fled the slavery, taxation, conscripted labor (etc.) of the lowland “civilizations” (as well as the diseases endemic in highly populated areas). There’s also the suggestion that so-called “civilized people” and so-called “barbarians” whom they despise need each other for trade and diversity of products (leading to a more robust economy). Both are fascinating ideas. But are they true? Scott makes a compelling case. (In fact, he makes a compelling case over and over – the book is extremely repetitive.) The chapters on writing and on “ethnogenesis” are particularly interesting and unexpected. However, to me, the theory falls flat when it comes to linguistics. As mentioned in the quote above from another book on roughly the same area (recently named "Zomia"), many of the micro-states have their own language; these languages belong to several families, and many have not been proven to belong to any family. This implies that a greater time-frame is involved than just 2000 years up to about 1940. It takes much longer for languages to diverge so much that their origins are obscured. (For a more familiar example: Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian are still obviously similar to each other, and their evolution from classical Latin has taken about the same amount of time. In order for languages – or language families – to be of obscure relationships, a time frame of at least ten times that is necessary. Still with the familiar example, Indo-European can be easily traced by linguists, but its older connection to other families is more controversial.) Barring the unlikely possibilities of conlangs and deliberately altered languages, for the languages in upland SE Asia to be “unrelated” they would have had to have been separated for longer than the time in Scott’s theory. Or, perhaps they migrated into Zomia from elsewhere on the continent. In either case, the peoples speaking them are not likely to be refugees from lowland civilizations that have only been there for a fraction of the history. Perhaps paradoxically, my own view (after reading this book) is that the theory is partially correct! There is no reason that both the traditional “down into civilization” and this new “escape from civilization” can’t coexist. Indigenous “hill peoples” may have been there for millennia, and some may have been drawn by the lure more “stable” lowland kingdoms; others could just as easily be refugees escaping back “upwards” geologically to join the “hill peoples”. Migration could go in either direction, and all cultures involved would be enriched. Scott admits that in the present day, with the advent of electronic communications and all-weather roads (as well as the elimination of slavery), his theory may be a moot point as the upland and lowland civilizations mix (becoming modern nation-states). It’s still an interesting idea and will spark conversations at least for those interested in origins, cultural studies, and linguistics. --Steven E. Scribner, author of the "Tond" series (fantasy, with invented languages and cultures) https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Somehow this discourse tends to be long winded and lacking in some ways, but one of its chief strengths is the usage of what I feel is unfairly maligned anarchist political philosophy to contrast the long inherited colonial and subsequent neoliberal justifications of national identities, which in reality are constructed and deceptively fluid. It is relatively rare to find historical discourse that contrasts the dominant idea that statehood is a pinnacle of society, or even just a long line of pro Somehow this discourse tends to be long winded and lacking in some ways, but one of its chief strengths is the usage of what I feel is unfairly maligned anarchist political philosophy to contrast the long inherited colonial and subsequent neoliberal justifications of national identities, which in reality are constructed and deceptively fluid. It is relatively rare to find historical discourse that contrasts the dominant idea that statehood is a pinnacle of society, or even just a long line of progression from A to B. Even in the more recent progressive discussions over the role of indigeneity in modern nation-states, the idea of having peripheral people who prosper independently from a center of 'civilization' dominated by political technocratic elites is considered alien. Scott provides a crushing narrative that is well backed up by anthropological, historical and linguistic observations far in excess to equivalent pop-sci. It is far more erudite than the simplified dichotomy of cooked/uncooked peoples we have inherited (no doubt, a colonial and neoliberal hangover) and I applaud his resounding refutation of the deceptive discreteness surrounding nationalist narratives. Erudition and political guile need not require permanent abode. Before I bit into this book, the disperse cultural and linguistic (ethnic) entities of Southeast Asia, particularly Zomia, were perplexing. Where did they come from? Why are they so fragmented? Why are they simultaneously recognized by nationalist governments on one hand, the Karen in particular, and appearing as a thorn in the side on the next turn? Why are there so many distinctions between startling similarities between peoples, from a linguistic and livelihood perspective? Specifically, it puts many things about so called 'insurgencies' and contemporary resistances against nationalism into perspective. As well, it certainly calls into question the perspective of written histories (aka propaganda) of the ruling dynasties for various proto-nation-states in the area. Perhaps the most startling idea Scott goes over is the prevalence of slavery as a necessary condition for padi agriculture, and a critical element of why the diaspora consists of great heterodoxy, to the point of cosmopolitanism. The contrasts between hill and valley people make much more sense, even with the paucity of written information about the hill peoples. In this way, anthropological discourse (surely something that Scott is an expert in) provides an inductive tool for us, the oral histories of the Akha and the Karen in particular. Maps with borders appear sterile in comparison to the reality on the ground - and his topographical overview provides one of the best ever uses of physical geography to explain cultural identities via population movements. Even the relatively decent Mandala model, which became so prominent during post-colonial explanations of "how things were" historically in the Southeast Asian sphere, is incapable of explaining this coherently. For all its flaws, this is a solid book, if you are able to wearher the exposure to excessive uses of the phrase 'vis-a-vis'.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Ferguson

    I have admittedly not read much anarchist history, and after this book I can say that the lack is to my detriment. While the subject (and much of the analytical meat of the book) is focused on a particular region of Southeast Asia, the identities and realities of the analysis could just as easily be applied (and in some cases very clearly are applied) to the Appalachian mountains of the US, the jungles of DRC, the islands of the Pacific, or the Highlands of Scotland. The refutation of the “barba I have admittedly not read much anarchist history, and after this book I can say that the lack is to my detriment. While the subject (and much of the analytical meat of the book) is focused on a particular region of Southeast Asia, the identities and realities of the analysis could just as easily be applied (and in some cases very clearly are applied) to the Appalachian mountains of the US, the jungles of DRC, the islands of the Pacific, or the Highlands of Scotland. The refutation of the “barbarism” narrative in favor of a more comprehensive and empowered political identity for the so-called “hill societies” of the world is a valuable and valid one, and Scott systematically breaks down our "civilized" assumptions with historical facts and analysis. As an avowed “state-ist”, this book fulfilled it’s promise of “changing the way readers think about human history - and about themselves.” There are one or two shortcomings to be sure, and this book is definitely not for all audiences. This is definitely an academic work, so don’t read it if you’re not ready for chapters and chapters of arguments and factuals. The author also doesn’t address other interesting topics like gender with as much detail as I would have liked, but thats to be expected.

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