Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the H... and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more
Trade in your item
Get a $17.30
Gift Card.
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (The Institution for Social and Policy St) Hardcover – March 30, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0300070163 ISBN-10: 0300070160

11 New from $67.50 19 Used from $56.47
Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle
"Please retry"
Hardcover
"Please retry"
$67.50 $56.47
Free%20Two-Day%20Shipping%20for%20College%20Students%20with%20Amazon%20Student


NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

Best Books of the Month
Best Books of the Month
Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.

Product Details

  • Series: The Institution for Social and Policy St
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300070160
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300070163
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,133,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

James C. Scott's research for this book began with an examination of the tensions between state authorities and various "unstable" individuals throughout history, from hunter-gatherer tribes to Gypsies to the homeless. He soon became fascinated, however, by the recurring patterns of failure and authoritarianism in certain social engineering programs aimed at bringing such people fully into the state's fold. Soviet collectivization, the Maoist Great Leap Forward, the precisely planned city of Brasilia--these and other projects around the world, while deeply ambitious, extracted immeasurable tolls on the people they were designed to help.

One of the most important common factors that Scott found in these schemes is what he refers to as a high modernist ideology. In simplest terms, it is an extremely firm belief that progress can and will make the world a better place. But "scientific" theories about the betterment of life often fail to take into account "the indispensable role of practical knowledge, informal processes, and improvisation in the face of unpredictability" that Scott views as essential to an effective society. What high modernism lacks is metis, a Greek word which Scott translates as "the knowledge that can only come from practical experience." Although metis is closely related to the concept of "mutuality" found in the anarchist writings of, among others, Kropotkin and Bakunin, Scott is careful to emphasize that he is not advocating the abolition of the state or championing a complete reliance on natural "truth." He merely recognizes that some types of states can initiate programs which jeopardize the well-being of all their subjects.

Although the collapse of most socialist governments might lead one to believe that Seeing Like a State is old news, Scott's analysis should prove extremely useful to those considering the effects of global capitalism on local communities.

Review

"[An] important book. . . . The author''s choice of cases is fascinating and goes well beyond the familiar ones like Soviet collectivization."—Francis Fukuyama, Foreign Affairs

(Francis Fukuyama Foreign Affairs )

". . . a paean to human liberty. . . . This book [owes] much of its value to the details of the particular case studies, and to Scott’s enthusiasm and ingenuity in seeing links among apparently different human projects. . . . [A] remarkably interesting book . . ." —Cass R. Sunstein, New Republic
(Cass R. Sunstein New Republic )

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

This is one of the most brilliant and inspiring books that I've read in a long time.
Christopher D. Bertram
Thanks to the professor who let us learn this book and I am now looking forward to read more of Scott.
ttt
In analyzing their failure, Scott is most valuable for drawing parallels between society and ecology.
Michael Biggs

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

176 of 180 people found the following review helpful By Michael Biggs on November 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
James Scott is known for portraying the moral world of peasants, showing how they have resisted the encroachment of capitalism and the state. Now he investigates the other side: the experts, bureaucrats, and revolutionaries whose grandiose schemes to improve the human condition have inflicted untold misery on the twentieth century. Seeing Like a State can be read, along with Foucault's Discipline and Punish and James Ferguson's The Anti-Politics Machine, as a classic of 'structural dysfunctionalism.' The point (put metaphorically) is not merely that the cure for social ills has proven inadequate-but that the disease inhered in the diagnosis, and that failure will continue so long as the doctors prevail.
The dysfunction, Scott argues, derived from three modern conditions. One was the ambition to remake society (and ecology) to conform to a rational plan. It is the conviction-expressed by such varied characters as Robert Owen, Le Corbusier, and Mao (pp. 117, 341)-that the present is a blank sheet, to be inscribed at will. Putting this into effect required a second condition: comprehensive information about individuals and property, gathered by a centralized bureaucracy. The third condition, what made the combination lethal, was a state sufficiently powerful to force its radically rational schemes on their 'beneficiaries.' This was characteristic of post-revolutionary and post-colonial regimes, and so the book devotes chapters to collectivization in the Soviet Union and ujamaa 'villagization' in Tanzania. But the basic vision, Scott emphasizes, was common to experts everywhere. Three Americans planned a Soviet sovkhoz in their Chicago hotel room; a democratic populist built Brasília, which is also accorded a chapter.
Read more ›
3 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Christopher D. Bertram on December 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most brilliant and inspiring books that I've read in a long time. James C. Scott's thesis is that states, driven by both the need to make the societies they govern legible for tax and control purposes, and by an ideology and aesthetic that equates functional order and progress with real order, systematically transform social realities. Moreover, they often do this to the detriment of their peoples and bring about long-term damage to the environment. One important human loss in this process is the erosion of practical skills and local knowledge in the fact of a hegemony of scientific knowledge and educated technical expertise. It would be hard to do justice to Scott's work in a few lines. He illustrates his thesis with a variety of case studies: Enlightenment scientific forestry, modernist town planning inspired by Le Corbusier, the disagreement between Lenin and Luxemburg on revolutionary agency, Soviet collectivisation of agriculture, compulsory villagisation in Tanzania and agriculture in the Third World. The whole amounts to a pretty devastating critique of a whole way of looking at the world, a top-down modernist perspective that ignores the lived experience and judgement of those whose interests are supposedly being furthered. Some might think that Scott's message is old news, a rehash of Hayekian critiques of central planning. Whilst there are many points in common, Scott is addressing a wider syndrome. The practical judgement, skill and local knowledge of peasants, educators, workers and those in many other walks of life , is at risk not only from state bureaucrats but also from the global capitalist market.Read more ›
1 Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By The Dilettante on November 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
Brad DeLong's featured review is basically correct - Scott is treading ground remarkably similar to Hayek's. But I don't think that Scott is ignorant of Hayek. Rather, Scott is attempting to explore the same territory, but without coming to the same political conclusions. Early in this book, Scott makes clear that he is not advocating libertarianism (I am told that Scott calls himself an anarchist). He is aiming at a deeper critique of planning, one which is not merely about prices or information, but about metaphysics, epistemology and phenomenology. Scott never makes it explicit, but throughout this book, I got the sense that he is doing continental philosophy. This is a Heideggerian critique of planning - one that just happens to cover some of the same ground as Hayek.

Scott's focus is on "seeing" like a (high modernist) state; the question this book asks is: how does such a state see, and what does state-like perception systematically miss? Scott argues the state's vision is limited to the conscious, the rational, and the abstract - it cannot see beyond what Nassim Nicholas Taleb has called "the Platonic fold." (See The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable) This vision is identical to what continental philosophers refer to as the "objective gaze." The unconscious, the organic, the ecological and the folk-wise are invisible to the modernist bureaucracy. To make these invisible elements rationally "legible," the state reaches out and actively reduces them to known quantities. This allows the state some limited control over them, but in the process any emergent systematic properties are destroyed.
Read more ›
4 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Recent Customer Reviews