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Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed Paperback – February 8, 1999
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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 ›
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 ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This has easily become one of my favorite books. Everytime I read a couple pages I learn something new in regards to control and how states escalate their position via power.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Account
I thought I'd already been exposed to every possible opinion, but in the first pages of this book a seemingly-boring discussion of planting trees in rows rooted its way into my... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Yes, It's Me
This book tries to explain large-scale bureaucratic error. The concept “seeing like a state” refers to the desire by large-scale institutions (usually government) to make a... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Michael Lewyn
This book suggests implications I do not think the author intended. Looked at from the left, and explaining things in the vocabulary of Marxist socialist theory, the book laments... Read morePublished 8 months ago by M. Heiss
Back in my freshmen days at Johns Hopkins, I rebelled at the focus of "Political Science". It was basically all about how the system worked and was rather obviously... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Male Aesthetic Conservative
Textual research is too limited. Scott's study shows how participation and observation can disprove false though elegant theories. Read morePublished 11 months ago by sun mengxi
Really interesting to see how ideas and actions meant to help society, were actually just there to help the government. Money talks at the end of the day.Published 13 months ago by Iiiiiinny
I am long out of the habit of reading highly researched non-fiction, but this book deeply impressed me with its insights, its erudition, and the quality of its views. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Patrick Lydon
Some books are inspirational, others are fun, yet others provide valuable information. Few books have the capacity to impact our very perception of reality. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Pedro Sandín-Fremaint