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The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale Agrarian Studies Series) Hardcover – September 30, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“James Scott has produced here perhaps his most masterful work to date. It is deeply learned, creative and compassionate. Few scholars possess a keener capacity to recognize the agency of peoples without history and in entirely unexpected places, practices and forms. Indeed, it leads him ever closer to the anarchist ideal that it is possible for humans not only to escape the state, but the very state form itself.”—Prasenjit Duara, National University of Singapore

(Prasenjit Duara)

“A brilliant study rich with humanity and cultural insights, this book will change the way readers think about human history—and about themselves. It is one of the most fascinating and provocative works in social history and political theory I, for one, have ever read.”—Robert W. Hefner, Boston University

(Robert W. Hefner)

"Underscores key, but often overlooked, variables that tell us a great deal about why states rise and expand as well as decline and collapse. There are no books that currently cover these themes in this depth and breadth, with such conceptual clarity, originality, and imagination. Clearly argued and engaging, this is a path-breaking and paradigm-shifting book."—Michael Adas, Rutgers University

(Michael Adas)

“Finally, a true history of what pressures indigenous peoples face from these bizarre new inventions called nation states. Jim Scott has written a compassionate and complete framework that explains the ways in which states try to crowd out, envelop and regiment non-state peoples. He could take out every reference to Southeast Asia and replace it with the Arctic and it would fit the Inuit experience too. We need real applicable history that works, that fits. Truth like this, it's too darn rare.”—Derek Rasmussen, former community activist in the Inuit territory of Nunavut, advisor to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
(Derek Rasmussen)

Bronze medal winner of the 2009 Book of the Year Award in the Political Science category, presented by ForeWord Magazine
(Book of the Year Award ForeWord Magazine 2010-01-01)

“Scott’s panoramic view will no doubt enthrall many readers . . . one doesn’t have to see like a Zomian nor pretend to be an anarchist to appreciate the many insights in James Scott’s book.”--Grant Evans, Times Literary Supplement
(Grant Evans Times Literary Supplement 2010-02-20)

Winner of the 2010 Fukuoka Asian Academic Prize, given by the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize Committee
(Fukuoka Asian Academic Prize Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize Committee 2010-01-01)

A finalist in the category of Nonfiction for the 2010 Connecticut Book Award, given by the Connecticut Center for the Book
(Connecticut Book Award finalist Connecticut Center for the Book 2010-08-23)

Winner of the 2010 John K. Fairbank Book Prize, given by the American Historical Association
(John K. Fairbank Book Prize American Historical Association (AHA) 2010-11-01)

Winner of the 2010 Bernard Schwartz Book Award, given by the Asia Society
(Bernard Schwartz Book Award Asia Society 2010-11-30)

"It is a clearly and beautifully argued book. . . . The Art of Not Being Governed fits together nicely with its predecessor as a landmark work of early 21st century social science. . . . It casts patterns of history into sharp relief that would otherwise languish in obscurity."—Henry Farrell, The American Interest
(Henry Farrell The American Interest 2011-02-01)

". . . a sprawling, creatively 'disorderly' and beautifully written book. . . . [It is] dotted with memorable phrases and beautifully crafted paragraphs."—Tony Day, South East Asia Research
(Tony Day South East Asia Research)

"Scott's books is refreshingly welcome. . . . The author argues his case in a clear, comprehensible, and erudite fashion leaving readers in little doubt as to where he stands. . . . It has made a significant contribution by highlighting egalitarianism and independence as the ideals of hill societies. . . . Scott has provided us with a platform for rethinking ethnic identities and inter-ethnic relations."—Christian Daniels, Southeast Asian Studies
(Christian Daniels Southeast Asian Studies)

"This book may well become a cult classic."—Sanjay Subrahmanyam, London Review of Books
(Sanjay Subrahmanyam London Review of Books)

About the Author

The author of several books including Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science, professor of anthropology, and codirector of the Agrarian Studies Program, Yale University, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Agrarian Studies Series
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300152280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300152289
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #935,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Arnold TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Scott's thesis in this book is simple yet profound. He argues that many "primitive" tribal peoples actually made a conscious decision to adopt a "simpler" lifestyle in order to avoid the burdens of living under organized states. For much of history, the "civilized" state collected taxes and enslaved people, but didn't do much to help people. Tribal societies, Scott argues, adopted a nomadic lifestyle, planted root crops that were more difficult to find, and unlearned literacy all in an attempt to separate themselves from a certain political way of life they found oppressive. I was extremely skeptical of Scott's argument before reading the book, but now I find that Scott's thorough job in The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale Agrarian Studies Series) is simply too compelling to ignore. As Scott himself points out, it also undermines Hobbes; far from people moving from a state of nature to the Leviathan state, many people want to flee the state to return to nature.
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The thesis is pretty much be as follows:

- There exists a zone in Southeast Asia and South Asia, for the most part at higher elevations, where people have always actively resisted incorporation in anything like a state.

- These people have generally been called primitive and been considered to be lesser on an evolutionary scale, inferior versions of "us," whether "us" means the traditional and precolonial state societies in the region, colonial powers, or postcolonial "independent" nation-states.

- But in reality these people are not and have not been primitive traces of the past; instead they have actively resisted taking part in what we have always been taught is "progress." They have chosen to flee taxes, forced labor/slavery, conscription, and authority in general.

- In fact (a) these "hill people" have always been in a symbiotic relationship with states, providing economic resources, for example, via trade, and (b) people have moved back and forth across the actually permeable boundary between these non-state social milieus and the realm of states. People have, in other words, throughout history fled states for the hills and sometimes (when perceived as advantageous) left the hills for the state.

- Sadly, this may not be as possible as it used to be, but Scott's work suggests to this reader that what the non-state realm of Zomia actually means for us is that resistance to what one might call "capture" is always possible. This doesn't necessarily have to mean not paying taxes or living in the woods, perhaps. It can also mean thinking freely, in ways that are not pre-fabricated, in ways in which we were not taught, in creative ways....

Good book.
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A Review
The Art of Not Being Governed

Modern Society in the 21st Century has adopted the perception that anarchist principles are beliefs that can only exist outside the concepts of civilization. Hence, it is customary to equate such conditions to those peoples that embrace the freedom and liberties that exist outside of a defined Nation-State. Peoples that fall within that category are generally considered to be untamed barbarians, savages, anti-state or otherwise classified in similar derogatory terms which translate into being outside the norm. Conventional wisdom, at least in the minds-eye of 21st Century adherents is that those living outside State control are primitive, backward societies existing in the backwaters of ever advancing civilizations.

In this book, author James C. Scott dispels many of these myths and suggests strongly that those people living outside the confines of statehood do so of their own conscious, deliberate actions to avoid the onerous dictates of those who would seek to enslave them. Obviously, his expertise is in the examination of societies in that portion of the world that he terms Zomia, i.e. those regions comprised of Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Siam, Burma, Southern China and portions of India and Afghanistan. Obviously, as an anthropologist and political scientist, he is well qualified to comment with some authority on the subject. He does not however neglect to comment on similar conditions amongst other societies that have shunned civilization to avoid the onerous effects of confiscatory taxation, forced corvette labor, military conscription and enforced religious edicts.

In the cited example of Zambia, he classifies the two groups simultaneously dwelling in the region as Valley people and Hill people.
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This book is a well argued and wide-ranging exploration of the upland regions of mainland Southeast Asia, in which Scott attributes substantial agency to the peoples of these upland areas. He argues, in typically systematic fashion, that these peoples are not merely leftovers who were forced into these regions, but rather that they chose to live in these more remote areas as a strategy. While one could mount some serious challenges to this viewpoint, Scott's book is extremely important for focusing on the lowland highland divide in such systematic and historical fashion. His most important book in quite some time.
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