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The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale Agrarian Studies Series) Paperback – November 30, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"'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"

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
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Yale Agrarian Studies Series edition (November 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300169175
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300169171
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,560 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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