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Priests and Programmers: Technologies of Power in the Engineered Landscape of Bali Paperback – June 5, 1991

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A brilliant study of how ancient the social and technical aspects of water management systems in Bali, inextricably bound with nature and religion, were undermined by the Green Revolution in the 1970s. Recommended.

Review

"[A]n enjoyable and stimulating book."--Geoffrey Samuel, Journal of Asian Studies

"Priests and Programmers is written with admirable clarity and should be of interest . . . to anybody working on applied social research."--Michael Hitchcock, Contemporary South Asia

"[B]rilliant and delightful. . . . [N]ot only has [Lansing] written a superb book, but he has contributed materially and humanely to the quality of life of the people he has studied. Too few scholars can make this claim."--Bryan Pfaffenberger, Technology and Culture

"This is fascinating cultural anthropology, even history of religions."--Edward H. Schroeder, Missiology --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (June 5, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069102863X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691028637
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,510,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Lansing shows, through Balinese irrigation, that technology is simultaneously social and political, but often not in the ways imagined by Western academics and development experts. A dispersed system of water temples and priests successfully managed the irrigation of multiple valleys and plots through a process in which ritual served the regulatory function of feedback. Development projects decoupled the elements of the system and led to declining yields and increased pest damage. A computer simulation of the system was eventually developed, which effectively translated the system functions into a media that development experts could understand, and led to repairs to the damage done to agriculture following the implementation of Green Revolution techniques, revealing the role of ideology in presumably technical knowledge. The study also disproves Wittfogel's hypothesis that "oriental despotism" or extremely hierarchical and centralized states grew out of the expansion and control of irrigation systems. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I bought J. Stephen Lansing's book (subtitle: "Technologies of Power in the Engineered Landscape of Bali") to learn how water temples manage water in Bali. Initially, I thought (see this post) that the priests in these temples told farmers how to share water across their rice fields, threatening divine retribution upon those who did not obey.

After reading this book, I have a better understanding. Although my first impression is more or less true (the water temples regulate water flows), it was also a little too superstitious. It turns out that the "priests" (or guardians) of the water temples are more like bureaucrats. Water temples on the lower level (of the subak, or irrigation district of 20-100 farmers) coordinate their labor for common infrastructure and rotation of water deliveries. (They use a "wheels within wheels" system of multiple calendars that cycle every 7, 15, 28, 45 days or on irregular but repeating patterns (7-7-3-1 day patterns); these calendars match various crop and logistical schedules, and they allow various activities to be scheduled independently without losing track of interdependencies.)

Above the subak level are one or more levels of temples, each of these receiving "tax" payments from subaks (offerings) in exchange for continuing water delivery (lest the goddess be angry). On a terrestrial level, the superior temples coordinate larger water flows, crop patterns, infrastructure and water rights. Each of these roles explains how the Balinese have been able to grow two crops of rice per year for around 1,000 years. Regulation of water flows is straightforward -- sometimes there is not enough water, sometimes infrastructure constraints require that water go to some subaks but not others, and so on. Crop patterns turn out to be VERY important.
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Format: Paperback
Excellent summary of balinese life ways organized around rice paddy irrigation and cooperation. worth a look.
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Format: Paperback
A brilliant study of how the ancient social and technical aspects of water management systems in Bali, inextricably bound with nature and religion, undermined the Green Revolution in the 1980s. Highly recommended
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