The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale Agrarian Studies Series)

The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale Agrarian Studies Series)

James C. Scott

Language: English

Pages: 464

ISBN: 0300169175

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, essentially an “anarchist history,” is the first-ever examination of the huge literature on state-making whose author evaluates why people would deliberately and reactively remain stateless. Among the strategies employed by the people of Zomia to remain stateless are physical dispersion in rugged terrain; agricultural practices that enhance mobility; pliable ethnic identities; devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders; and maintenance of a largely oral culture that allows them to reinvent their histories and genealogies as they move between and around states.

In accessible language, James Scott, recognized worldwide as an eminent authority in Southeast Asian, peasant, and agrarian studies, tells the story of the peoples of Zomia and their unlikely odyssey in search of self-determination. He redefines our views on Asian politics, history, demographics, and even our fundamental ideas about what constitutes civilization, and challenges us with a radically different approach to history that presents events from the perspective of stateless peoples and redefines state-making as a form of “internal colonialism.” This new perspective requires a radical reevaluation of the civilizational narratives of the lowland states. Scott’s work on Zomia represents a new way to think of area studies that will be applicable to other runaway, fugitive, and marooned communities, be they Gypsies, Cossacks, tribes fleeing slave raiders, Marsh Arabs, or San-Bushmen.

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claims. During the greater part of the historical record, and especially in the uplands, there was no state or “hardly-a-state.” What states there were tended to be personal creations that were tenuous and fragmented, and that seldom outlasted their founder by long. Their cosmological claims and ideological reach were far greater than their practical control over human labor and grain.79 Here it is crucial to distinguish the “hard” power of the state from its economic and symbolic influence,

that they gave themselves freely up to their desires and their passions.”82 What passes, in the eyes of valley officials, as Ci v ilization and the Unruly   123 deplorable backwardness may, for those so stigmatized, represent a political space of self-governance, mobility, and freedom from taxes. The civilizational series—mín, cooked barbarian, and raw barbarian— is at the same time a political series of diminishing state incorporation. It resembles in important respects the Arab-Berber

advantage of being situated along the seam of four nearly contiguous national jurisdictions.80 They are hardly the most recent migrants into Zomia’s region of refuge. In 1958, under pressure from Chinese party cadres and soldiers, fully one third of the Wa population crossed the border from the People’s Republic into Burma seeking refuge.81 During the Cultural Revolution, another pulse of migration followed. Kee pin g the S tate at a D istance   155 The retreat of Kuomintang forces to the

g the S tate at a D istance   173 from poverty-stricken farming to a more secure life as herdsmen,” so has the move to upland swiddening and foraging often been a voluntary move in terms of narrow economic self-interest.130 And when to that self-interest we add the advantage of keeping more of one’s crop and disposing of more of one’s own labor, the positive reasons for distancing oneself from state power might be convincing in material terms alone. Because the shift to hill livelihoods was,

non-Sinicizing Yi-Lolo. Today they are located in southern Yunnan (Sip Song Phan Na) and in adjacent areas of Laos, Burma, and Thailand. Over the past two centuries they have been driven farther south by war, slavery, and the search for new swiddens. The two lowland kingdoms with which they have been in touch are the Han and the Tai, although the Han has left a far deeper impression on their cultural practices and beliefs. Most important for our purposes is that the Akha keep elaborate (if

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