Notes on James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 2009).
PRINCIPLES OF ANALYSIS
I will rearrange the order of presentation in the Preface to emphasize some connections of principles. Under each of the three main headings there is a dialectic of escape and living free that is a theoretical mirror of the historical process being examined: first, a critical interpretation of state thought (escape) and then a positive project of examining the practices of self-governing peoples (living free).
CRITICAL INTERPRETATION OF STATE DENIGRATION OF THE OTHER: “My argument is a deconstruction of Chinese and other civilizational discourses about the ‘barbarian,’ the ‘raw,’ the ‘primitive.’ On close inspection, those terms, practically, mean ungoverned, not-yet-incorporated. Civilizational discourses never entertain the possibility of people voluntarily going over to the barbarians, hence such statuses are stigmatized and ethnicized. Ethnicity and ‘tribe’ begin exactly where taxes and sovereignty end—in the Roman Empire as in the Chinese” (Preface, p x-xi).
POSITIVE PROJECT: WRITING THE HISTORY OF NON-STATE PEOPLES AS THE COMPLEMENT OF STATE-CENTERED HISTORY (the original and implicit affirmative universal “all history is that of the state” has to be changed to an explicit pair of particulars “not all history is that of the state” and “some history is that of non-state peoples”): “The huge literature on state-making, contemporary and historic, pays virtually no attention to its obverse: the history of deliberate and reactive statelessness. This is the history of those who got away, and state-making cannot be understood apart from it. This is also what makes this an anarchist history” (Preface, p x).
CRITICAL INTERPRETATION OF STATE PROGRESSIVISM: From a state perspective, “self-governing peoples” are “living ancestors,” a glimpse of pre-agricultural, pre-civilized life. Here is a politics of anthropology, a way that progressivism or evolutionism is put to work, legitimating incorporation of non-state peoples to allow them access to modernity. Scott argues, on the contrary, “hill people are best understood as runaway, fugitive, maroon communities who have, over the course of two millennia, been fleeing the oppression of state-making projects in the valleys—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare” (Preface, p ix).
POSITIVE PROJECT OF DESCRIBING “PRIMITIVISM” AS ANTI-STATE CHOICE: “the argument reverses much received wisdom about ‘primitivism’ generally. Pastoralism, foraging, shifting cultivation, and segmentary lineage systems are often a ‘secondary adaptation,’ a kind of ‘self-barbarization’ adopted by peoples whose location, subsistence, and social structure are adapted to state evasion. For those living in the shadow of states, such evasion is also perfectly compatible with derivative, imitative, and parasitic state forms in the hills” (Preface, p x).
CRITICAL INTERPRETATION OF ECOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL DETERMINISM, OR, PUTTING THE POLITICS INTO “POLITICAL ECONOMY”: “Usually, forms of subsistence and kinship are taken as given, as ecologically and culturally determined. By analyzing various forms of cultivation, particular crops, certain social structures, and physical mobility patterns for their escape value, I treat such givens as political choices” (Preface, p xi).
POSITIVE PROJECT OF DESCRIBING ANTI-STATE PRACTICES: “physical dispersion in rugged terrain, their mobility, their cropping practices, their kinship structures, their pliable ethnic identities, and their devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders all serve to avoid incorporation into states and to prevent states from springing up among them” (Preface, p x).