This book is being used by Professor Maben Poirier for POLI-417 (Winter 2016).
In this wide-ranging and original book, James C. Scott analyzes failed cases of large-scale authoritarian plans in a variety of fields. He argues that centrally managed social plans derail when they impose schematic visions that do violence to complex interdependencies that are not — and cannot be — fully understood. Further the success of designs for social organization depends on the recognition that local, practical knowledge is as important as formal, epistemic knowledge. The author builds a persuasive case against “”development theory”” and imperialistic state planning that disregards the values, desires, and objections of its subjects. And in discussing these planning disasters, he identifies four conditions common to them all: the state’s attempt to impose administrative order on nature and society; a high-modernist ideology that believes scientific intervention can improve every aspect of human life; a willingness to use authoritarian state power to effect large-scale innovations; and a prostrate civil society that cannot effectively resist such plans.
James C. Scott’s research for this book began with an examination of the tensions between state authorities and various “”unstable”” individuals throughout history, from hunter-gatherer tribes to Gypsies to the homeless. He soon became fascinated, however, by the recurring patterns of failure and authoritarianism in certain social engineering programs aimed at bringing such people fully into the state’s fold. Soviet collectivization, the Maoist Great Leap Forward, the precisely planned city of Brasilia–these and other projects around the world, while deeply ambitious, extracted immeasurable tolls on the people they were designed to help.
One of the most important common factors that Scott found in these schemes is what he refers to as a high modernist ideology. In simplest terms, it is an extremely firm belief that progress can and will make the world a better place. But “”scientific”” theories about the betterment of life often fail to take into account “”the indispensable role of practical knowledge, informal processes, and improvisation in the face of unpredictability”” that Scott views as essential to an effective society. What high modernism lacks is metis, a Greek word which Scott translates as “”the knowledge that can only come from practical experience.”” Although metis is closely related to the concept of “”mutuality”” found in the anarchist writings of, among others, Kropotkin and Bakunin, Scott is careful to emphasize that he is not advocating the abolition of the state or championing a complete reliance on natural “”truth.”” He merely recognizes that some types of states can initiate programs which jeopardize the well-being of all their subjects.
Although the collapse of most socialist governments might lead one to believe that Seeing Like a State is old news, Scott’s analysis should prove extremely useful to those considering the effects of global capitalism on local communities. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
…a tremendous achievement, easily one of the most impressive and important books of recent years. — Reason, Jesse Walker
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Author: Scott, James C
Publisher/Supplier: TriLiteral LLC
Publication Date: 1999