Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Art of Not Being Governed

The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

James C. Scott
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Art of Not Being Governed
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15652-2
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Hills, Valleys, and States: An Introduction to Zomia
    (pp. 1-39)

    I open with three diagnostic expressions of frustration. The first two are from would-be conquering administrators, determined to subdue a recalcitrant landscape and its fugitive, resistant inhabitants. The third, from a different continent, is from a would-be conqueror of souls, in some despair at the irreligion and heterodoxy that the landscape appears to encourage:

    Making maps is hard, but mapping Guizhou province especially so. . . . The land in southern Guizhou has fragmented and confused boundaries. . . . A department or a county may be split into several subsections, in many instances separated by other departments or counties....

  5. CHAPTER 2 State Space: Zones of Governance and Appropriation
    (pp. 40-63)

    Imagine, for a moment, that you are a Southeast Asian counterpart of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, chief minister to Louis XIV. You, like Colbert, are charged with designing the prosperity of the kingdom. The setting, like that of the seventeenth century, is premodern: overland travel is by foot, cart, and draft animals, while water transportation is by sail. Let us finally imagine that, unlike Colbert, you begin with a blank slate. You are free to conjure up an ecology, a demography, and a geography that would be most favorable to the state and its ruler. What, in those circumstances, would you design?...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Concentrating Manpower and Grain: Slavery and Irrigated Rice
    (pp. 64-97)

    The concentration of manpower was the key to political power in premodern Southeast Asia. It was the first principle of statecraft and the mantra of virtually every history of precolonial kingdoms in the region. Creating such state space was easiest where there was a substantial expanse of flat, fertile land, watered by perennial streams and rivers and, better yet, not far from a navigable waterway. Tracing the farreaching logic of state spaces will help distinguish the fundamental differences between manpower-poor, land-rich political systems on the one hand and land-poor, manpower-rich systems on the other.

    In its crudest version, the formula...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Civilization and the Unruly
    (pp. 98-126)

    The permanent settlement of populations is, along with taxes, perhaps the oldest state activity. It has always been accompanied by a civilizational discourse in which those who are settled are presumed to have raised their cultural and moral level. While the rhetoric of high imperialism could speak unself-consciously of “civilizing” and “Christianizing” the nomadic heathen, such terms strike the modern ear as outdated and provincial, or as euphemisms for all manner of brutalities. And yet if one substitutes the nounsdevelopment, progress, andmodernization, it is apparent that the project, under a new flag, is very much alive and well....

  8. CHAPTER 5 Keeping the State at a Distance: The Peopling of the Hills
    (pp. 127-177)

    The 9/11 Commission, reporting on its investigation into the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, called attention to the novel location of the terrorist threat. Rather than coming from a hostile nation-state, it came from what the commission called “sanctuaries” in “the least governed, most lawless,” “most remote,” “vast un-policed regions,” in “very difficult terrain.”¹ Particular sanctuaries, such as the Tora Bora and Shah-i-Kot regions along the Pakistan-Afghan border and the “hard to police” islands of the southern Philippines and Indonesia, were singled out. The commission was quite aware that it was the combination of...

  9. CHAPTER 6 State Evasion, State Prevention: The Culture and Agriculture of Escape
    (pp. 178-219)

    Imagine, once again, that you are a Southeast Asian counterpart to Jean-Baptiste Colbert. This time, however, your task is not to design an ideal state space of appropriation but, rather, the precise opposite. How would you go about designing a topography, a subsistence strategy, and a social structure that was as resistant to state formation and appropriation as possible?

    Much of what you would design, I believe, would be an inversion of how the padi state was sculpted. In place of a flat, relatively frictionless alluvial plain, you would conjure up a rugged landscape where the “friction of terrain” was...

  10. CHAPTER 6½ Orality, Writing, and Texts
    (pp. 220-237)

    A diagnostic feature of the condition of barbarism is, for lowland elites, nonliteracy. Of all the civilizational stigmas that hill peoples bear, the general ignorance of writing and texts is the most prominent. Bringing preliterate peoples into the world of letters and formal schooling is, of course, a raison d’être of the developmental state.

    But what if many peoples, on a long view, are notpreliterate, but, to use Leo Alting von Geusau’s term,postliterate?¹ What if, as a consequence of flight, of changes in social structure and subsistence routines, they left texts and writing behind? And what if, to...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Ethnogenesis: A Radical Constructionist Case
    (pp. 238-282)

    Like any heir who had come into a large estate, the British proceeded, as elsewhere, to take inventory of their new possessions in Burma. If the cadastral survey was the instrument for inventorying the real estate, the census was the instrument for enumerating the peoples inherited through conquest.

    Once they came to the hills, the administrators in charge of the 1911 and subsequent censuses were faced with a baroque complexity that all but defeated their mania for classificatory order. How to proceed when most of the “tribal” designations were exonyms applied by outsiders and not used at all by the...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Prophets of Renewal
    (pp. 283-323)

    The mere enumeration of the hundreds, nay thousands, of rebellions mounted by hill people against encroaching states over the past two millennia defies easy accounting. Cataloguing them in some tidy Linnaean classification scheme seems even more daunting.

    These uprisings, usually led by people styling themselves (and/or taken to be) wonder-working prophets, shoulder their way to the front of the historical record by virtue of how large they loom in the archives. Precisely because they menaced the routines of administration and tributary relations and because they contradicted the civilizational narrative of a peaceful ingathering of peoples, they have demanded attention. Each...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 324-338)

    The world I have sought to describe and understand here is fast disappearing. For virtually all my readers it will seem a very far cry indeed from the world they inhabit. In the contemporary world, the future of our freedom lies in the daunting task of taming Leviathan, not evading it. Living in a fully occupied world, one with increasingly standardized institutional modules, the two most hegemonic of which are the North Atlantic modules of individual freehold property and the nation-state, we struggle against the enormous disparities in wealth and power spawned by the former and the ever more intrusive...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 339-406)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 407-414)
  16. Index
    (pp. 415-442)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 443-444)