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Seeing Like a State

Seeing Like a State

Metadata

  • Author: James C. Scott
  • Full Title: Seeing Like a State
  • Category: #books

Highlights

  • Originally, I set out to understand why the state has always seemed to be the enemy of "people who move around," to put it crudely. (Location 108)
  • the history of Third World development is littered with the debris of huge agricultural schemes and new cities (think of Brasilia or Chandigarh) that have failed their residents. (Location 141)
  • it is harder to grasp why so many well-intended schemes to improve the human condition have gone so tragically awry. (Location 143)
  • I aim, in what follows, to provide a convincing account of the logic behind the failure of some of the (Location 144)
  • I shall argue that the most tragic episodes of (Location 145)
  • state-initiated social engineering originate in a pernicious combination of four elements. All four are necessary for a full-fledged disaster. The first element is the administrative ordering of nature and society-the transformative state simplifications described above. (Location 145)
  • The second element is what I call a high-modernist ideology. It is best conceived as a strong, one might even say muscle-bound, version of the self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and, above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws. (Location 148)
  • carriers of high modernism tended to see rational order in remarkably visual aesthetic terms. For them, an efficient, rationally organized city, village, or farm was a city that looked regimented and orderly in a geometrical sense. The carriers of high modernism, once their plans miscarried or were thwarted, tended to retreat to what I call miniaturization: the creation of a more easily controlled micro-order in model cities, model villages, and model farms. (Location 153)
  • The third element is an authoritarian state that is willing and able to use the full weight of its coercive power to bring these high-modernist designs into being. (Location 164)
  • A fourth element is closely linked to the third: a prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these plans. War, revolution, and economic collapse often radically weaken civil society as well as make the populace more receptive to a new dispensation. (Location 167)
  • Designed or planned social order is necessarily schematic; it always ignores essential features of any real, functioning social order. (Location 172)
  • I am, however, making a case against an imperial or hegemonic planning mentality that excludes the necessary role of local knowledge and know-how. (Location 178)
  • Missing, of course, were all those trees, bushes, and plants holding little or no potential for state revenue. Missing as well were all those parts of trees, even revenue-bearing trees, which might have been useful to the population but whose value could not be converted into fiscal receipts. (Location 227)
  • The entry under "forest" in Diderot's Encyclopedie is almost exclusively concerned with the utilite publique of forest products and the taxes, revenues, and profits that they can be made to yield. (Location 246)
  • utilitarian discourse replaces the term "nature" with the term "natural resources," focusing on those aspects of nature that can be appropriated for human use. (Location 249)
  • The fact is that forest science and geometry, backed by state power, had the capacity to transform the real, diverse, and chaotic old-growth forest into a new, more uniform forest that closely resembled the administrative grid of its techniques. (Location 279)
  • The German forest became the archetype for imposing on disorderly nature the neatly arranged constructs of science. (Location 282)
  • At the limit, the forest itself would not even have to be seen; it could be "read" accurately from the tables and maps in the forester's office. (Location 286)
  • "restoration forestry" attempted with mixed results to create a virtual ecology, while denying its chief sustaining condition: diversity. (Location 341)
  • The metaphorical value of this brief account of scientific production forestry is that it illustrates the dangers of dismembering an exceptionally complex and poorly understood set of relations and processes in order to isolate a single element of instrumental value. (Location 341)
  • No administrative system is capable of representing any existing social community except through a heroic and greatly schematized process of abstraction and simplification. (Location 364)
  • local practices of measurement and landholding were "illegible" to the state in their raw form. They exhibited a diversity and intricacy that reflected a great variety of purely local, not state, interests. That is to say, they could not be assimilated into an administrative grid without being either transformed or reduced to a convenient, if partly fictional, shorthand. (Location 394)
  • The measurements are decidedly local, interested, contextual, and historically specific. (Location 440)
  • Even when the unit of measurement-say, the bushel-was apparently agreed upon by all, the fun had just begun. Virtually everywhere in early modern Europe were endless micropolitics about how baskets might be adjusted through wear, bulging, tricks of weaving, moisture, the thickness of the rim, and so on. In (Location 454)
  • Perhaps the stickiest of all measures before the nineteenth century was the price of bread. As the most vital subsistence good of premodern times, it served as a kind of cost-of-living index, and its cost was the subject of deeply held popular customs about its relationship to the typical urban wage. (Location 466)
  • The conquerors of our days, peoples or princes, want their empire to possess a unified surface over which the superb eye of power can wander without encountering any inequality which hurts or limits its view. The same code of law, the same measures, the same rules, and if we could gradually get there, the same language; (Location 483)
  • Three factors, in the end, conspired to make what Kula calls the "metrical revolution" possible. First, the growth of market exchange encouraged uniformity in measures. Second, both popular sentiment and Enlightenment philosophy favored a single standard throughout France. Finally, the Revolution and especially Napoleonic state building actually enforced the metric system in France and the empire. (Location 489)
  • Negara mawi tata, desa ma%vi cara (The capital has its order, the village its customs). (Location 537)
  • This last practice alerts us to the inequalities that often prevail in local customary tenure; single women, junior males, and anyone defined as falling outside the core of the community are clearly disadvantaged. (Location 553)
  • Although the purposes of the state were broadening, what the state wanted to know was still directly related to those purposes. (Location 769)
  • Illegibility, then, has been and remains a reliable resource for political autonomy' (Location 791)
  • There is, after all, no other way of visually imagining what a large-scale construction project will look like when it is completed except by a miniaturization of thiskind. It follows, I believe, that such plans, which have the scale of toys, are judged for their sculptural properties and visual order, often from a perspective that no or very few human observers will ever replicate. (Location 830)
  • If we can imagine, for the sake of argument, a place where physical resources are evenly distributed and there are no great physical barriers to movement (such as mountains or swamps), then a map of paths in use might form a network resembling a dense concentration of capillaries (figure 11). The tracings would, of course, never be entirely random. Market towns based on location and resources would constitute small hubs, as would religious shrines, quarries, mines, and other important sites.69 (Location 1064)
  • These typifications are indispensable to statecraft. State simplifications such as maps, censuses, cadastral lists, and standard units of measurement represent techniques for grasping a large and complex reality; in order for officials to be able to comprehend aspects of the ensemble, that complex reality must be reduced to schematic categories. (Location 1093)
  • Such is the power of the most advanced techniques of direct rule, that it discovers new social truths as well as merely summarizing known facts. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta is a striking case in point. Its network of sample hospitals allowed it to first "discover"-in the epidemiological sense-such hitherto unknown diseases as toxic shock syndrome, Legionnaires' disease, and AIDS. (Location 1099)
  • citizens, such ignorance can well be disabling. A thoroughly legible society eliminates local monopolies of information and creates a kind of national transparency through the uniformity of codes, identities, statistics, regulations, and measures. (Location 1111)
  • That legibility, I should emphasize, merely amplifies the capacity of the state for discriminating interventions-a capacity that in principle could as easily have been deployed to feed the Jews as to deport them. (Location 1120)
  • State simplifications of the kind we have examined are designed to provide authorities with a schematic view of their society, a view not afforded to those without authority. Rather like U.S. highway patrolmen wearing mirrored sunglasses, the authorities enjoy a quasi-monopolistic picture of selected aspects of the whole society. (Location 1122)
  • Most obviously, state simplifications are observations of only those aspects of social life that are of official interest. They are interested, utilitarian facts. Second, they are also nearly always written (verbal or numerical) documentary facts. Third, they are typically static facts.79 Fourth, most stylized state facts are also aggregate facts. Aggregate facts may be impersonal (the density of transportation networks) or simply a collection of facts about individuals (employment rates, literacy rates, residence patterns). Finally, for most purposes, state officials need to group citizens in ways that permit them to make a collective assessment. Facts that can be aggregated and presented as averages or distributions must therefore be standardized facts. (Location 1129)
  • The aspiration to such uniformity and order alerts us to the fact that modern statecraft is largely a project of internal colonization, often glossed, as it is in imperial rhetoric, as a "civilizing mission." The builders of the modern nation-state do not merely describe, observe, and map; they strive to shape a people and landscape that will fit their techniques of observation.R7 (Location 1164)
  • "central coordinating schemes do work effectively under conditions where the task environment is known and unchanging, where it can be treated as a closed system."" (Location 1167)
  • aspiration to the administrative ordering of nature and society, an aspiration that we have already seen at work in scientific forestry, but one raised to a far more comprehensive and ambitious level. "High modernism" seems an appropriate term for this aspiration.' (Location 1204)
  • The second element is the unrestrained use of the power of the modern state as an instrumentfor achieving these designs. The third element is a weakened or prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these plans. (Location 1210)
  • The ideology of high modernism provides, as it were, the desire; the modern state provides the means of acting on that desire; and the incapacitated civil society provides the leveled terrain on which to build (dis)utopias. (Location 1211)
    • Note: yep
  • "A map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing."° (Location 1220)
  • High modernism is thus a particularly sweeping vision of how the benefits of technical and scientific progress might be applied-usually through the state-in every field of human activity." (Location 1226)
  • Ian Hackingexplains how a suicide or homicide rate, for example, came to be seen as a characteristic of a people, so that one could speak of a "budget" of homicides that would be "spent" each year, like routine debits from an account, although the particular murderers and their victims were unknown." (Location 1255)
  • The troubling features of high modernism derive, for the most part, from its claim to speak about the improvement of the human condition with the authority of scientific knowledge and its tendency to disallow other competing sources of judgment. (Location 1279)
  • A key characteristic of discourses of high modernism and of the public pronouncements of those states that have embraced it is a heavy reliance on visual images of heroic progress toward a totally transformed future.27 (Location 1306)
  • The ubiquity of five-year plans in socialist states is an example of that conviction. (Location 1309)
  • Walther Rathenau. German economic mobilization was the technocratic wonder of the war. That Germany kept its armies in the field and adequately supplied long after most observers had predicted its collapse was largely due to Rathenau's planning.35 (Location 1342)
  • "political economy announces the unknowability for the sovereign of the totality of economic processes and, as a consequence, the impossibility of an economic sovereignty." (Location 1398)
  • The point of liberal political economy was not only that a free market protected property and createdwealth but also that the economy was far too complex for it ever to be managed in detail by a hierarchical administration.5' (Location 1399)
  • None of the plans makes any reference to the urban history, traditions, or aesthetic tastes of the place in which it is to be located. The cities depicted, however striking, betray no context; in their neutrality, they could be anywhere at all. (Location 1432)
  • The city is the brain of the whole society. "The great city commands everything: peace, war, work."27 (Location 1519)
  • The despot is not a man. It is the Plan. The correct, realistic, exact plan, the one that will provide your solution once the problem has been posited clearly, in its entirety, in its indispensable harmony. This plan has been drawn up well away from the frenzy in the mayor's office or the town hall, from the cries of the electorate or the laments of society's victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds. It has taken account of nothing but human truths. It has ignored all current regulations, all existing usages, and channels. It has not considered whether or not it could be carried out with the constitution now in force. It is a biological creation destined for human beings and capable of realization by modern techniques.3" (Location 1526)
  • At the very least, we are in the presence of a dictatorship of the planner; at most, we approach a cult of power and remorselessness that is reminiscent of fascist imagery" (Location 1532)
  • The Soviet modernist El Lis- sitzky attacked Le Corbusier's Moscow as a "city of nowhere, ... [a city] that is neither capitalist, nor proletarian, nor socialist, ... a city on paper, extraneous to living nature, located in a desert through which not even a river must be allowed to pass (since a curve would contradict the style)."39 (Location 1547)
  • for asserting that "the home is a machine for living," so he thought of the planned city as a large, efficient machine with many closely calibrated parts. (Location 1566)

public: true

title: Seeing Like a State longtitle: Seeing Like a State author: James C. Scott url: , source: kindle last_highlight: 2017-01-18 type: books tags:

Seeing Like a State

rw-book-cover

Metadata

  • Author: James C. Scott
  • Full Title: Seeing Like a State
  • Category: #books

Highlights

  • Originally, I set out to understand why the state has always seemed to be the enemy of "people who move around," to put it crudely. (Location 108)
  • the history of Third World development is littered with the debris of huge agricultural schemes and new cities (think of Brasilia or Chandigarh) that have failed their residents. (Location 141)
  • it is harder to grasp why so many well-intended schemes to improve the human condition have gone so tragically awry. (Location 143)
  • I aim, in what follows, to provide a convincing account of the logic behind the failure of some of the (Location 144)
  • I shall argue that the most tragic episodes of (Location 145)
  • state-initiated social engineering originate in a pernicious combination of four elements. All four are necessary for a full-fledged disaster. The first element is the administrative ordering of nature and society-the transformative state simplifications described above. (Location 145)
  • The second element is what I call a high-modernist ideology. It is best conceived as a strong, one might even say muscle-bound, version of the self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and, above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws. (Location 148)
  • carriers of high modernism tended to see rational order in remarkably visual aesthetic terms. For them, an efficient, rationally organized city, village, or farm was a city that looked regimented and orderly in a geometrical sense. The carriers of high modernism, once their plans miscarried or were thwarted, tended to retreat to what I call miniaturization: the creation of a more easily controlled micro-order in model cities, model villages, and model farms. (Location 153)
  • The third element is an authoritarian state that is willing and able to use the full weight of its coercive power to bring these high-modernist designs into being. (Location 164)
  • A fourth element is closely linked to the third: a prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these plans. War, revolution, and economic collapse often radically weaken civil society as well as make the populace more receptive to a new dispensation. (Location 167)
  • Designed or planned social order is necessarily schematic; it always ignores essential features of any real, functioning social order. (Location 172)
  • I am, however, making a case against an imperial or hegemonic planning mentality that excludes the necessary role of local knowledge and know-how. (Location 178)
  • Missing, of course, were all those trees, bushes, and plants holding little or no potential for state revenue. Missing as well were all those parts of trees, even revenue-bearing trees, which might have been useful to the population but whose value could not be converted into fiscal receipts. (Location 227)
  • The entry under "forest" in Diderot's Encyclopedie is almost exclusively concerned with the utilite publique of forest products and the taxes, revenues, and profits that they can be made to yield. (Location 246)
  • utilitarian discourse replaces the term "nature" with the term "natural resources," focusing on those aspects of nature that can be appropriated for human use. (Location 249)
  • The fact is that forest science and geometry, backed by state power, had the capacity to transform the real, diverse, and chaotic old-growth forest into a new, more uniform forest that closely resembled the administrative grid of its techniques. (Location 279)
  • The German forest became the archetype for imposing on disorderly nature the neatly arranged constructs of science. (Location 282)
  • At the limit, the forest itself would not even have to be seen; it could be "read" accurately from the tables and maps in the forester's office. (Location 286)
  • "restoration forestry" attempted with mixed results to create a virtual ecology, while denying its chief sustaining condition: diversity. (Location 341)
  • The metaphorical value of this brief account of scientific production forestry is that it illustrates the dangers of dismembering an exceptionally complex and poorly understood set of relations and processes in order to isolate a single element of instrumental value. (Location 341)
  • No administrative system is capable of representing any existing social community except through a heroic and greatly schematized process of abstraction and simplification. (Location 364)
  • local practices of measurement and landholding were "illegible" to the state in their raw form. They exhibited a diversity and intricacy that reflected a great variety of purely local, not state, interests. That is to say, they could not be assimilated into an administrative grid without being either transformed or reduced to a convenient, if partly fictional, shorthand. (Location 394)
  • The measurements are decidedly local, interested, contextual, and historically specific. (Location 440)
  • Even when the unit of measurement-say, the bushel-was apparently agreed upon by all, the fun had just begun. Virtually everywhere in early modern Europe were endless micropolitics about how baskets might be adjusted through wear, bulging, tricks of weaving, moisture, the thickness of the rim, and so on. In (Location 454)
  • Perhaps the stickiest of all measures before the nineteenth century was the price of bread. As the most vital subsistence good of premodern times, it served as a kind of cost-of-living index, and its cost was the subject of deeply held popular customs about its relationship to the typical urban wage. (Location 466)
  • The conquerors of our days, peoples or princes, want their empire to possess a unified surface over which the superb eye of power can wander without encountering any inequality which hurts or limits its view. The same code of law, the same measures, the same rules, and if we could gradually get there, the same language; (Location 483)
  • Three factors, in the end, conspired to make what Kula calls the "metrical revolution" possible. First, the growth of market exchange encouraged uniformity in measures. Second, both popular sentiment and Enlightenment philosophy favored a single standard throughout France. Finally, the Revolution and especially Napoleonic state building actually enforced the metric system in France and the empire. (Location 489)
  • Negara mawi tata, desa ma%vi cara (The capital has its order, the village its customs). (Location 537)
  • This last practice alerts us to the inequalities that often prevail in local customary tenure; single women, junior males, and anyone defined as falling outside the core of the community are clearly disadvantaged. (Location 553)
  • Although the purposes of the state were broadening, what the state wanted to know was still directly related to those purposes. (Location 769)
  • Illegibility, then, has been and remains a reliable resource for political autonomy' (Location 791)
  • There is, after all, no other way of visually imagining what a large-scale construction project will look like when it is completed except by a miniaturization of thiskind. It follows, I believe, that such plans, which have the scale of toys, are judged for their sculptural properties and visual order, often from a perspective that no or very few human observers will ever replicate. (Location 830)
  • If we can imagine, for the sake of argument, a place where physical resources are evenly distributed and there are no great physical barriers to movement (such as mountains or swamps), then a map of paths in use might form a network resembling a dense concentration of capillaries (figure 11). The tracings would, of course, never be entirely random. Market towns based on location and resources would constitute small hubs, as would religious shrines, quarries, mines, and other important sites.69 (Location 1064)
  • These typifications are indispensable to statecraft. State simplifications such as maps, censuses, cadastral lists, and standard units of measurement represent techniques for grasping a large and complex reality; in order for officials to be able to comprehend aspects of the ensemble, that complex reality must be reduced to schematic categories. (Location 1093)
  • Such is the power of the most advanced techniques of direct rule, that it discovers new social truths as well as merely summarizing known facts. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta is a striking case in point. Its network of sample hospitals allowed it to first "discover"-in the epidemiological sense-such hitherto unknown diseases as toxic shock syndrome, Legionnaires' disease, and AIDS. (Location 1099)
  • citizens, such ignorance can well be disabling. A thoroughly legible society eliminates local monopolies of information and creates a kind of national transparency through the uniformity of codes, identities, statistics, regulations, and measures. (Location 1111)
  • That legibility, I should emphasize, merely amplifies the capacity of the state for discriminating interventions-a capacity that in principle could as easily have been deployed to feed the Jews as to deport them. (Location 1120)
  • State simplifications of the kind we have examined are designed to provide authorities with a schematic view of their society, a view not afforded to those without authority. Rather like U.S. highway patrolmen wearing mirrored sunglasses, the authorities enjoy a quasi-monopolistic picture of selected aspects of the whole society. (Location 1122)
  • Most obviously, state simplifications are observations of only those aspects of social life that are of official interest. They are interested, utilitarian facts. Second, they are also nearly always written (verbal or numerical) documentary facts. Third, they are typically static facts.79 Fourth, most stylized state facts are also aggregate facts. Aggregate facts may be impersonal (the density of transportation networks) or simply a collection of facts about individuals (employment rates, literacy rates, residence patterns). Finally, for most purposes, state officials need to group citizens in ways that permit them to make a collective assessment. Facts that can be aggregated and presented as averages or distributions must therefore be standardized facts. (Location 1129)
  • The aspiration to such uniformity and order alerts us to the fact that modern statecraft is largely a project of internal colonization, often glossed, as it is in imperial rhetoric, as a "civilizing mission." The builders of the modern nation-state do not merely describe, observe, and map; they strive to shape a people and landscape that will fit their techniques of observation.R7 (Location 1164)
  • "central coordinating schemes do work effectively under conditions where the task environment is known and unchanging, where it can be treated as a closed system."" (Location 1167)
  • aspiration to the administrative ordering of nature and society, an aspiration that we have already seen at work in scientific forestry, but one raised to a far more comprehensive and ambitious level. "High modernism" seems an appropriate term for this aspiration.' (Location 1204)
  • The second element is the unrestrained use of the power of the modern state as an instrumentfor achieving these designs. The third element is a weakened or prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these plans. (Location 1210)
  • The ideology of high modernism provides, as it were, the desire; the modern state provides the means of acting on that desire; and the incapacitated civil society provides the leveled terrain on which to build (dis)utopias. (Location 1211)
    • Note: yep
  • "A map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing."° (Location 1220)
  • High modernism is thus a particularly sweeping vision of how the benefits of technical and scientific progress might be applied-usually through the state-in every field of human activity." (Location 1226)
  • Ian Hackingexplains how a suicide or homicide rate, for example, came to be seen as a characteristic of a people, so that one could speak of a "budget" of homicides that would be "spent" each year, like routine debits from an account, although the particular murderers and their victims were unknown." (Location 1255)
  • The troubling features of high modernism derive, for the most part, from its claim to speak about the improvement of the human condition with the authority of scientific knowledge and its tendency to disallow other competing sources of judgment. (Location 1279)
  • A key characteristic of discourses of high modernism and of the public pronouncements of those states that have embraced it is a heavy reliance on visual images of heroic progress toward a totally transformed future.27 (Location 1306)
  • The ubiquity of five-year plans in socialist states is an example of that conviction. (Location 1309)
  • Walther Rathenau. German economic mobilization was the technocratic wonder of the war. That Germany kept its armies in the field and adequately supplied long after most observers had predicted its collapse was largely due to Rathenau's planning.35 (Location 1342)
  • "political economy announces the unknowability for the sovereign of the totality of economic processes and, as a consequence, the impossibility of an economic sovereignty." (Location 1398)
  • The point of liberal political economy was not only that a free market protected property and createdwealth but also that the economy was far too complex for it ever to be managed in detail by a hierarchical administration.5' (Location 1399)
  • None of the plans makes any reference to the urban history, traditions, or aesthetic tastes of the place in which it is to be located. The cities depicted, however striking, betray no context; in their neutrality, they could be anywhere at all. (Location 1432)
  • The city is the brain of the whole society. "The great city commands everything: peace, war, work."27 (Location 1519)
  • The despot is not a man. It is the Plan. The correct, realistic, exact plan, the one that will provide your solution once the problem has been posited clearly, in its entirety, in its indispensable harmony. This plan has been drawn up well away from the frenzy in the mayor's office or the town hall, from the cries of the electorate or the laments of society's victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds. It has taken account of nothing but human truths. It has ignored all current regulations, all existing usages, and channels. It has not considered whether or not it could be carried out with the constitution now in force. It is a biological creation destined for human beings and capable of realization by modern techniques.3" (Location 1526)
  • At the very least, we are in the presence of a dictatorship of the planner; at most, we approach a cult of power and remorselessness that is reminiscent of fascist imagery" (Location 1532)
  • The Soviet modernist El Lis- sitzky attacked Le Corbusier's Moscow as a "city of nowhere, ... [a city] that is neither capitalist, nor proletarian, nor socialist, ... a city on paper, extraneous to living nature, located in a desert through which not even a river must be allowed to pass (since a curve would contradict the style)."39 (Location 1547)
  • for asserting that "the home is a machine for living," so he thought of the planned city as a large, efficient machine with many closely calibrated parts. (Location 1566)