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

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By James C. Scott

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, corvee labor, epidemics, and warfare. Significantly, writes James C. Scott in this iconoclastic study, these people are not innocents who have yet to benefit from all that civilization has to offer; they have assessed state-based "civilizations" and have made a conscious choice to avoid them. The book is essentially an "anarchist history," the first-ever examination of the huge literature on state-making that 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; cropping 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.

The Art of Not Being Governed challenges us with a radically different approach to history that views from the perspective of stateless peoples and redefines state-making as a form of "internal colonialism." In contrast to the Western ideal of the "social contract" as fundamental to state-making, Scott finds the disturbing mechanism of subjugation to be more in line with the historical facts in mainland Southeast Asia. The author's work on Zomia represents a new way to think of area studies that will be applicable to other runaway and fugitive communities, be they Gypsies, Cossacks, tribes fleeing slave-raiders, Marsh Arabs, and San-Bushmen.

In accessible language, 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. Along the way he redefines our views on Asian politics, history, and demographics, and even our fundamental ideas about what constitutes civilization.


"James Scott has produced here perhaps his most masterful work to date. It is deeply learned, creative and compassionate. Few scholars possess a keener capacity to recognize the agency of peoples without history and in entirely unexpected places, practices and forms. Indeed, it leads him ever closer to the anarchist ideal that it is possible for humans not only to escape the state, but the very state form itself."
- Prasenjit Duara


James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science, Professor of Anthropology and Co-Director of the Agrarian Studies Program, Yale University, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Publication Year: 2010
464 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-497-5, Paperback

NUS Press