Zomia must be defended! (part 2)

by Brian Bergen-Aurand


State rulers find it well nigh impossible to install an effective sovereignty over people who are constantly in motion, who have no permanent pattern of organization, no permanent address, whose leadership is ephemeral, whose subsistence patterns are pliable and fugitive, who have few permanent allegiances, and who are liable, over time, to shift their linguistic practices and their ethnic identity.
~James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

James C. Scott, “The Art of Not Being Governed,” Cornell University, 2010.

In case you haven’t had a chance to read the book.

In this 2010 talk at Cornell University, Scott summarizes his arguments and responds to questions regarding Zomia. The primary point he emphasizes here is the ways in which non-state polities have adopted practices that function to thwart centralized command and control. Rather than thinking of “hill peoples” as backwards ancestors of “valley civilizations,” Scott recommends we think of them of parallel arrangements deliberately practiced to resist assimilation and absorption. He challenges the progressive and evolutionary models of the development of civilization, arguing that before 1950 states were much more porous–folks joined or fled centralized authorities in more dynamic ways than previously suspected. The key was always the adoption or refusal of practices that aided or dissuaded state absorption, especially with regard to regional location, agricultural choices (wheat and rice are easily assimilable, root vegetables not), and kinship structures. Where and how we live make us more or less assimilable in very real ways.

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