James Scott

Legibility guy

Dec'2012 profile of Scott following publishing of his Two Cheers For Anarchism book - ISBN:9780691155296. *He’s also the kind of big thinker (and stylish writer), colleagues say, who has all but disappeared in his field: the last of a breed of wide-angled 20th-century social theorists, going back to Max Weber, to marry the insights of social science to the broad sweep of history, even as he cautions against putting too much faith in theory... “Two Cheers,” published by Princeton University Press, is a skiff of a book by Mr. Scott’s usual dreadnought standards, weighing in at a mere 149 pages, footnotes included. It is both a departure and a summing up, reprising the themes of his earlier books in a series of 29 playful, often highly personal “fragments,” making a case for what he calls “the Anarchist squint.”... Mr. Scott, who calls himself a “crude MarxIst” but defends family business and other “small property” (SmallWorld) as important buffers against state power, laughed heartily at the notion of hitting the management-guru circuit... “I began to think that if revolution doesn’t work for peasants, maybe there’s not that much to say for it,” he said.

In the late 1970s Mr. Scott took his family to a Malaysian village for two years of fieldwork, despite colleagues’ warnings that it would be a “career-killing” move for a political scientist. The result was “Weapons of the Weak,” which (along with a follow-up, “Domination and the Arts of Resistance”) explored the ways peasants and other powerless people used evasion and subterfuge, rather than direct confrontation, to thwart efforts at centralized state control. (HEAP?)

“SeeingLikeAState,” published a decade later, looked at the limitations of state power from the other end, examining — through examples as diverse as 18th-century German scientific forestry and “villagization” in 1970s Tanzania — the way that “high modernist” social engineering doomed itself by ignoring local custom and practical knowledge, which Mr. Scott, borrowing the classical Greek word for wisdom, calls “MetIs.”*


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