Seeing like a state: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (Google eBook)

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Yale University Press, Feb 1, 1999 - POLITICAL SCIENCE - 463 pages
57 Reviews
Compulsory ujamaa villages in Tanzania, collectivization in Russia, Le Corbusier's urban planning theory realized in Brasilia, the Great Leap Forward in China, agricultural "modernization" in the Tropics -- the twentieth century has been racked by grand utopian schemes that have inadvertently brought death and disruption to millions. Why do well-intentioned plans for improving the human condition go tragically awry?

In this wide-ranging and original book, James C. Scott analyzes failed cases of large-scale authoritarian plans in a variety of fields. Centrally managed social plans misfire, Scott argues, when they impose schematic visions that do violence to complex interdependencies that are not -- and cannot -- be fully understood. Further, the success of designs for social organization depends upon the recognition that local, practical knowledge is as important as formal, epistemic knowledge. The author builds a persuasive case against "development theory" and imperialistic state planning that disregards the values, desires, and objections of its subjects. He identifies and discusses four conditions common to all planning disasters: administrative ordering of nature and society by the state; a "high-modernist ideology" that places confidence in the ability of science to improve every aspect of human life; a willingness to use authoritarian state power to effect large-scale interventions; and a prostrate civil society that cannot effectively resist such plans.

"A broad-ranging, theoretically important, and empirically grounded treatment of the modern state and its propensity to simplify and make legible a society which by nature is complex and opaque. For anyone interested inlearning about this fundamental tension of modernity and about the destruction wrought in the twentieth century as a consequence of the dominant development ideology of the simplifying state, this is a must-read". -- Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of Hitler's Willing Executioners


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Review: Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

User Review  - Hans de Zwart - Goodreads

Essential reading if you want to come closer to understanding the world we are living in. Read full review

Review: Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

User Review  - Stephen - Goodreads

Seeing like a State scrutinizes the organizational approach of state governments and other large institutions from the Renaissance era onward. In essence ,James C. Scott demonstrates how reductionist ... Read full review


Part 1 State Projects of Legibility and Simplification
Part 2 Transforming Visions
Part 3 The Social Engineering of Rural Settlement and Production
Part 4 The Missing Link

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About the author (1999)

James C. Scott is the Sterling Professor of Political Science and Professor of Anthropology and Director of Agrarian Studies at Yale University. His most recent book is "Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.

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