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

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Yale University Press, 1998 - Political Science - 445 pages
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In this wide-ranging and original book, James C. Scott analyzes failed cases of large-scale authoritarian plans in a variety of fields. He argues that centrally managed social plans derail 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 on 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. And in discussing these planning disasters, he identifies four conditions common to them all: the state's attempt to impose administrative order on nature and society; a high-modernist ideology that believes scientific intervention can improve every aspect of human life; a willingness to use authoritarian state power to effect large-scale innovations; and a prostrate civil society that cannot effectively resist such plans.
 

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It has been, I dare say, a fundamental book for me – though I only discovered it in 2013. I am now re-reading it, as I think it might be morphing into a classic. It's that important.

Contents

Introduction
1
Nature and Space
11
Cities People and Language
53
Authoritarian High Modernism
87
An Experiment
103
A Plan and a Diagnosis
147
Soviet Collectivization Capitalist Dreams
193
An Agriculture of Legibility
262
Metis
309
Conclusion
342
Notes
359
Sources for Illustrations
433

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