Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed
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.
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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.
Nature and Space
Cities People and Language
Authoritarian High Modernism
A Plan and a Diagnosis
Soviet Collectivization Capitalist Dreams
An Agriculture of Legibility
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administrative aesthetic Agrarian Aleksandra Kollontay authoritarian Bolsheviks Brasilia cadastral map Cambridge capital central collective farms collectivization colonial complex context Corbusier create crops cultivation cultural designed ecological economic engineering environment example experience experimental fact factory farmers farms field fiscal forest forms function grain grid high modernism high-modernist human Ian Hacking Ibid industrial institutions Jacobs knowledge kolkhoz labor land landraces Le Corbusier legible Lenin living logic Luxemburg Marglin measurement ment metis modernist Nyerere officials organization Paris peasantry peasants planners plant plots political polyculture population practice precisely production quoted resistance revolution revolutionary rules rural Russian schemes settlement shifting cultivation simplification social socialist society soil Soviet standard surnames Taming of Chance Tanzania techniques tenure tion transform typically ujamaa ujamaa villages uniform University Press urban utopian vanguard party visual workers yields