Seeing like a state: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

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Yale University Press, 1999 - Political Science - 463 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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User Review  - MargaretPinardAuthor - LibraryThing

Great insights into social nature, urbanization, statebuilding and such. Can go on into more dense field issues, but I found the historical treatment very good. Read, Kat! Or at least flip through... Read full review

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User Review  - jgeneric - LibraryThing

While most theory books have a hard time captivating me, this one is very well done. Scott focuses on why some of the utopian centrally-planned societies failed and why organic "home-spun" communities ... 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, professor of anthropology, and codirector of the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University. His books include "Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed," "Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts," and most recently, "The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia." He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a part-time mediocre farmer and beekeeper.

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