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Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (The Institution for Social and Policy St) [Kindle Edition]

James C. Scott
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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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Review

." . . a paean to human liberty. . . . This book [owes] much of its value to the details of the particular case studies, and to Scott's enthusiasm and ingenuity in seeing links among apparently different human projects. . . . [A] remarkably interesting book . . ." -Cass R. Sunstein, New Republic -- Cass R. Sunstein "New Republic"

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4122 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (30 Mar. 1998)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300128789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300128789
  • ASIN: B00D8JJYWA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #226,591 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the most brilliant and inspiring books that I've read in a long time. James C. Scott's thesis is that states, driven by both the need to make the societies they govern legible for tax and control purposes, and by an ideology and aesthetic that equates functional order and progress with real order, systematically transform social realities. Moreover, they often do this to the detriment of their peoples and bring about long-term damage to the environment. One important human loss in this process is the erosion of practical skills and local knowledge in the fact of a hegemony of scientific knowledge and educated technical expertise. It would be hard to do justice to Scott's work in a few lines. He illustrates his thesis with a variety of case studies: Enlightenment scientific forestry, modernist town planning inspired by Le Corbusier, the disagreement between Lenin and Luxemburg on revolutionary agency, Soviet collectivisation of agriculture, compulsory villagisation in Tanzania and agriculture in the Third World. The whole amounts to a pretty devastating critique of a whole way of looking at the world, a top-down modernist perspective that ignores the lived experience and judgement of those whose interests are supposedly being furthered. Some might think that Scott's message is old news, a rehash of Hayekian critiques of central planning. Whilst there are many points in common, Scott is addressing a wider syndrome. The practical judgement, skill and local knowledge of peasants, educators, workers and those in many other walks of life , is at risk not only from state bureaucrats but also from the global capitalist market. Read more ›
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32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Seeing One's Intellectual Parents 2 Nov. 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
There is a lot that is excellent in James Scott's _Seeing Like a State_. It begins with a romp through eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German forestry--and the failure of the foresters to understand the ecology of the forests that they were trying to manage. It continues with a brief digression on how states tried to gain control of their populations through maps, boulevards, and names. These are prequels to a vicious and effective critique of what Scott calls "high modernism": the belief that the planner--whether Le Corbusier designing a city, Vladimir Lenin designing a planned economy, or Julius Nyerere "villagizing" the people of Tanzania--knows best, and can move humans and their lives around on as if on a chessboard to create utopia.
Then the focus appears to waiver. There is a chapter on agriculture in developing economies that characterizes agricultural extension efforts from the first to the third world as analogous to Lenin's nationalization of industry, or Nyerere's forced resettlement of Tanzanians. But the targets -- the agricultural extenders who dismiss established practices -- lose solidity and become shadows. They are no longer living, breathing, powerful rulers,; instead they are the "credo of American agriculture," the "catechism of high- modernist agriculture," the "high-modernist aesthetic and ideology of most colonial trained agronomists and their Western-trained successors" -- truly straw men.
The conclusion is a call for social systems that recognize the importance of what Scott calls "metis": a Greek word for the practical knowledge that a skilled and experienced worker has of his craft.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 17 Aug. 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A must read for those that need to understand the delusional nature of 'management/hierarchy/bureaucracy'......
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