on 18 August 2010
This book presents a view of the nature of and relationship between "hill" and "valley" peoples to be very different from the "barbarian" vs. "civilized" take that those outside the field may have been exposed to. The book provides a convincing and evidence-based argument that there was continual cross-over between the two groups and that ethnicity was more of a social than a genetic matter.
The book shows that in general hill people were originally valley people who chose (or were driven to) the hills rather than be incorporated into valley states. It also shows the volatility of states.
The book also shows how the physical geography could expand distances (e.g., horizontal distances that include hills and mountains are much "further" than those same distances over plains), and how this meant that in some cases hill people could live quite near valley and plain people. Similarly, the book shows how the type of food grown affected people's mobility and thus how states preferred people to grow crops that tied people to particular localities and growing seasons so that they could be controlled and taxed.
Overall this is a very interesting and well written book.
on 10 July 2011
James Scott turns geopolitics on its head by viewing it from the perspective of the loosely defined 'hill tribes' of highland South-East Asia, and by extension that of all state refuseniks. The result is filled with original insights into a head-spinning range of fields that includes state formation, language and ethnicity, the relationship between geography and history, and the uses of slash-and-burn agriculture, non-literacy and millennial prophets. The points are made vigorously and sweepingly, and then buttressed with often repetitive detail, so it may be a dry read for some and superficial for others; but the ambition of its thesis demands both vision and diligence and I found it well pitched.