The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

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The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia
By James C. Scott
Yale University Press, 2009
464 pp. $35.00

Scott has put rural and marginal people at the center of his previous studies, and here he offers a history of the estimated 100 million people who live in a vast hill and mountain zone that runs across southwest China, northeast India, and parts of five Southeast Asian countries. These populations fled into the hills over the course of two millennia, he argues, to avoid the imposition of slavery, indentured labor, and taxes by expanding states. There they evolved languages, economies, and ways of life designed to keep the state at bay. Outside of Asia, too, such fugitive populations define the "ungovernable" territories and "minority" or "tribal" identities usually thought of as exceptions to the norm. Scott often returns to the complex example of Myanmar (also called Burma) to explain how states mapped terrain, classified populations, and acquired resources as they expanded -- and to show how the Kachins, the Hmong, and others resisted. He believes that the uplanders' strategies of avoidance are approaching an endgame as new technologies give the modern state a longer reach. But the news from Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as from Myanmar, suggests that these ungoverned groups may hold out longer than Scott thinks.

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