James Scott on Zomia

James Scott, Professor of Political Sciene at Yale, has recently published a book describing Zomia, a region of Southeast Asia spanning multiple countries that is home to 100 million inhabitants who have for 2,000 years managed to resist state encroachment. 

In Zomia’s small societies, with their simple technologies, anti-authoritarian tendencies, and oral cultures, Scott sees not a world forgotten by civilization, but one that has been deliberately constructed to keep the state at arm’s length. Zomia’s history, Scott argues, is a rejection of the mighty lowland states that are seen as defining Asia. He calls Zomia a “shatter zone,” a place where people go to escape the raw deal that complex civilization historically has been for those at the bottom: the coerced labor and conscription into military service, the taxation for wars and pharaonic building projects, the epidemic diseases that came with intensive agriculture and animal husbandry.

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