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Seeing Like a State

Narrated by: Michael Kramer
Length: 16 hrs and 6 mins
5 out of 5 stars (6 ratings)
Regular price: £25.69
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Summary

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 audiobook, 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.

©2018 James C. Scott (P)2018 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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Excellent Book

A most insightful book. Very well read. I'm astonished that this book hasn't been much more influential. If I'd read it when it first came out I'd have predicted that it would have had as much impact as Small is Beautiful did in the '70s.

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Once seen, can it be unseen?

Scott's book is a monumental paean to anarchist and anti-hierarchical wisdom. Although it stretches and extends across multiple disciplines - agriculture, forestry, city planning, industrial organization, etc. - it manages to weave them into a surprisingly coherent and compelling narrative.

The key boogeymen are the predictable (and sometimes unpredictable) shortcomings of technocratic hubris. Scott amply documents, mostly from primary sources, how such hubris has been a defining feature of modernistic statecraft - from Le Corbusier to Lenin.

The takeaway message of the book is that the preservation of bottom-up experimentation, and the harnessing of local knowhow, should inform all sustainable central planning. You should let cities and communities evolve on their own, rather than imposing a system of conformity.

The end result is an eye-opening, powerful narrative about the excesses of human optimism. All utopian schemers should read this book. They should think twice about the consequences of their actions - lest they risk becoming the supervillains of tomorrow.

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  • Nicholas
  • 13-08-18

James c Scott at his best

James c Scott is one of the greatest political historians of all time and his understanding of the relationship between the state and regular people is unparalleled. regardless of one ideological leanings this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why imperial, communist, capitalist and high modern social engineering has at times spectacularly failed. this book sets out to show that informal, local and illegible networks and practices are essential to the smooth functioning of society and that imposed simplicity and legibility can destroy the informal networks and practices that uphold the official system.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-08-18

Excellent and far reaching

Good prose, good performance, and an engaging subject. Should be mandatory reading for anyone who votes!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Philo
  • 05-09-18

The new logic of all behavior

Just the headline idea: that every entity seeks to bend the world into legibility to itself, often obliterating things outside of this logic -- is worth the price of admission. The writing is peppered with insight, on levels of behavioral logic, cognitive science, philosophy, ecology, politics, economics and more. Whether or not that was the author's intention, I see all this in it. And I see the way humanity will probably have its most large-scale failures. This is a worthy milestone in human awareness, even if we end up watching it play out with devastating consequences.