The Battle Over Zomia
- Scholars are enchanted by the notion of this anarchic region in Asia.
But how real is it?
By Ruth Hammond
The region of Zomia had not been mapped for very long when people
started quarreling over it. Political scientists, historians,
geographers, anthropologists, and especially Southeast Asianists. Even a
few anarchists weighed in.
Much of the most recent debate has been spurred by the Yale University
professor of political science and anthropology James C. Scott, who
describes the region in his latest book, The Art of Not Being Governed:
An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press,
2009). In the preface, he anticipates the criticism that will come
"bearing down" on him for his unorthodox take on the practices of the
region's hill peoples: "I'm the only one to blame for this book," he
writes. "I did it."
Two years later, the book's already considerable reach is being extended
with new foreign editions. "I'm delighted with the attention it's
gotten," says Scott. As for the criticism that keeps coming, in journals
and at conferences, "I've got a thick skin."
Zomia does not appear on any official map, for it is merely
metaphorical. Scott identifies it as "the largest remaining region of
the world whose peoples have not yet been fully incorporated into
[ ... ]
Scott's argument that the purpose of state-making is about control of
manpower, and not just territory, is one that will resonate a long
while, she says in an interview, noting that she is expressing her own
views and not those of the U.S. government.
"It is a necessary corrective to the predominantly benign view of
state-building," she says. Scott's book demonstrates that "the state
itself can be harmful and despotic." ...