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Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed: The Institution for Social and Policy Studies (Yale Agrarian Studies (Paperback)) (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 9. März 1999

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James C. Scott's research for this book began with an examination of the tensions between state authorities and various "unstable" individuals throughout history, from hunter-gatherer tribes to Gypsies to the homeless. He soon became fascinated, however, by the recurring patterns of failure and authoritarianism in certain social engineering programs aimed at bringing such people fully into the state's fold. Soviet collectivization, the Maoist Great Leap Forward, the precisely planned city of Brasilia--these and other projects around the world, while deeply ambitious, extracted immeasurable tolls on the people they were designed to help.

One of the most important common factors that Scott found in these schemes is what he refers to as a high modernist ideology. In simplest terms, it is an extremely firm belief that progress can and will make the world a better place. But "scientific" theories about the betterment of life often fail to take into account "the indispensable role of practical knowledge, informal processes, and improvisation in the face of unpredictability" that Scott views as essential to an effective society. What high modernism lacks is metis, a Greek word which Scott translates as "the knowledge that can only come from practical experience." Although metis is closely related to the concept of "mutuality" found in the anarchist writings of, among others, Kropotkin and Bakunin, Scott is careful to emphasize that he is not advocating the abolition of the state or championing a complete reliance on natural "truth." He merely recognizes that some types of states can initiate programs which jeopardize the well-being of all their subjects.

Although the collapse of most socialist governments might lead one to believe that Seeing Like a State is old news, Scott's analysis should prove extremely useful to those considering the effects of global capitalism on local communities. -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.

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." . . a paean to human liberty. . . . This book [owes] much of its value to the details of the particular case studies, and to Scott's enthusiasm and ingenuity in seeing links among apparently different human projects. . . . [A] remarkably interesting book . . ." -Cass R. Sunstein, New Republic -- Cass R. Sunstein "New Republic" -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.

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There is a lot that is excellent in James Scott's _Seeing Like a State_. It begins with a romp through eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German forestry--and the failure of the foresters to understand the ecology of the forests that they were trying to manage. It continues with a brief digression on how states tried to gain control of their populations through maps, boulevards, and names. These are prequels to a vicious and effective critique of what Scott calls "high modernism": the belief that the planner--whether Le Corbusier designing a city, Vladimir Lenin designing a planned economy, or Julius Nyerere "villagizing" the people of Tanzania--knows best, and can move humans and their lives around on as if on a chessboard to create utopia.
Then the focus appears to waiver. There is a chapter on agriculture in developing economies that characterizes agricultural extension efforts from the first to the third world as analogous to Lenin's nationalization of industry, or Nyerere's forced resettlement of Tanzanians. But the targets -- the agricultural extenders who dismiss established practices -- lose solidity and become shadows. They are no longer living, breathing, powerful rulers,; instead they are the "credo of American agriculture," the "catechism of high- modernist agriculture," the "high-modernist aesthetic and ideology of most colonial trained agronomists and their Western-trained successors" -- truly straw men.
The conclusion is a call for social systems that recognize the importance of what Scott calls "metis": a Greek word for the practical knowledge that a skilled and experienced worker has of his craft.
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Format: Taschenbuch
Scott's book gets off to a very good start, arguing that the roots of "high modernism" run deep in a particular world view that grew with scientific culture, but lacks its elements of ruthless self-criticism. What impressed me was his grasp of this ideology as a culture, albeit a culture of a few. Science too is a culture, and this phenomenon is the mentality of the technicians, the engineers, the planners...once they gain power. As one who works in this milieu, although not with the power elite, it rang very true.
He also does a wonderful job of skewering the cultural and aesthetic pretensions of people like Le Corbusier, although this has been done very well by others as well. But Scott does a very good job of showing how the aesthetic was the political, although nobody would admit it.
Unfortunately, after the first two chapters or so, Scott's writing loses its force and wonders about, making no very impressive points, and relating interesting annecdotes, providing intriguing descriptions of bad situations, but not advancing or deepening his argument.
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First the good parts: The author has seen clearly that decisions of government arise out of the day to day activities of the people who are part of it. They treat the outside world as a material, and the same way a baker sifts flour to be even, they want to sift the world to an even consistency.
He also sees that this imposition from above results in many of the most important failures of the imposition of artificial evenness on people and on situations which are unforseen.
In itself a useful critique.
This critique is really an updated critique of the one that various german Romantics offered of the Enlightenment's vision of a rational state governed by rational laws: specifically Goethe's arguments about the organic nature of a place and its people.
He even grasps part of what makes this kind of thinking more useful in our century than in previous ones. Our technology allowed implementation of a standardised new scheme easier than documentation of old ones.
Now for the less good:
The author fails to realise this. Indeed it seems that most readers, intent on preaching libertarianism, fail to see this, and instead think that money is the solution to all ills.
Because he fails to realise this, his book becomes a running series of anecdotes, looking at particularly outstanding examples, and labeling the problem "High Modernism".
In brief: he falls prey to his own problem, by looking at history as input into methods, he searches to hard for easy examples, and fails to list as many examples caused by markets which are driven by the same principles: the reduction of the individual to an input into a process. That input must, then, be homogenised the same way one homogenises the metals to be input into an alloying process.
The book is part of a useful discussion, but the context and knowledge to engage in it does not seem to be present at this time. Unfortunate.
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