The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia by James C. Scott (Yale University Press).

… is one of the most stimulating books I’ve read in the past six months. Scott writes about a region called “Zomia,” which encompasses “virtually all the lands at altitudes above roughly three hundred meters all the way from the Central Highlands of Vietnam to northeastern India and traversing five Southeast Asian nations (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Burma) and four provinces of China (Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, and parts of Sichuan). It is an expanse of 2.5 million square kilometers containing about one hundred million minority peoples of truly bewildering ethnic and linguistic variety.” 


Scott explores how certain agricultural practices go hand-in-hand with “state-making projects”—and, conversely, how different forms of food cultivation, land management, and foraging offer what Scott calls “escape value.” That is, they allow for “state evasion”: spatial and agricultural techniques for “steering clear of being politically captured” by an empire or nation-state. “Far from being ‘left behind’ by the progress of civilization in the valleys,” Scott writes, “[the people of Zomia] have, over long periods of time, chosen to place themselves out of the reach of the state… There, they practiced what I will call escape agriculture: forms of cultivation designed to thwart state appropriation. Even their social structure could fairly be called escape social structure inasmuch as it was designed to aid dispersal and autonomy and to ward off political subordination.”