art of not being governed

The Art of Not Being Governed – An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia – (2009) – james c scott via anarchist library []


James C. Scott (born December 2, 1936) is an American political scientist and anthropologist specializing in comparative politics. He is a comparative scholar of agrarian and non-state societies, subaltern politics, and anarchism. His primary research has centered on peasants of Southeast Asia and their strategies of resistance to various forms of domination. The New York Times described his research as “highly influential and idiosyncratic”

In The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, Scott addresses the question of how certain groups in the mountainous jungles of Southeast Asia *managed to avoid a package of exploitation centered around the state, taxation, and grain cultivation. Certain aspects of their society seen by outsiders as backward (e.g., limited literacy and use of written language) were in fact part of the “Arts” referenced in the title: limiting literacy meant lower visibility to the state.. t Scott’s main argument is that these people are “barbaric by design”: their social organization, geographical location, subsistence practices and culture have been carved to discourage states to annex them to their territories. Addressing identity in the Introduction, he wrote: ‘… **All identities, without exception, have been socially constructed..t: the Han, the Burman, the American, the Danish, all of them … To the degree that the identity is stigmatized by the larger state or society, it is likely to become for many a resistant and defiant identity. Here invented identities combine with self-making of a heroic kind, in which such identifications become a badge of honor …’ — (pp. xii-iii.)

*idiosyncratic jargon as means to hide in public et al

**identity ness and marsh label law.. naming the colour.. et al



It is said that the history of peoples who have a history is the history of class struggle. It might be said with at least as much truthfulness, that the history of peoples without history is a history of their struggle against the state..t

—Pierre Clastres, La société contre l’état

dawn of everything (book) .. human history.. et al



Zomia is a new name for 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. Geographically, it is also known as the Southeast Asian mainland massif. Since this huge area is at the periphery of nine states and at the center of none, since it also bestrides the usual regional designations (Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia), and since what makes it interesting is its ecological variety as well as its relation to states, it represents a novel object of study, a kind of transnational Appalachia, and a new way to think of area studies.

My thesis is simple, suggestive, and controversial. Zomia is the largest remaining region of the world whose peoples have not yet been fully incorporated into nation-states. Its days are numbered. Not so very long ago, however, such self-governing peoples were the great majority of humankind. Today, they are seen from the valley kingdoms as “our living ancestors,” “what we were like before we discovered wet-rice cultivation, Buddhism, and civilization.” On the contrary, I argue that hill peoples are best understood as runaway, fugitive, maroon communities who have, over the course of two millennia, been fleeing the oppressions of state-making projects in the valleys—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. Most of the areas in which they reside may be aptly called shatter zones or zones of refuge.

*to me.. none to date that have been fully not incorp’d/intoxicated.. et al.. so none fully self governing.. like: ‘in undisturbed ecosystems ..the average individual, species, or population, left to its own devices, behaves in ways that serve and stabilize the whole..’ –Dana Meadows

Virtually everything about these people’s livelihoods, social organization, ideologies, and (more controversially) even their largely oral cultures, can be read as strategic positionings designed to keep the state at arm’s length..t Their physical dispersion in rugged terrain, their mobility, their cropping practices, their kinship structure, their pliable ethnic identities, and their devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders effectively serve to avoid incorporation into states and to prevent states from springing up among them.

The huge literature on state-making, contemporary and historic, pays virtually no attention to its obverse: the history of deliberate and reactive statelessness. This is the history of those who got away, and state-making cannot be understood apart from it.. t This is also what makes this an anarchist history..


This account implicitly brings together the histories of all those peoples extruded by coercive state-making and unfree labor systems: Gypsies, Cossacks, polyglot tribes made up of refugees from Spanish reducciones in the New World and the Philippines, fugitive slave communities, the Marsh Arabs, San-Bushmen, and so on.

The argument reverses much received wisdom about “primitivism” generally..t Pastoralism, foraging, shifting cultivation, and segmentary lineage systems are often a “secondary adaptation,” a kind of “self-barbarianization” adopted by peoples whose location, subsistence, and social structure are adapted to state evasion. For those living in the shadow of states, such evasion is also perfectly compatible with derivative, imitative, and parasitic state forms in the hills.

dawn of everything (book).. human history.. et al

My argument is a deconstruction of Chinese and other civilizational discourses about the “barbarian,” the “raw,” the “primitive.” On close inspection those terms, practically, mean ungoverned, not-yet-incorporated. Civilizational discourses never entertain the possibility of people voluntarily going over to the barbarians, hence such statuses are stigmatized and ethnicized..t Ethnicity and “tribe” begin exactly where taxes and sovereignty end—in the Roman Empire as in the Chinese.

graeber/wengrow back & forth law et al

Usually, forms of subsistence and kinship are taken as given, as ecologically and culturally determined. By analyzing various forms of cultivation, particular crops, certain social structures, and physical mobility patterns for their escape value, I treat such givens largely as political choices..t

graeber make it diff law et al

The mountains as a refuge for state-fleeing people, including guerrillas, is an important geographical theme. I develop the idea of the friction of terrain, which is a new way of understanding political space and the difficulties of state-making in premodern societies.

I’m the only one to blame for this book. I did it. Let’s get that out of the way before I begin making apologies and trying, in vain, I know, to make a few preemptive strikes against some of the criticism I can, even as I write this, see bearing down on me.

I’ve often been accused of being wrong but rarely of being obscure or incomprehensible. This book is no different. There’s no denying that I make bold claims about the hill peoples of mainland Southeast Asia. I think, naturally, that my claims are broadly correct, even if I may be mistaken in some particulars. Judgment of whether I am right is, as always, now out of my hands and in that of my readers and reviewers. There are, however, three things about these claims that I wish to assert emphatically. First, there is nothing original here. I repeat, there is not a single idea here that originates with me. What I surely have done is to see a kind of immanent order or argument in a good many of the sources I canvassed and to draw that argument out to see how far it would take me. The creative aspect, if there was any, was to make out this gestalt and to connect the dots. I realize that some of those whose arguments and speculations I have made use of will think I have gone too far—a few of them have told me so and, mercifully for me, others are no longer in a position to complain. They are no more responsible for what I have done with their ideas than I will be for what use others make of what I have written here.

To my mild astonishment, I find that I have become a kind of historian—not a particularly good one, perhaps, but a historian nonetheless. And an ancient historian at that: ancient in both senses of the term. I am familiar with the occupational hazard of historians, namely that a historian preparing herself to write, say, about the eighteenth century ends up writing mostly about the seventeenth century because it comes to seem so fundamental to the question at issue. Something like that happened to me. Here I was reading ethnographies of hill peoples and reports on human rights abuses by the Burmese military in minority areas only to find myself drawn inexorably back to the coercive state-making of the classical mandala kingdoms. I owe my renewed study of precolonial and colonial Southeast Asia to two independent graduate reading courses. One was devoted to foundational texts in Southeast Asian studies and designed as a kind of intellectual boot camp in which we read all those basic works most scholars had on their shelves but would be embarrassed to admit that they had never read, beginning with the two volumes of the Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. It was bracing for all of us. The second was a reading course on Burma, starting from the same premise.


This brings me to my second emphatic assertion. What I have to say in these pages makes little sense for the period following the Second World War. Since 1945, and in some cases before then, the power of the state to deploy distance-demolishing technologies—railroads, all-weather roads, telephone, telegraph, airpower, helicopters, and now information technology—so changed the strategic balance of power between self-governing peoples and nation-states, so diminished the friction of terrain, that my analysis largely ceases to be useful. On the contrary, the sovereign nation-state is now busy projecting its power to its outermost territorial borders and mopping up zones of weak or no sovereignty. The need for the natural resources of the “tribal zone” and the desire to ensure the security and productivity of the periphery has led, everywhere, to strategies of “engulfment,” in which presumptively loyal and land-hungry valley populations are transplanted to the hills. So if my analysis does not apply to late-twentieth-century Southeast Asia, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Finally, I worry that the radical constructionist case made here about ethnogenesis will be misunderstood and taken as a devaluation, even denigration, of ethnic identities for which brave men and women have fought and died. Nothing could be further from the truth. *All identities, without exception, have been socially constructed:.. t the Han, the Burman, the American, the Danish, all of them. Quite often such identities, particularly minority identities, are at first imagined by powerful states, as the Han imagined the Miao, the British colonists imagined the Karen and the Shan, the French the Jarai. Whether invented or imposed, such identities select, more or less arbitrarily, one or another trait, however vague—religion, language, skin color, diet, means of subsistence—as the desideratum. Such categories, institutionalized in territories, land tenure, courts, customary law, appointed chiefs, schools, and paperwork, may become passionately lived identities. To the degree that the identity is stigmatized by the larger state or society, it is likely to become for many a resistant and defiant identity..t Here invented identities combine with self-making of a heroic kind, in which such identifications become a badge of honor. In the contemporary world in which the nation-state is the hegemonic political unit, it is not surprising that such self-assertion should usually take the form of ethnonationalism. So for those who risk everything so that the Shan, the Karen, the Chin, the Mon, the Kayah may achieve some form of independence and recognition, I have only admiration and respect.

*marsh label law.. identity ness.. et al


I have been inspired and instructed by work that reexamined how out-of-the-way people came to be out of the way in the first place, while radically questioning the civilizational discourse applied to them by their self-described superiors.. t Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán’s small classic, Regions of Refuge, published nearly thirty years ago, made a more general claim than Clastres for much of the Latin American continent, and subsequently Stuart Schwartz and Frank Salomon examined that claim in more careful, illuminating detail. Closer to my own geographic focus, Robert Hefner’s study of the Tengger Highlands of Java and Geoffrey Benjamin’s work on Malaysia’s orang asli were convincing and brilliant case studies that encouraged me to see Zomia in this light


1 – Hills, Valleys, and States, An Introduction to Zomia


The encounter between expansionary states and self-governing peoples is hardly confined to Southeast Asia. It is echoed in the cultural and administrative process of “internal colonialism” that characterizes the formation of most modern Western nation-states; in the imperial projects of the Romans, the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, the Han, and the British; in the subjugation of indigenous peoples in “white-settler” colonies such as the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and Algeria; in the dialectic between sedentary, town-dwelling Arabs and nomadic pastoralists that have characterized much of Middle Eastern history. The precise shape of the encounters is, to be sure, unique to each case. Nevertheless, the ubiquity of the encounter between self-governing and state-governed peoples—variously styled as the raw and the cooked, the wild and the tamed, the hill/forest people and the valley/cleared-land people, upstream and downstream, the barbarian and the civilized, the backward and the modern, the free and the bound, the people without history and the people with history—provides us with many possibilities for comparative triangulation. We shall take advantage of these opportunities where we can.

A World of Peripheries

In the written record—that is to say, from the beginning of grain-based, agrarian civilizations—the encounter we are examining can fairly be said to preoccupy rulers. But if we stand back and widen the historical lens still further, seeing the encounter in human rather than state-civilization terms, it is astonishing how recent and rapid the encounter has been. Homo sapiens sapiens has been around for something like two hundred thousand years, ..the very last 1 percent of human history, the social landscape consisted of elementary, self-governing, kinship units that might, occasionally, cooperate in hunting, feasting, skirmishing, trading, and peacemaking. It did not contain anything one could call a state. In other words, living in the absence of state structures has been the standard human condition.


The founding of agrarian states, then, was the contingent event that created a distinction, hence a dialectic, between a settled, state-governed population and a frontier penumbra of less governed or virtually autonomous peoples.

The Last Enclosure

Only the modern state, in both its colonial and its independent guises, has had the resources to realize a project of rule that was a mere glint in the eye of its precolonial ancestor: namely to bring nonstate spaces and people to heel. This project in its broadest sense represents the last great enclosure movement in Southeast Asia. It has been pursued—albeit clumsily and with setbacks—consistently for at least the past century. Governments, whether colonial or independent, communist or neoliberal, populist or authoritarian, have embraced it fully. The headlong pursuit of this end by regimes otherwise starkly different suggests that such projects of administrative, economic, and cultural standardization are hard-wired into the architecture of the modern state itself.


Seen from the state center, this enclosure movement is, in part, an effort to integrate and monetize the people, lands, and resources of the periphery so that they become, to use the French term, rentable—auditable contributors to the gross national product and to foreign exchange. In truth, peripheral peoples had always been firmly linked economically to the lowlands and to world trade. In some cases, they appear to have provided most of the products valued in international commerce. Nevertheless, the attempt to fully incorporate them has been culturally styled as development, economic progress, literacy, and social integration. In practice, it has meant something else. The objective has been less to make them productive than to ensure that their economic activity was legible, taxable, assessable, and confiscatable or, failing that, to replace it with forms of production that were.


At a time when the state seems pervasive and inescapable, it is easy to forget that for much of history, living within or outside the state—or in an intermediate zone—was a choice, one that might be revised as the circumstances warranted. A wealthy and peaceful state center might attract a growing population that found its advantages rewarding. This, of course, fits the standard civilizational narrative of rude barbarians mesmerized by the prosperity made possible by the king’s peace and justice—a narrative shared by most of the world’s salvational religions, not to mention Thomas Hobbes.


Once we entertain the possibility that the “barbarians” are not just “there” as a residue but may well have chosen their location, their subsistence practices, and their social structure to maintain their autonomy, the standard civilizational story of social evolution collapses utterly..t The temporal, civilizational series—from foraging to swiddening (or to pastoralism), to sedentary grain cultivation, to irrigated wet-rice farming—and its near-twin, the series from roving forest bands to small clearings, to hamlets, to villages, to towns, to court centers: these are the underpinning of the valley state’s sense of superiority. What if the presumptive “stages” of these series were, in fact, an array of social options, each of which represented a distinctive positioning visà-vis the state? And what if, over considerable periods of time, many groups have moved strategically among these options toward more presumptively “primitive” forms in order to keep the state at arm’s length? On this view, the civilizational discourse of the valley states—and not a few earlier theorists of social evolution—is not much more than a self-inflating way of confounding the status of state-subject with civilization and that of self-governing peoples with primitivism.


The logic of the argument made throughout this book would essentially reverse this logic. Most, if not all, the characteristics that appear to stigmatize hill peoples—their location at the margins, their physical mobility, their swidden agriculture, their flexible social structure, their religious heterodoxy, their egalitarianism, and even the nonliterate, oral cultures—far from being the mark of primitives left behind by civilization, are better seen on a long view as adaptations designed to evade both state capture and state formation. They are, in other words, political adaptations of nonstate peoples to a world of states that are, at once, attractive and threatening.

Creating Subjects

Avoiding the state was, until the past few centuries, a real option. A thousand years ago most people lived outside state structures, under loose-knit empires or in situations of fragmented sovereignty. Today it is an option that is fast vanishing. To appreciate how the room for maneuver has been drastically curtailed in the past millennium, a radically schematic and simplified fast-forward history of the balance of power between stateless peoples and states may be helpful.

The permanent association of the state and sedentary agriculture is at the center of this story. Fixed-field grain agriculture has been promoted by the state and has been, historically, the foundation of its power. In turn, sedentary agriculture leads to property rights in land, the patriarchal family enterprise, and an emphasis, also encouraged by the state, on large families. Grain farming is, in this respect, inherently expansionary, generating, when not checked by disease or famine, a surplus population, which is obliged to move and colonize new lands. By any long-run perspective, then, it is grain agriculture that is “nomadic” and aggressive, constantly reproducing copies of itself, while, as Hugh Brody aptly notes, foragers and hunters, relying on a single area and demographically far more stable, seem by comparison “profoundly settled.”


These stateless peoples were not, by and large, easily drawn into the fiscally legible economy of wage labor and sedentary agriculture. On this definition, “civilization” held little attraction for them when they could have all the advantages of trade without the drudgery, subordination, and immobility of state subjects. The widespread resistance of stateless peoples led directly to what might be called the golden age of slavery along the littoral of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and in Southeast Asia. From the perspective adopted here, populations were forcibly removed en masse from settings where their production and labor were illegible and inappropriable and were relocated in colonies and plantations where they could be made to grow cash crops (tea, cotton, sugar, indigo, coffee) which might contribute to the profits of landowners and the fiscal power of the state. This first step of enclosure required forms of capture and bondage designed to relocate them from nonstate spaces where they were generally more autonomous (and healthy!) to places where their labor could be appropriated.

The final two stages of this massive enclosure movement belong, in the case of Europe, to the nineteenth century and, in the case of Southeast Asia, largely to the late twentieth century. They mark such a radical shift in the relationship between states and their peripheries that they fall largely outside the story I tell here. In this last period, “enclosure” has meant not so much shifting people from stateless zones to areas of state control but rather colonizing the periphery itself and transforming it into a fully governed, fiscally fertile zone. Its immanent logic, unlikely ever to be fully realized, is the complete elimination of nonstate spaces. This truly imperial project, made possible only by distance-demolishing technologies (all-weather roads, bridges, railroads, airplanes, modern weapons, telegraph, telephone, and now modern information technologies including global positioning systems),..t is so novel and its dynamics so different that my analysis here makes no further sense in Southeast Asia for the period after, say, 1950. Modern conceptions of national sovereignty and the resource needs of mature capitalism have brought that final enclosure into view.

The hegemony, in this past century, of the nation-state as the standard and nearly exclusive unit of sovereignty has proven profoundly inimical to nonstate peoples. State power, in this conception, is the state’s monopoly of coercive force that must, in principle, be fully projected to the very edge of its territory, where it meets, again in principle, another sovereign power projecting its command to its own adjacent frontier. Gone, in principle, are the large areas of no sovereignty or mutually canceling weak sovereignties. Gone too, of course, are peoples under no particular sovereignty. As a practical matter, most nation-states have tried, insofar as they had the means, to give substance to this vision, establishing armed border posts, moving loyal populations to the frontier and relocating or driving away “disloyal” populations, clearing frontier lands for sedentary agriculture, building roads to the borders, and registering hitherto fugitive peoples..t


Internal colonialism, broadly understood, aptly describes this process. It involved the absorption, displacement, and/or extermination of the previous inhabitants..t It involved a botanical colonization in which the landscape was transformed—by deforestation, drainage, irrigation, and levees—to accommodate crops, settlement patterns, and systems of administration familiar to the state and to the colonists. One way of appreciating the effect of this colonization is to view it as a massive reduction of vernaculars of all kinds: of vernacular languages, minority peoples, vernacular cultivation techniques, vernacular land tenure systems, vernacular hunting, gathering, and forestry techniques, vernacular religion, and so on. t

*need.. idiosyncratic jargon ness


The Great Mountain Kingdom; or, “Zomia”; or, The Marches of Mainland Southeast Asia

One of the largest remaining nonstate spaces in the world, if not the largest, is the vast expanse of uplands, variously termed the Southeast Asian massif and, more recently, Zomia. This great mountain realm on the marches of mainland Southeast Asia, China, India, and Bangladesh sprawls across roughly 2.5 million square kilometers—an area roughly the size of Europe.

Rough calculations would put Zomia minority populations alone at around eighty million to one hundred million. Its peoples are fragmented into hundreds of ethnic identities and at least five language families that defy any simple classification.. Zomia is marginal in almost every respect. It lies at a great distance from the main centers of economic activity; it bestrides a contact zone between eight nation-states and several religious traditions and cosmologies.

perhaps zomia and suggested cities ness

Scholarship organized historically around the classical states and their cultural cores and, more recently, around the nation-state is singularly ill-equipped to examine this upland belt as a whole. Willem van Schendel is one of a handful of pioneers who have argued that these cumulative nation-state “shards” merit consideration as a distinctive region. He has gone so far as to give it the dignity of a name of its own: Zomia, a term for highlander common to several related Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in the India-Bangladesh-Burma border area. More precisely, Zo is a relational term meaning “remote” and hence carries the connotation of living in the hills; Mi means “people.” As is the case elsewhere in Southeast Asia Mi-zo or Zo-mi designated a remote hill people, while at the same time the ethnic label applies to a geographical niche. Although van Schendel proposes a bold expansion of Zomia’s boundaries to Afghanistan and beyond, I will confine my use of the term to the hilly areas eastward, beginning with the Naga and Mizo hills in northern India and Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts.

On these grounds, hilly Zomia would seem to be a “negative” region. Variety, more than uniformity, is its trademark. In the space of a hundred kilometers in the hills one can find more cultural variation—in language, dress, settlement pattern, ethnic identification, economic activity, and religious practices—than one would ever find in the lowland river valleys. Zomia may not quite attain the prodigious cultural variety of deeply fissured New Guinea, but its complex ethnic and linguistic mosaic has presented a bewildering puzzle for ethnographers and historians, not to mention would-be rulers. Scholarly work on the area has been as fragmented and isolated as the terrain itself seemed to be

The dialectic or coevolution of hill and valley, as antagonistic but deeply connected spaces, is, I believe, the essential point of departure for making sense of historical change in Southeast Asia.

The population of the hills is far more dispersed and culturally diverse than that of the valleys. It is as if the difficulties of terrain and relative isolation have, over many centuries, encouraged a kind of “speciation” of languages, dialects, dress, and cultural practices. 

As a general rule, social structure in the hills is both more flexible and more egalitarian than in the hierarchical, codified valley societies..t Hybrid identities, movement, and the social fluidity that characterizes many frontier societies are common. Early colonial officials, taking an inventory of their new possessions in the hills, were confused to encounter hamlets with several “peoples” living side by side: hill people who spoke three or four languages and both individuals and groups whose ethnic identity had shifted, sometimes within a single generation..t Aspiring to Linnaean specificity in the classification of peoples as well as flora, territorial administrators were constantly frustrated by the bewildering flux of peoples who refused to stay put..t

carhart-harris entropy law et al

The signal, distinguishing trait of Zomia, vis-à-vis the lowland regions it borders, is that it is relatively stateless. 

A stronger and, I believe, more accurate political description is that the hill populations of Zomia have actively resisted incorporation into the framework of the classical state, the colonial state, and the independent nation-state.. a resistance with deeper roots. In the precolonial period, the resistance can be seen in a cultural refusal of lowland patterns and in the flight of lowlanders seeking refuge in the hills.

The hills, however, are not simply a space of political resistance but also a zone of cultural refusal. If it were merely a matter of political authority, one might expect the hill society to resemble valley society culturally except for their altitude and the dispersed settlement that the terrain favors. But the hill populations do not generally resemble the valley centers culturally, religiously, or linguistically.

He wrote: “The mountains are as a rule a world apart from civilizations which are an urban and lowland achievement. Their history is to have none, to remain always on the fringes of the great waves of civilization, even the longest and most persistent, which may spread over great distances in the horizontal plane but are powerless to move vertically .. t when faced with an obstacle of several hundred meters.”

Zones of Refuge

There is strong evidence that Zomia is not simply a region of resistance to valley states, but a region of refuge as well. By “refuge,” I mean to imply that much of the population in the hills has, for more than a millennium and a half, come there to evade the manifold afflictions of state-making projects in the valleys. Far from being “left behind” by the progress of civilization in the valleys, they have, over long periods of time, chosen to place themselves out of the reach of the state. . t Jean Michaud notes, in this connection, that what he calls nomadism in the hills can be “an escape or survival strategy” and sees the unprecedented series of massive rebellions in the latter half of the nineteenth century in central and southwest China as having pushed the millions of refugees streaming south into the more remote highlands. He is sympathetic to the view adopted here that Zomia is best seen historically as a region of refuge from states, most especially the Han state. “It is probably fair to say,” he concludes, “that the highland populations who migrated from China to the … highlands over the past five centuries were, at least in part, pushed from their homelands by aggression from more powerful neighbors, including especially Han expansion.

There, in regions beyond the states’ immediate writ and, thus, at some remove from taxes, corvée labor, conscription, and the more than occasional epidemics and crop failures associated with population concentration and monocropping, such groups found relative freedom and safety. 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..t

The tremendous linguistic and ethnic fluidity in the hills is itself a crucial social resource for adapting to changing constellations of power, inasmuch as it facilitates remarkable feats of identity shape-shifting. Zomians are not as a rule only linguistically and ethnically amphibious; they are, in their strong inclination to follow charismatic figures who arise among them, capable of nearly instantaneous social change, abandoning their fields and houses to join or form a new community at the behest of a trusted prophet. Their capacity to “turn on a dime” represents the ultimate in escape social structure.t Illiteracy in the hills can, more speculatively, be interpreted in the same fashion. Virtually all hill peoples have legends claiming that they once had writing and either lost it or that it was stolen from them. Given the considerable advantages in plasticity of oral over written histories and genealogies, it is at least conceivable to see the loss of literacy and of written texts as a more or less deliberate adaptation to statelessness..t

language as control/enclosure.. need for leapability of idiosyncratic jargon ness et al

The argument, in short, is that the history of hill peoples is best understood as a history not of archaic remnants but of “runaways” from state-making processes in the lowlands: a largely “maroon” society, providing that we take a very long historical view. Many of the agricultural and social practices of hill peoples can be best understood as techniques to make good this evasion, while maintaining the economic advantages of the lowland connection.

The concentration of people and production at a single location required some form of unfree labor when population was sparse, as it was in Southeast Asia. All Southeast Asian states were slaving states, without exception, some of them until well into the twentieth century. Wars in precolonial Southeast Asia were less about territory than about the seizure of as many captives as possible who were then resettled at the core of the winner’s territory. They were not distinctive in this respect. After all, in Periclean Athens, the population of slaves outnumbered full citizens by five to one.

all states/people are slaving states/peoples.. to date.. hari rat park law et al

The effect of all state-making projects of this kind was to create a shatter zone or flight zone to which those wishing to evade or to escape bondage fled. These regions of refuge constituted a direct “state effect.” Zomia simply happens to be, owing largely to the precocious early expansion of the Chinese state, one of the most extensive and oldest zones of refuge. Such regions are, however, inevitable by-products of coercive state-making and are found on every continent..t A few of them will figure as comparative cases in what follows, but here I want to enumerate several examples to suggest how common they are.

refugee camps et al

The forced-labor characteristic of Spanish colonization in the New World provoked the widespread flight of native peoples out of range, often to hilly or arid places where they could live unmolested.. t Such areas were marked by great linguistic and ethnic diversity and occasionally by a *simplification of social structure and subsistence routines—foraging, shifting cultivation—to increase mobility..t The process was repeated in the Spanish Philippines, where, it is claimed, the cordillera of northern Luzon was populated almost entirely by lowland Filipinos fleeing Malay slave raids and the Spanish reducciones. As peoples adapted to hill ecology, a process of ethnogenesis followed, after which highland Filipinos were later misrepresented as the descendants of separate, prehistoric migrations to the island.

*mechanism simple enough .. as infra

..This zone of refuge grew in population despite the difficulties of the terrain and the necessity for new subsistence routines..The list of such refugia is at least as long as the list of coercive labor schemes that inevitably spawn them..t

The concept of “Zomia” marks an attempt to explore a new genre of “area” studies, in which the justification for designating the area has nothing to do with national boundaries (for example, Laos) or strategic conceptions (for example, Southeast Asia) but is rather based on certain ecological regularities and structural relationships that do not hesitate to cross national frontiers. If we have our way, the example of “Zomia studies” will inspire others to follow this experiment elsewhere and improve on it..t

there’s a nother way

The Symbiotic History of Hills and Valleys

Histories of the classical lowland court-states, taken in isolation, risk being unintelligible or vastly misleading. Lowland states (mandala or modern) have always existed in symbiosis with hill society. By symbiosis, I mean to invoke the biological metaphor of two organisms living together in more or less intimate association—in this case, social organisms. The term does not specify, nor do I wish to do so here, whether this mutual dependence is antagonistic, or even parasitic, or whether it is mutually beneficial, “synergistic.”

It is not possible to write a coherent history of the hills that is not in constant dialogue with lowland centers; nor is it possible to write a coherent history of lowland centers that ignores its hilly periphery. By and large, most students of hill societies have been sensitive to this dialectic, stressing the deep history of symbolic, economic, and human traffic between the two societies. The same typically cannot be said of work—even the most distinguished—on lowland centers. The pattern is hardly surprising. Treatment of lowland cultures and societies as self-contained entities (for example, “Thai civilization,” “Chinese culture”) replicates the unreflective structure of scholarship and, in doing so, adopts the hermetic view of culture that lowland elites themselves wish to project. The fact is that hill and valley societies have to be read against each other to make any sense. I attempt just such a reading here.

and to me.. still no real sense.. since all in sea world

The constant movement back and forth between the valleys and the hills—its causes, its patterns, its consequences—will preoccupy us. Many valley people are, as it were, “ex-hill people,” and many hill people are “ex-valley people.” Nor did movement in one direction or the other preclude subsequent moves. Depending on the circumstances, groups have disengaged themselves from a state and then, later, sought to affiliate themselves (or been seized by!) the same or another state. A century or two later, they might again be found outside that state’s grasp, perhaps because they had moved away or perhaps because the state in question had itself collapsed. Such shifts were often accompanied by a shift in ethnic identity, broadly understood. I will argue for a radically “constructionist” understanding of the so-called hill tr

again.. to me.. this is cancerous distraction.. ongoingly preoccupied with the dance of whales in sea world doesn’t get us out of sea world.. hari rat park law et al

Finally, as noted earlier, even the social structures and residence patterns in the hills may be usefully viewed as *political choices vis-à-vis state power. Certain egalitarian social structures reflect, I believe, a Southeast Asian variant of Berber practice: **“Divide that ye be not ruled.” Far from being sociological and cultural givens, lineage practices, genealogical reckoning, local leadership patterns, household structures, and perhaps even the degrees of literacy have been **calibrated to prevent (and in rare cases to facilitate) incorporation in the state. 

*great ie that in sea world.. **total maté trump law et al

Toward an Anarchist History of Mainland Southeast Asia

What blocks a clear view of the peoples of *mainland Southeast Asia for **most of their history is the state: classical, colonial, and independent. While a state-centric view of, say, the past fifty years might be justified, it represents a gross distortion of earlier periods. The earlier the period, the greater the distortion. t

rather *from anywhere and **for all of history

black science of people/whales law – we have no idea what legit free people are like.. from forever.. from any history ness

And yet until very recently indeed, virtually all the responses to that call have themselves been histories, however learned and original, of the Southeast Asian state.

Why this should be so, why the histories of states should have so persistently insinuated themselves in the place that might have been occupied by a history of peoples, merits reflection. The reason, in a nutshell, I believe, is that state centers, even the tenuous and evanescent Indic-style classical states, are the political units that leave the most concentrated volume of physical evidence. The same is the case for sedentary agricultural settlements, characteristic of state centers. While they are not necessarily any more complex than foraging or swiddening societies, they are far denser—in the case of irrigated rice, one hundred times denser—than foraging societies, and hence they leave far more concentrated rubble in the form of middens, artifacts, building materials, and architectural ruins. The larger the pile of rubble you leave behind, the larger your place in the historical record!.t The more dispersed, mobile, egalitarian societies regardless of their sophistication and trading networks, and despite being often more populous, are relatively invisible in the historical record because they spread their debris more widely

and deeper.. once you record.. essence dies in the words/history ness.. and then perpetuates death ness (ie: not-us ness).. feedback loop is broken (if legit free people would even loop? who knows)

graeber unpredictability/surprise law et al

The same logic applies with a vengeance once it comes to the written record. Much of what we know about the classical states of Southeast Asia comes from the stone inscriptions and, later, paper trails they left behind in the form of land grants, memorials, tax and corvée records, religious donations, and court chronicles. The thicker the paper trail you leave behind, the larger your place in the historical record..t

so again.. more you leave paper/rubble trail.. more evidences of whales vs not legit free people

It becomes difficult, in this context, to reconstruct the life-world of nonelites, even if they are located at the court center. They typically appear in the record as statistical abstractions: so many laborers, so many conscripts, taxpayers, padi planters, so many bearers of tribute. Rarely do they appear as historical actors, and when they do, as in the case of a suppressed revolt, you can be sure that something has gone terribly wrong. The job of peasants, you might say, is to stay out of the archives.

rather .. difficult to have any idea what legit free people are like

Hegemonic histories centered on courts and capital cities introduce other distortions as well. *They are, forcibly, histories of “state spaces”; they neglect or ignore altogether both “nonstate spaces” beyond their reach..t and the long periods of dynastic decline or collapse when there is hardly a state at all.

*forcibly histories of whales in sea world.. no idea what legit free people are like

..The result is an historical fable that projects the nation and its dominant people backward, obscuring discontinuity, contingency, and fluid identities. Such accounts serve, as Walter Benjamin reminded us, to naturalize the progression and necessity of the state in general and the nation-state in particular..t

myth of tragedy and lord et al

In a critique of overly state-centric histories, Anthony Day points us in just this direction: “What would the history of Southeast Asia look like, however, if we were to take the turbulent relations between families as normative rather than a departure from the norm of the absolutist state which must ‘deal with disorder’?”

The Elementary Units of Political Order

..the term political order to avoid conveying the mistaken impression that outside the realm of the state lay mere disorder. Depending on the location and date, such units might range from nuclear families to segmentary lineages, bilateral kindreds, hamlets, larger villages, towns and their immediate hinterlands, and confederations of such towns.

Making sense of innumerable small units, seemingly in constant movement, might seem impossible..t

perhaps making sense ness is overrated.. maybe that’s not what legit free people would be about in their infinitesimal structures approaching the limit of structureless\ness and/or vice versa .. aka: ginorm/small ness

One challenge for a non-state-centric history of mainland Southeast Asia consists in specifying the conditions for the aggregation and disaggregation of its elementary units. The problem has been succinctly put by one observer of a somewhat comparable flux between states and their autonomous hinterlands: “There comes a time when one realizes that one is dealing, really, with molecules which sometimes unify in the form of a vague confederation, sometimes, just as easily, disaggregate. Even their names offer no consistency or certainty.” If the fluidity of the molecules themselves is an inconvenience for anthropologists and historians, imagine the problem it poses for the dynastic official or would-be state-builder, the colonial official, and the modern state functionary. State rulers find it well nigh impossible to install an effective sovereignty over people who are constantly in motion, who have no permanent pattern of organization, ..t no permanent address, whose leadership is ephemeral, whose subsistence patterns are pliable and fugitive, who have few permanent allegiances, and who are liable, over time, to shift their linguistic practices and their ethnic identity..

And this is just the point! ..t The economic, political, and cultural organization of such people is, in large part, a strategic adaptation to avoid incorporation in state structures. These adaptations are all the more feasible in the mountainous hinterlands of state systems: that is to say, in places like Zomia.

Here [Sumatra] I am the advocate of despotism. The strong arm of power is necessary to bring men together, and to concentrate them into societies.… Sumatra is, in great measure, peopled by innumerable petty tribes, subject to no general government.… At present people are as wandering in their habits as the birds of the air, and until they are congregated and organized under something like authority, nothing can be done with them..t

structural violence.. spiritual violence et al

CHAPTER 2. State Space, Zones of Governance and Appropriation

The Geography of State Space and the Friction of Terrain

Mapping State Space in Southeast Asia

CHAPTER 3. Concentrating Manpower and Grain Slavery and Irrigated Rice

The State as Centripetal Population Machine

The Shaping of State Landscapes and State Subjects

Eradicating Illegible Agriculture

E Pluribus Unum: The Creole Center

The precolonial state we have been examining is, in a sense, a special, limiting case of state-making in challenging demographic and technological conditions. If a state was to arise at all, its rulers would have to concentrate its subjects within a relatively narrow geographical area. Such principles of state space—namely, legibility and appropriateness—are at work in virtually all projects of rule, whether by states or by nonstate institutions. Plantation agriculture with its monoculture and workers’ barracks and the mission station with its belltower and the congregants settled in its shadow are distinct forms of control, but each requires legibility and monitoring. It is a rare development project that does not also reshape the landscape and the patterns of residence and of production to achieve a greater degree of legibility and control. The early colonial regimes, in their pacification campaigns, used forced settlement, the destruction of swiddens, and the concentration of subjects. It was only gradually that all-weather roads, railroads, telegraph lines, and a reliable currency allowed a greater dispersal of population and production with little loss of control. Only in counterinsurgency strategies do we see, in miniature, the attempt to closely concentrate a feared population in legible space, occasionally to the point where it comes to resemble an actual concentration camp.. t

any form of m\a\p

Techniques of Population Control:

1\ Slavery

What is most striking, however, is that none of these padi states flourished except by slave-raiding on a substantial scale. Formulaically, and paraphrasing an observation by Karl Marx about slavery and civilization, there was no state without concentrated manpower; there was no concentration of manpower without slavery; hence all such states, including especially the maritime states, were slaving states.

Every military campaign, every punitive expedition was, at the same time, a campaign for captives who could be bought, sold, or held

The magnitude of slaving is less obscure than many other subjects to historians precisely because the taking of captives was the public purpose of statecraft..t

There were, of course, many other ways than by capture to become a slave in these political systems. Debt bondage was common, in which the debtor and/or members of his family became “slaves” of the creditor until the debt was acquitted. Children were sold into bondage by their parents, and convicted criminals were condemned to slavery as punishment.

One must see these armies not as unified bureaucratic organizations collectively obeying the will of their commander but rather as something like a joint trading venture, albeit a dangerous one, from which the various investors and participants expect to make a profit. The pattern conforms to Max Weber’s description of certain forms of premodern warfare as “booty capitalism”: a speculative, for-profit war in which there is an understanding among the investors about how the proceeds will be distributed if the enterprise succeeds. 

2\ Fiscal Legibility

An efficient system of taxation requires, first and foremost, that the objects of taxation (people, land, trade) be made legible. Population rolls and cadastral maps of productive land are the key administrative tools of legibility..t As in the case of our earlier distinction between gross domestic product and state-accessible product, there is an important distinction to be made here between the total population and what James Lee calls the “fiscal population”—the population which is administratively legible..

fuller too much law et al.. david on finance.. managerial feudalism et al

The king wanted, in effect, a complete inventory of his taxable resources..t Like all such records, even if it was accurate when compiled, it was a static snapshot that was soon overtaken by land transfers, population movement, and inheritance, among other things. Other decrees aimed at preserving the validity of the records by prohibiting certain kinds of social change that would make them invalid. Subjects were forbidden to move without explicit permission, and were barred from changing their civil status from commoner or royal servicemen to bondsmen. The relative permanence of irrigated padi fields and a standardized “fiscal” family under a male head of household were also aids to legibility at the core..t

of math and men et al

3\ State Space as Self-Liquidating

Thus, a little like the premodern state, military units must find the labor, cash, building material, and foodstuffs to sustain themselves in a rugged and hostile environment. They do this, typically, by essentially capturing and concentrating a substantial civilian population around their base, which becomes their available pool of manpower, grain, and revenue. The civilians try to flee, first and foremost among them the poorest, who cannot buy their way out of forced labor or afford to provide the grain and taxes extorted from them

The heartland or core region of the padi state is the most legible and accessible concentration of grain and manpower. Other things being equal, it is this population from which it is easiest and most efficient to extract the resources necessary to sustain the state and its elite. 

CHAPTER 4. Civilization and the Unruly

Much of the actual content of what it means to be “civilized,” to be “Han,” to be a proper “Thai” or “Burman” is exhausted by being a fully incorporated, registered, taxpaying subject of the state. Being “uncivilized” is, by contrast, often the converse: to live outside the ambit of the state. Much of this chapter is devoted to examining how state formation creates, in its wake, a barbarian frontier of “tribal peoples” to which it is the pole of comparison and, at the same time, the antidote.

Valley States, Highland Peoples: Dark Twins

Viewed from the court center of the padi state, the thinner the air you breathe, the less civilized you are. It is no exaggeration to say that the presumptive level of civilization can, from a valley perspective, be often read as a function of altitude. Those on the mountaintops are the most backward and uncivilized; those living midslope are slightly more elevated culturally; those living in upland plateaus and growing irrigated rice are, again, more advanced, though certainly inferior to those at the core of the valley state, with the court and king at its apex, who represent the pinnacle of refinement and civilization.

“Hilliness” per se is disqualifying.

Thus becoming fully civilized, in the valley view, is nearly indistinguishable from becoming Han, Thai, or Burman and, in turn, by definition, being incorporated as a state subject. Remaining outside the state is, as we shall see, coded “uncivilized.”

The Economic Need for Barbarians

The Invention of Barbarians

The Domestication of Borrowed Finery: All the Way Down

The Civilizing Mission

Civilization as Rule

If we examine the centripetal narrative of civilization closely, it is striking how much of the actual meaning of “being civilized” boils down to becoming a subject of the padi state. 

Leaving the State, Going over to the Barbarians

CHAPTER 5. Keeping the State at a Distance The Peopling of the Hills

If, on the contrary, the population of Zomia is more accurately seen as a complex of populations that have, at one time or another, elected to move outside the easy reach of state power, then the evolutionary sequence implied by the older view is untenable. Hilliness instead becomes largely a state effect, the defining trait of a society created by those who have, for whatever reason, left the realm of direct state power. As we shall see, such a view of hill peoples as state-repelling societies—or even antistate societies—makes far more sense of agricultural practices, cultural values, and social structure in the hills.

Other Regions of Refuge

The perspective we propose for understanding Zomia is not novel. A similar case has been made for many regions of the world, large and small, where expanding kingdoms have forced threatened populations to choose between absorption and resistance

The Peopling of Zomia: The Long March

The term savages, used by so many authors to denote all the hill tribes of Indo-China, is very inaccurate and misleading, as many of these tribes are more civilized and humane than the tax-ridden inhabitants of the plain country, and indeed merely the remains of once mighty empires.

—Archibald Ross Colquhoun, Amongst the Shans, 1885

The peopling of Zomia has largely been a state effect. 

The Ubiquity and Causes of Flight

The nearly two-millennia push—sporadic but inexorable—of the Han state and Han settlers into Zomia has surely been the single great historical process most responsible for driving people into the hills. It has not by any means, however, been the only dynamic

The reasons why subjects of valley states might wish to, or be forced to, move away, defy easy accounting. What follows is a description of some of the most common causes. It ignores one common historical event that, as it were, placed people beyond the reach of the state without actually moving: the contraction or collapse of state power at its core.

1\ Taxes and Corvée Labor

The key to statecraft in precolonial Southeast Asia, one honored as often in the breach as in its observance, was to press the kingdom’s subjects only so far so as not to provoke their wholesale departure.

2\ War and Rebellion

We are like ants, traveling away from our trouble to a safe place. We left everything behind to be safe.

—Mon villager fleeing to Thailand, 1995

The expression “states make wars and wars make states,” coined by Charles Tilly, is no less true for Southeast Asia as it was for early modern Europe. For our purposes, the corollary of Tilly’s adage might be: “States make wars and wars—massively—make migrants.” Southeast Asia wars in the same period were at least as disruptive. Military campaigns mobilized more of the adult population than their European counterparts, and they were at least as likely to spawn epidemics (cholera and typhus, in 

In this process of marginalization, tribal groups such as the Hani and Akha also selected and constructed their habitats—in terms of altitude and surrounding forestation—in such a way that they would not easily be accessible to soldiers, bandits, and tax collectors. Such processes have been termed “encapsulation.”

3\ Raiding and Slaving

Raiding is our agriculture.

—Berber saying

Concentrated population and grain production was, as we have seen, normally a necessary condition for state formation. Precisely because such areas offered a potential surplus for state-building rulers, so also did they represent an irresistible target for raiders.

4\ Rebels and Schismatics to the Hills

Rebellions and civil wars in the lowlands hold many of the same terrors for villagers as do wars of conquest or invasions. They provoke similar patterns of flight as people frantically move to locations where they imagine they will be safer. What is notable, however, is that these repertoires of flight have logic to them, and that logic depends heavily on class, or, more precisely, on the degree to which one’s status, property, and life are guaranteed by the routines of state power. The logic is evident even in the fracture lines of flight during the early years of the Vietnam War in the south from 1954 to 1965. Landlords, elites, and officials, fearing for their safety, increasingly gravitated away from the countryside and toward provincial capitals and eventually, as the conflict escalated, to Saigon itself. The closer to the state core, their movements seemed to say, the safer they were. Many ordinary peasants, by contrast, shifted from a more sedentary life in large villages to more remote, mobile settlements outside the state’s easy reach. It is as if the tenuous, social compact of state-based society had come undone: elites heading for the center, where the coercive power of the state was most felt, and vulnerable nonelites heading for the periphery, where the coercive power of the state was least felt.

Rebels, of course, unless they are very powerful, have even more compelling reasons to head for the hills. .. Forests provided cover for the revolution a

Political dissent and religious heresy or apostasy are, especially before the nineteenth century, difficult to distinguish from each other, so frequently are they alloyed. Nevertheless, it merits emphasis that the hills are associated as much with religious heterodoxy vis-à-vis the lowlands as they are with rebellion and political dissent.

The wet-rice valleys and the level plains of the typical valley state are not merely topographically flat; they can also be thought of as having been culturally, linguistically, and religiously flattened. The first thing that strikes any observer is the relative uniformity of valley culture compared to the luxuriant diversity of dress, speech, ritual, cultivation, and religious practice to be found in the hills. This relative uniformity is, to be sure, a state effect.

As Zomia became a place of refuge for lowland rebels and defeated armies, so also it became an asylum for banned religious sects.

5\ Crowding, Health, and the Ecology of State Space

Sedentary grain cultivation and the rearing of domestic livestock (pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, cattle, sheep, horses, and so on) constituted, it is clear, a great leap forward for infectious diseases. Most of the deadly epidemic diseases from which we suffer—smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, plague, measles, and cholera—are zoonotic diseases that have evolved from domesticated animals. Crowding is crucial. .t And crowding means the concentration not only of people but also of domestic animals and the “obligate” pests that inevitably accompany them: rats, mice, ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, mites, and so on. So far as the diseases in question are spread by proximity (coughing, touch, shared water sources) or through the obligate pests, the density of hosts per se represents an ideal environment for rapidly spreading epidemic diseases.. The great majority of these diseases might appropriately be called “diseases of civilization”;..t they appear in the historical record along with grain-growing cores and the concentration of flora, fauna, and insects they presuppose.

It appears that virtually everyone understood that in the case of epidemics the safest course was to leave the city immediately and disperse to the countryside or to the hills. While people were not generally aware of the actual disease vector, they implicitly knew that dispersal and isolation retarded the spread of the disease. 

6\ Against the Grain

The dynastic self-portraits of precolonial padi states in Southeast Asia and of the Ming and Qing dynasties are, in the official sources, represented in rosy colors as a rather benign ingathering of peoples. Wise administrators shepherd rude peoples toward a literate, Buddhist or Confucian court center in which sedentary wet-rice cultivation and becoming a full subject of the realm stand as the marks of civilizational achievement. Like all ideological self-representations, the Hegelian ideal they depict seems, like the use of the term pacification in the Vietnam War, a cruel parody of lived experience, especially at the frontier.

Ignoring for the moment the larger question of what “civilization” might be understood to represent, the self-portrait is radically wrong in at least two respects. First, the process of ingathering was, typically, anything but a benign, voluntary journey toward civilization. Much of the population at the center was a captive population—taken en masse as prizes of war and driven back to the core or purchased, retail, as it were, from slaving expeditions selling the state what it most needed.

The second and more egregious omission of this self-portrait is the overwhelming evidence for flight from the state core. To recognize it, of course, would be to manifestly contradict the civilizational discourse; why on earth would anyone choose to leave the padi core and “go over to the barbarians”? Observers with a myopic historical perspective might be forgiven this error, inasmuch as the past sixty years or so have been characterized by a massive increase in the urban, core population and a growing control over the hills by the modern state. For well more than a millennium before that, however, it is abundantly clear that it was at least as common for people to flee the state as to approach it. The process was anything but regular, with wild oscillations between a virtual emptying out of the padi core to its full demographic occupation.

Going to the hills, or remaining in the hills if you were already there, was not, in most circumstances, a choice of freedom at the cost of material deprivation.. t

7\ The Friction of Distance: States and Culture

Nothing is more difficult than to conquer a people [the Igorots] who have no needs and whose ramparts are the forests, mountains, impenetrable wildernesses, and high precipices..t

—Spanish official, eighteenth-century Philippines

need 1st/most: means to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature so we can org around legit needs

8\ Mini-Zomias, Dry and Wet

9\ Going over to the Barbarians

10\ Autonomy as Identity, State-Evading Peoples

CHAPTER 6. State Evasion, State Prevention The Culture and Agriculture of Escape

I magine, once again, that you are a Southeast Asian counterpart to Jean-Baptiste Colbert. This time, however, your task is not to design an ideal state space of appropriation but, rather, the precise opposite. How would you go about designing a topography, a subsistence strategy, and a social structure that was as resistant to state formation and appropriation as possible?

ie: org around a problem deep enough (aka: org around legit needs) to resonate w/8bn today.. via a mechanism simple enough (aka: tech as it could be) to be accessible/usable to 8bn today.. and an ecosystem open enough (aka: sans any form of m\a\p) to set/keep 8bn legit free

Much of what you would design, I believe, would be an inversion of how the padi state was sculpted

to me.. inversion ness.. is a cancerous distraction.. need something legit diff

An Extreme Case: Karen “Hiding Villages”

The techniques of evasion practiced by desperate Karen villagers represent an extreme instance of strategies that characterize much of the history and social organization of Zomia as a whole. A good deal of what we have come to consider “hill” agriculture, “hill” social structure, and “hill” location itself is, I would argue, largely defined by patterns of state evasion (and prevention). Such strategies have been devised and elaborated over many centuries in constant “dialogue” with lowland padi states, including the colonial regime. This dialogue is, in important respects, constitutive of both hill societies and their padi-state interlocutors. Each represents an alternative pattern of subsistence, social organization, and power; each “shadows” the other in a complex relationship of mimicry and contradiction. Hill societies operate in the shadow of lowland states. By the same token, the lowland states of Southeast Asia have been surrounded, for the whole of their existence, by relatively free communities in the hills, swamps, and labyrinthine waterways that represent, simultaneously, a threat, a zone of “barbarism,” a temptation, a refuge, and a source of valuable products.

need deeper

Location, Location, Location, and Mobility

Inaccessibility and dispersal are the enemies of appropriation (taking something w/o owner’s permission).

Escape Agriculture

Do not cultivate the vineyard; you’ll be bound

Do not cultivate grains; you’ll be ground

Pull the camel, herd the sheep

A day will come, you’ll be crowned.

—Nomad poem

nomad ness et al

Shifting Agriculture as “Escape-Agriculture”

o choose swiddening or, for that matter, foraging or nomadic pastoralism is to choose to remain outside state space.

Crop Choice as Escape Agriculture

Southeast Asian Swiddening as Escape

Southeast Asian Escape Crops



Social Structures of Escape


Evading Stateness and Permanent Hierarchy

In the Shadow of the State, in the Shadow of the Hills

CHAPTER 6½. Orality, Writing, and Texts

Poetry is the mother tongue of the human race as gardening is older than the field, painting than writing, singing than declaiming, parables than inferences, bartering than commerce …

—Bruce Chatwin, Songlines, quoting J. G. Hamann

For, in its severity, the law is at the same time writing. Writing is on the side of the law; the law lives in writing; and knowing that the one means that unfamiliarity with the other is no longer possible … writing directly bespeaks the power of the law, be it engraved in stone, painted on animal skins, or drawn on papyrus..t

—Pierre Clastres, Society against the State

again.. lit & num as colonialism et al

Adiagnostic feature of the condition of barbarism is, for lowland elites, nonliteracy. Of all the civilizational stigmas that hill peoples bear, the general ignorance of writing and texts is the most prominent. Bringing preliterate peoples into the world of letters and formal schooling is, of course, a raison d’être of the developmental state.

But what if many peoples, on a long view, are not preliterate, but, to use Leo Alting von Geusau’s term, postliterate? What if, as a consequence of flight, of changes in social structure and subsistence routines, they left texts and writing behind? And what if, to raise the most radical possibility, there was an active or strategic dimension to this abandonment of the world of texts and literacy? The evidence for this last possibility is almost entirely circumstantial. For this reason, and perhaps due to a failure of nerve on my part, I have bracketed this discussion from the foregoing account of escape agriculture and escape social structure. The case for the “strategic” maintenance (if not creation) of nonliteracy, however, is cut from the same cloth. If swiddening and dispersal are subsistence strategies that impede appropriation; if social fragmentation and acephaly hinder state incorporation; then, by the same token, the absence of writing and texts provides a freedom of maneuver in history, genealogy, and legibility that frustrates state routines. If swiddening and egalitarian, mobile settlement represent elusive “jellyfish” economic and social forms, *orality may be seen as a similarly fugitive jellyfish variant of culture..t On this reading, orality may in many cases be a “positionality” visà-vis state formation and state power. Just as agriculture and residence practices may oscillate over long periods to reflect a strategic positioning, so may literacy and texts be taken up, then set aside, then taken up again for similar reasons.

*perhaps .. if 2 conversations via idiosyncratic jargon .. as infra

I have chosen to use the term nonliteracy or orality, in preference to illiteracy, to call attention to orality as a different and potentially positive medium of cultural life as opposed to a mere deficiency. .t The sort of “orality” we are speaking of is also to be distinguished from what some have called primary illiteracy: a situation in which a social field confronts literacy for the first time. Nonliterate peoples in the Southeast Asian massif, by contrast, have for more than two thousand years lived in contact with one or more states with small literate minorities, texts, and written records. They have had to position themselves vis-à-vis such states. Finally, it should go without saying that until very recently the literate elite of the valley states were a tiny minority of the total subject population. Even in the valley states, the vast majority of the population lived in an oral culture, inflected though it was by writing and texts.

even orality a cancerous distraction if not via idiosyncratic jargon and as infra et al

Oral Histories of Writing

 If, as I have argued, many, if not most, contemporary hill peoples have a “valley” past, then such cultural continuities should occasion no surprise. Why, then, in most cases, did they not also bring literacy and texts along with them?

The Narrowness of Literacy and Some Precedents for Its Loss

There is no place in any of the standard civilizational narratives for the loss or abandonment of literacy. The acquisition of literacy is envisaged as a oneway trip in just the same fashion as is the transition from shifting agriculture to wet-rice cultivation and from forest bands to villages, towns, and cities. And yet literacy in premodern societies was, under the best of circumstances, confined to a minuscule portion of the population, almost certainly less than 1 percent. It was the social property of scribes, accomplished religious figures, and a very thin stratum of scholar gentry in the case of the Han. To assert, in this context, that a whole society or people is literate is incorrect; in all premodern societies the vast majority of the population was illiterate and lived in an oral culture, inflected though it was by texts. To say that, demographically speaking, literacy hung by a thread would in many cases be no exaggeration. Not only was it confined to a tiny elite, but the social value of literacy, in turn, depended on a state bureaucracy, an organized clergy, and a social pyramid where literacy was a means of advancement and a mark of status. Any event that threatened these institutional structures threatened literacy itself.

Another potential explanation for the loss of literacy is that it was merely a logical consequence of the fragmentation, mobility, and dispersal of social structure entailed by migration to the hills. Leaving behind the lowland centers meant stripping down the complexity of social structure in the interest of mobility. In this context, literacy and texts were of no further use and died out as a practice, though not as a memory. As in the Roman case, so much of the practice of literacy was directly dependent on the existence of a particular state and its bureaucratic routines: knowledge of state documents, law codes, chronicles, record keeping in general, taxes and economic transactions, and, above all, the structure of officeholding and hierarchy linked to that state made literacy a sought-after prestige good. Once this structure was left behind, the social incentives driving the acquisition and transmission of literacy would have diminished precipitously.

On the Disadvantages of Writing and the Advantages of Orality

The argument thus far for the loss of literacy has hinged on the loss of literates and of the contexts that made their services valuable. A stronger case, I think, can be made for the positive advantages of moving to an oral culture. Such an argument rests essentially on the manifest advantages of flexibility and adaptation that an oral tradition has over a written tradition.

The possibilities are, to be sure, as rich for written histories and genealogies as they are for oral histories and genealogies. The difference is that the selective forgetting and remembering is more unobtrusive and smooth in the case of an oral tradition. Within an oral tradition there is simply less friction to impede innovation, and what is in fact quite novel can pass itself off as the voice of tradition without much fear of contradiction.

The Advantage of Not Having a History

If an oral history and genealogy provide more room for maneuver than a written history and genealogy, then perhaps the most radical step of all is to claim virtually no history or genealogy at all..t

yeah that.. sans history ness et al

The shorter their genealogies and histories the less they have to explain and the more they can invent on the spot..t

spaces of permission where people have nothing to prove

How much “history” does a *people need or want? 

*a people.. not a whale

The claim that one particular lineage should be ranked above another or that a particular town ought to be privileged over another, if it is not to seem arbitrary, or based on raw power, will be justified by reference to history and legends. One might even say that assertions of superior rank or inequalities beyond a single generation necessarily require a historical warrant..t Such claims need not be written or oral; they may rest, as they often do in the hills, on the possession of valued regalia, gongs, drums, seals, heirlooms, even heads, the display of which on ceremonial occasions represents such a claim. Sedentary communities, even if they are not strongly ranked, are likely not only to have a story about their founding and past but to historicize their claim to their fields and house lots to the extent that those have become valuable property.

What, however, of people living at the margins of the state, in unranked lineages, and moving their fields frequently, as swiddeners typically do? Does it not follow that such peoples might not only prefer an oral history for its plasticity but might need less history altogether? First, the “history-bearing unit” itself, including lineages, may be shifting and problematic. Second, whatever the history-bearing unit might be, it is for swiddeners likely to have little in the way of entrenched historical privileges to defend and many strategic reasons to leave their history open to improvisation.

The relationship of a people, a kinship group, and a community to its history is diagnostic of its relationship to stateness..t All groups have some kind of history, some story they tell themselves about who they are and how they came to be situated where they are. After this common ground, the similarity ends. Peripheral, acephalous groups are likely to emphasize itineraries, defeats, migrations, landscapes. Rank, heroic origins, and claims to territory are, by contrast, the stuff of centralization and (would-be) state formation. The form traditions take also varies. Written traditions are of enormous instrumental value to the process of permanent political centralization and administration..t Oral traditions, on the other hand, have substantial advantages for peoples whose welfare and survival depend on a fleet-footed adjustment to a capricious and menacing political environment. Finally, there would seem to be something of a difference in how much history a people choose to have.

fuller too much law et al

Stateless peoples are typically stigmatized by neighboring cultures as “peoples without history,” as lacking the fundamental characteristic of civilization, namely historicity. The charges *are wrong on two counts. First, the stigmatization presupposes that only written history counts as a narrative of identity and a common past. Second, and more important, how much history a people have, far from indicating their low stage of evolution, is always an active choice, one that positions them vis-à-vis their powerful text-based neighbors.

*actually (at least) 3.. 3rd – history ness is like naming the colour ness.. it blinds/kills us.. so.. cancerous distraction

CHAPTER 7. Ethnogenesis, A Radical Constructionist Case

Ernest Renan was right when he wrote over a century ago: “Forgetting, and I would even say historical error, are an essential factor in the creation of a nation, and so it is that progress in historical studies is often a danger to nationality.That is, I believe, a fine task for historians: to be a danger to national myths..t

—Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780

The Incoherence of Tribe and Ethnicity

If the cadastral survey was the instrument for inventorying the real estate, the census was the instrument for enumerating the peoples inherited through conquest.

Once they came to the hills, the administrators in charge of the 1911 and subsequent censuses were faced with a baroque complexity that all but defeated their mania for classificatory order. How to proceed when most of the “tribal” designations were exonyms applied by outsiders and not used at all by the people so designated? Different outsiders seldom agreed on a common term.

The operationalization of “race” in the 1911 and 1931 censuses was, in fact, language. According to the linguistic theories of the time, it was “accepted as dogma that those who speak a particular language form a unique, definable unit and that this unit had a particular culture and a particular history. With the equation of “tribe” or “race” (the two were used interchangeably in the census) and “mother tongue,” the fun had just begun..t The trainers of the enumerators had to point out very carefully that the “mother tongue” was the language “spoken from the cradle” and might “not be the language spoken ordinarily in the home”; this last was to be recorded as a subsidiary language.

language as control/enclosure et al

The equation of mother tongue with tribe and history assumes implicitly that the spoken language is the constant, steady thread that knits together a people. And yet the authors of the census go out of their way to note the “extreme instability of language and racial distinctions in Burma.” In an exasperated and instructive, not to say entertaining, appendix to the census titled “A Note on Indigenous Races in Burma,” J. H. Green goes further:

Some of the races or “tribes” in Burma change their language almost as often as they change their clothes. Languages are changed by conquest, by absorption, by isolation, and by the general tendency to adopt the language of a neighbor who is considered to belong to a more powerful, more numerous, or more advanced tribe or race.… Races are becoming more and more mixed, and the threads are more and more difficult to untangle..t

idiosyncratic jargon setting s free

The unreliability of the language test for race has again become apparent in this census.

The most significant others who ought to come readily to mind are, of course, the innumerable hill peoples of Zomia who have been avoiding states for more than a millennium. It is perhaps because they have fought and fled under so many names, in so many locations, and against so many states, traditional, colonial, and modern, that their struggle lacked the single banner that would have easily identified it..t

batra hide in public law ness.. and the need for our only label(s) to be daily curiosities

marsh label law et al

State-Making as a Cosmopolitan Ingathering

Burmese and Thai polities are, then, best seen as recipes for state-making rather than as ethnic projects..Put another way, “stateness” is built into the foundations of ethnicity. Reciprocally, in the Shan, Burmese, and Thai view, much of the ethnicity of those populations in the hills, those not-yet-gathered-in, consists precisely in their statelessness..t

Valleys Flatten

Identities: Porosity, Plurality, Flux

Most hill people in mainland Southeast Asia, before the colonial state insisted on classifying them, did not have what we might consider “proper” ethnic identities. . Another way of recognizing the bandwidth or repertoire of identities..t available to many actors is to recognize, as Leach did, that they have, as it were, status positions in several different social systems at the same time.

need: a means to let our daily curiosities be our only label(s) ness to be legit free.. repertoire to infinity..

Radical Constructionism: The Tribe Is Dead, Long Live the Tribe

“Tribes” in the strong sense of the word have never existed. By “strong sense,” I mean tribes as conceived as distinct, bounded, total social units. If the test of “tribeness” is that the group in question be a genealogically and genetically coherent breeding population, a distinct linguistic community, a unified and bounded political unit, and a culturally distinct and coherent entity, then virtually all “tribes” fail the test..The chosen boundary is a strategic choice because it organizes differences in one way rather than another, and because it is a political device for group formation. The only defensible point of departure for deciding who is an X and who is a Y is to accept the self-designations of the actors themselves..t

yeah that.. imagine if we listened to the itch-in-8b-souls 1st thing everyday & used that data to connect us (tech as it could be.. ai as augmenting interconnectedness)


States fabricate tribes in several ways. The most obvious is to create them as a template for administrative order and political control. But it is striking how often a tribal or ethnic identity is generated at the periphery almost entirely for the purpose of making a political claim to autonomy and/or resources.

need: means to create new tribe ness .. everyday.. imagine if we

Once launched, the “tribe” as a politicized entity can set in motion social processes that reproduce and intensify cultural difference. They can, as it were, create the rationale for their own existence..

nah.. just so everyone can do the thing(s) they can’t not do.. new.. everyday

Genealogical Face Saving

In the egalitarian societies usually designated tribal, I would argue that the most prevalent mode of reckoning descent is by stipulation.

—Morton Fried, The Notion of Tribe

as long as that’s stipulation of daily curiosity.. of daily itch-in-the-soul.. that’s enough.. no more.. no less..

None of these quasi-arbitrarily defined locations along these axes is either stable or permanent. Each represents, along with others, one possible adaptation to be embraced or abandoned as the circumstances require. We now turn finally to the structure of these choices.

oi.. not about finite set of choices.. about curiosity over decision making


Given these sharp limitations, almost every valley state had a working alliance—sometimes formalized—with one or more adjacent hill populations

yeah.. no longer have any of those limitations..

Egalitarianism: The Prevention of States

What are the material conditions that underwrite such egalitarian social structures?..t .. An open common property frontier seems particularly vital. Just as fixed, inheritable property in land facilitates permanent class formation, a common property frontier equalizes access to subsistence resources and permits the frequent fission of villages and lineages that seems central to the maintenance of egalitarianism. The farther away, in terms of friction of terrain, such peoples live from state centers and the more mobile their subsistence routines—foraging, pastoralism, shifting cultivation—the more likely they are to maintain the egalitarian, stateless option. Enclosure of the commons and encroachment by the state are everywhere a threat to such arrangements.

need 1st/most: means to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature so we can org around legit needs

infinitesimal structures approaching the limit of structureless\ness and/or vice versa .. aka: ginorm/small ness

gershenfeld something else law et al

as transition.. perhaps let’s try/code money (any form of measuring/accounting) as the planned obsolescence w/ubi as temp placebo.. where legit needs are met w/o money.. till people forget about measuring

CHAPTER 8. Prophets of Renewal

A Vocation for Prophecy and Rebellion: Hmong, Karen, and Lahu

Theodicy of the Marginal and Dispossessed

In a world with the odds stacked so massively against them, surely the astounding fact about marginal hill peoples and many of the world’s dispossessed is that they should so often believe and act as though their deliverance were at hand. Though it so often ends tragically, this radical bias for hope, the conviction that the world is headed their way, is worthy of our careful attention and perhaps even our admiration. It is hard to imagine what the world would be like if the dispossessed, knowing the long odds, were all hard-headed realists.

rather.. need to go even deeper than as if already free ness.. because it has to be all of us.. in sync.. for the dance to dance.. otherwise we keep perpetuating myth of tragedy and lord ness.. same song ness

Prophets Are a Dime a Dozen

irrelevant.. cancerous distraction.. if graeber unpredictability/surprise law et al

“Sooner or Later …”

yeah.. let’s not wait anymore.. why leap.. for (blank)’s sake

High-Altitude Prophetism

Dialogue, Mimicry, and Connections

Making a new state, a new order, which is exactly what nearly all prophetic movements aim at, requires, logically, breaking an existing order. On the surface of it, such movements are rebellions.

need 1st/most: means to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature so we can org around legit needs otherwise just another ‘movement/revolution’

there’s a nother way

gershenfeld something else law for all

Turning on a Dime: The Ultimate Escape Social Structure

yeah that.. today we have the means for a global detox/re\set

for (blank)’s sake

We know, in fact, that charismatic movements can and have resulted in the creation of new states and new ethnic and political identities. 

yet.. still in same song.. we need a legit nother way

Cosmologies of Ethnic Collaboration

discrimination as equity et al

Christianity: A Resource for Distance and Modernity

CHAPTER 9. Conclusion

State Evasion, State Prevention: Global-Local

Virtually all hill societies exhibit a range of state-evading behavior..t

we need a nother way.. evading ness is a time/energy suck.. a cancerous distraction..

david on creative refusal et al

Gradients of Secession and Adaptation

There is a paradox in trying to describe a shatter zone or region of refuge such as Zomia. In order to portray the flux and plasticity of hill societies one has, necessarily, to stand somewhere, even if that “somewhere” is itself in motion

or perhaps we need to let go of the idea that we have to stand somewhere.. let’s just swim.. let’s dance

Here it is worth recalling that most foragers and nomadic peoples—and perhaps swiddeners as well—were not aboriginal survivals but were rather adaptations *created in the shadow of states

again.. why we’re still same song ing it.. *too limiting.. too raised eyebrow ing.. to me.. nothing to date legit diff.. hari rat park law et al

Civilization and Its Malcontents

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the valley understanding of the agro-ecology, social organization, and mobility of the peoples who elude them. They’ve sorted these people, as it were, into the right bins. In addition to radically misunderstanding the historical sequence, however, they have got their labels wrong. If they merely substituted “state-subject” for “civilized” and “not-a-state-subject” for “uncivilized,” they’d have it just about right.

nah.. has to be all of us.. free.. or it won’t work.. the dance won’t dance.. no bins.. (other than daily curiosity as global detox)