The Art of Not Being Governed

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The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia is a book-length anthropological and historical study of the Zomia highlands of Southeast Asia written by James C. Scott and published in 2009.[1]


For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the nation state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée, epidemics, and warfare.[1][2] This book, essentially an “anarchist history,” is the first-ever examination of the huge literature on nation-building whose author evaluates why people would deliberately and reactively remain stateless.

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. Likewise, states want to integrate Zomia to increase the amount of land, resources and people subject to taxation. In other words, to raise their revenue.[3]

Zomia's ethnic groups were formed mostly by people running away from states, seeking for refuge, each of them with their own ethnicity. Adding the isolation of the terrain, these characteristics encouraged a specialization of languages, dialects and cultural practices.[3] Moreover, to remain stateless they have used this specialization along with agricultural practices that enhance mobility; devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders; and maintenance of a largely oral culture to reinvent their histories and genealogies as they move between and around states.[citation needed].

Scott admits to making "bold claims" in his book[4] but credits many other scholars, including the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres and the American historian Owen Lattimore, as influences.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Refugees' Descendants in Southeast Asia Prove Stateless Society Is Possible". Truthout. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  2. ^ "The mystery of Zomia". Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Scott, James (2009). The art of not being governed: An anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia. Yale University Press. p. 8. ISBN 9780300156522.
  4. ^ a b "The Battle Over Zomia". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved October 27, 2013.

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