Magdalena's Reviews > Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott
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it was amazing
Read 2 times. Last read March 9, 2020 to March 31, 2020.

Tomorrow is Census Day in the U.S. and the usual drums are beating: in order to count, you've got to be counted. It's a solid sentiment, one I can even get behind, to a point (truth is, too many folks find ways to count more than others, and too many others find themselves counted but not in any way that... counts).

It's worth thinking about: what does "the state" do when it's counting us? What does it mean to be legible? Visible? What does it mean for a state to see? What does it learn? Does it learn? Or does the act of looking construct the things the state wants to see?

I don't really want to get into the weeds on the above, and neither does this book. But these are questions well worth grappling with for anyone even remotely interested in statecraft, in policy, in human rights, in the so-called human condition. This is a book that handles these questions deftly and clearly. Scott is really good at grounding everything he's telling, in actual historical arguments, in actual stories, never leaving you feeling left out, but never losing sight of his project, either.

The subtitle makes this book sounds a little more gimmicky than it is. There is no "gotcha" moment here, no retreat to ideology, and frankly no blanket denunciation of the kinds of schemes he's describing. Just a slowly growing sense that abstraction and generalization, the tools of science in general, aren't enough to get us to where we want to be. At least, that's how this book worked for me.

One of my favorites.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading (Paperback Edition)
November 3, 2018 – Shelved (Paperback Edition)
November 3, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read (Paperback Edition)
November 4, 2018 – Shelved as: theory (Paperback Edition)
November 4, 2018 – Shelved as: policy (Paperback Edition)
November 8, 2018 – Shelved as: politics (Paperback Edition)
November 8, 2018 – Shelved as: criticism-contem... (Paperback Edition)
March 9, 2020 – Started Reading
March 9, 2020 – Shelved
March 31, 2020 – Finished Reading

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