These state simplifications, the basic givens of modern statecraft, were, I began to realize, rather like abridged maps. They did not suc- cessfully represent the actual activity of the society they depicted, nor were they intended to; they represented only that slice of it that inter- ested the official observer. They were, moreover, not just maps. Rather, they were maps that, when allied with state power, would enable much of the reality they depicted to be remade. Thus a state cadastral map created to designate taxable property-holders does not merely describe a system of land tenure; it creates such a system through its ability to I give its categories the force of law. Much of the first chapter is in- I tended to convey how thoroughly society and the environment have I been refashioned by state maps of legibility. This view of early modern statecraft is not particularly original. Suitably modified, however, it can provide a distinctive optic through which a number of huge development fiascoes in poorer Third World nations and Eastern Europe can be usefully viewed. But "fiasco" is too lighthearted a word for the disasters I have in mind. The Great Leap Forward in China, collectivization in Russia, and compulsory villagization in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Ethiopia are among the great human tragedies of the twentieth century, in terms of both lives lost and lives irretrievably disrupted. At a less dra- matic but far more common level, the history of Third World develop- ment is littered with the debris of huge agricultural schemes and new cities (think of Brasilia or Chandigarh) that have failed their residents. It is not so difficult, alas, to understand why so many human lives have been destroyed by mobilized violence between ethnic groups, religious sects, or linguistic communities. But it is harder to grasp why so many well-intended schemes to improve the human condition have gone so tragically awry. I aim, in what follows, to provide a convincing account of the logic behind the failure of some of the great utopian social engi- neering schemes of the twentieth century.
Central state interventions drive a process of state ownership of life: and ignorance of local rhythms guts solvency and turns the case
Scott 1998 (Professor of Political Science at Yale, Seeing Like a State p. 76-79)
Officials of the modern state are, of necessity, at least one step-and often several steps-removed from the society they are charged with governing. They assess the life of their society by a series of typifi- cations that are always some distance from the full reality these ab- stractions are meant to capture. Thus the foresters' charts and tables, despite their synoptic power to distill many individual facts into a larger pattern, do not quite capture (nor are they meant to) the real forest in its full diversity. Thus the cadastral survey and the title deed are a rough, often misleading representation of actual, existing rights to land use and disposal. The functionary of any large organization "sees" the human activity that is of interest to him largely through the sim- plified approximations of documents and statistics: tax proceeds, lists of taxpayers, land records, average incomes, unemployment numbers, mortality rates, trade and productivity figures, the total number of cases of cholera in a certain district. These typifications are indispensable to statecraft. State simplifi- cations such as maps, censuses, cadastral lists, and standard units of measurement represent techniques for grasping a large and complex reality; in order for officials to be able to comprehend aspects of the ensemble, that complex reality must be reduced to schematic categor- ies. The only way to accomplish this is to reduce an infinite array of detail to a set of categories that will facilitate summary descriptions, comparisons, and aggregation. The invention, elaboration, and deploy- ment of these abstractions represent, as Charles Tilly has shown, an enormous leap in state capacity-a move from tribute and indirect rule to taxation and direct rule. Indirect rule required only a minimal state apparatus but rested on local elites and communities who had an interest in withholding resources and knowledge from the center. Direct rule sparked widespread resistance and necessitated negotia- tions that often limited the center's power, but for the first time, it al- lowed state officials direct knowledge of and access to a previously opaque society. Such is the power of the most advanced techniques of direct rule, that it discovers new social truths as well as merely summarizing known facts. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta is a striking case in point. Its network of sample hospitals allowed it to first "discover"-in the epidemiological sense-such hitherto unknown diseases as toxic shock syndrome, Legionnaires' disease, and AIDS. Stylized facts of this kind are a powerful form of state knowledge, making it possible for officials to intervene early in epidemics, to understand economic trends that greatly affect public welfare, to gauge whether their poli- cies are having the desired effect, and to make policy with many of the crucial facts at hand.75 These facts permit discriminating interven- tions, some of which are literally lifesaving. The techniques devised to enhance the legibility of a society to its rulers have become vastly more sophisticated, but the political motives driving them have changed little. Appropriation, control, and manip- ulation (in the nonpejorative sense) remain the most prominent. If we imagine a state that has no reliable means of enumerating and locating its population, gauging its wealth, and mapping its land, resources, and settlements, we are imagining a state whose interventions in that society are necessarily crude. A society that is relatively opaque to the state is thereby insulated from some forms of finely tuned state inter- ventions, both welcomed (universal vaccinations) and resented (per- sonal income taxes). The interventions it does experience will typically be mediated by local trackers who know the society from inside and who are likely to interpose their own particular interests. Without this mediation-and often with it-state action is likely to be inept, greatly overshooting or undershooting its objective. An illegible society, then, is a hindrance to any effective interven- tion by the state, whether the purpose of that intervention is plunder or public welfare. As long as the state's interest is largely confined to grab- bing a few tons of grain and rounding up a few conscripts, the state's ignorance may not be fatal. When, however, the state's objective re- quires changing the daily habits (hygiene or health practices) or work performance (quality labor or machine maintenance) of its citizens, such ignorance can well be disabling. A thoroughly legible society elim- inates local monopolies of information and creates a kind of national transparency through the uniformity of codes, identities, statistics, reg- ulations, and measures. At the same time it is likely to create new po- sitional advantages for those at the apex who have the knowledge and access to easily decipher the new state-created format. The discriminating interventions that a legible society makes pos- sible can, of course, be deadly as well. A sobering instance is word- lessly recalled by a map produced by the City Office of Statistics of Am- sterdam, then under Nazi occupation, in May 1941 (figure 1 3).76 Along with lists of residents, the map was the synoptic representation that guided the rounding up of the city's Jewish population, sixty-five thou- sand of whom were eventually deported. The map is titled "The Distribution of Jews in the Municipality." Each dot represents ten Jews, a scheme that makes the heavily Jewish dis- tricts readily apparent. The map was compiled from information ob- tained not only through the order for people of Jewish extraction to register themselves but also through the population registry ("excep- tionally comprehensive in the nether land^")^^ and the business reg- istry. If one reflects briefly on the kind of detailed information on names, addresses, and ethnic backgrounds (determined perhaps by names in the population registry or by declaration) and the cartographic exacti- tude required to produce this statistical representation, the contribu- tion of legibility to state capacity is evident. The Nazi authorities, of course, supplied the murderous purpose behind the exercise, but the legibility provided by the Dutch authorities supplied the means to its efficient implementation.78 That legibility, I should emphasize, merely amplifies the capacity of the state for discriminating interventions-a capacity that in principle could as easily have been deployed to feed the Jews as to deport them Legibility implies a viewer whose place is central and whose vi- I sion is synoptic. State simplifications of the kind we have examined are designed to provide authorities with a schematic view of their society, a ' view not afforded to those without authority. Rather like U.S. highway I patrolmen wearing mirrored sunglasses, the authorities enjoy a quasi- monopolistic picture of selected aspects of the whole society. This privileged vantage point is typical of all institutional settings where command and control of complex human activities is paramount.The monastery, the barracks, the factory floor, and the administrative bu- reaucracy (private or public) exercise many statelike functions and often mimic its information structure as well.