Theory Talk no 38 with James Scott

James Scott on Agriculture as Politics, the Dangers of Standardization and Not Being Governed – Published on Theory Talks, May 15, 2010.

How are agriculture or foot-dragging the core of the political? What if messy villages and myriads of local measures are rational? Can the well-intentioned state we take for granted as our point of departure be just as shortsighted as we are? Sometimes International Relations (IR) and political science more generally get challenged in unexpected ways. The work of James C. Scott, Marxist inclined towards anarchism by conviction and something between agrarian specialist and political scientist in training, inspires many not only to reconsider what the realm of politics was about—but also makes resistance to state-driven schemes understandable—even for political scientists.

As such, he helps political scientists seeing the state differently. In this comprehensive Talk, Scott—amongst others— gives a comprehensive overview of his ideas on ‘the political’; engages the politics of political science; and explains why despite globalization the state is still very much alive.

Question:What is, according to you, the biggest current challenge or principal debate in politically oriented social sciences? What is your position or answer to this challenge / in this debate?

Answer: This is not a question I pose to myself often. About the only time I did was, however, some years ago. I don’t know if you know about the Perestroika Movement in Political Science? Some time ago, an anonymous manifesto signed by Mr. Perestroika appeared. It started out with the observation that Benedict Anderson and I had never read the American Political Science Review, and it proceeded to ask why—arguing that perhaps this journal and the hegemonic organization that backed it were irrelevant and indeed inhibitive of progress. Now the Perestroika Movement connected with the European Post-Autistic Economics Movement, which propagates heterodox economics as a challenge to all-consuming mainstream neoclassical economics. I was on the Executive Council of the Political Science Association because they invited me as a result of the Perestroika insurgency, and that was the only time I got actively involved in trying to think about what political science ought to do. By and large, I do what I do and let the chips fall where they may; I prefer not to spend my time in the methodological trenches of the fights are swirling around me … (full long html-text).

PDF-version of this talk, 10 pages.

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