New Books Network

We are schooled to believe that states formed more or less synchronously with settlement and agriculture. In Against the Grain: A Deep History of...

We are schooled to believe that states formed more or less synchronously with settlement and agriculture. In Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (Yale University Press, 2017), James C. Scott asks us to question this belief. The evidence, he says, is simply not on the side of states. Stratified, taxing, walled towns did not inevitably appear in the wake of crop domestication and sedentary settlement. Only around 3100 BCE, some four millennia after the earliest farming and settling down, did they begin making their presence felt. What happened in these four millennia is the subject of this book: a deep history by “a card-carrying political scientist and an anthropologist and environmentalist by courtesy”, which aims to put the earliest states in their place.

James Scott joins us for the fourth episode of New Books in Interpretive Political and Social Science to talk about state fragility and state persistence from Mesopotamia to Southeast Asia, the politics of cereal crops, domestication and reproduction, why it was once good to be a barbarian, the art of provocation, the views of critics, and, human and animal species relations and zoonoses in our epidemiological past and pandemic present.

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Nick Cheesman is a fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University, and a committee member of the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods group. He co-hosts the New Books in Southeast Asian Studies channel.