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6.11.01

It's really great to come across a book for class that you really want to read. I'd been kind of looking forward to this book, James C. Scott's Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes To Improve The Human Condition Have Failed, ever since I bought it for my anthropology seminar. I realise it probably doesn't sound very exciting to most of you, but I'm not most of you.

Part of the problem is probably that I've been thinking of the reading for this class as being really bad. Looking at it rationally that's not true -- I liked Aihwa Ong's Flexible Citizenship, and in retrospect Sherry Ortner (Making Gender) had a lot of good ideas. I'm just biased by how much I hated Arjun Appadurai (of course, I'm citing that book in my geography seminar paper...).

Either way, I started reading Seeing Like A State last night, and it was great. It's not a page-turning literary style, though it is certainly on the accessible end of anthropology writing. But the subjects he was dealing with were really interesting. A central part of his argument is about the limits of human understanding -- how, in order to comprehend something, we have to simplify it into some sort of easy-to-remember pattern that leaves out a lot of complexity. A topic Amanda and I had been talking about just a few days before. He related that to the development of scientific forestry, and how it failed because forest planners couldn't take into account all the processes that keep a natural forest healthy.

Sometimes the best books aren't the ones that come up with something completely new. They're the ones that put clearly into words things you'd been suspecting for a while.

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