James C. Scott: Against the grain: a deep history of the earliest states
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With his previous work, James C. Scott has established himself as one of the leading contemporary scholars of stateless societies (Scott 1998, 2009). His latest book, Against the Grain, reinforces this reputation. The goal of the book is an ambitious one: correcting the standard historical account of the rise of the state as the main institutional form of social organization around 5000 years ago. Against the Grain is thus a work of historical revisionism as well as an intellectual manifesto against what Scott believe to be one of the longest-living biases in the social sciences—the identification of civilization with the state and extensive grain farming.
The book starts with a long introductory chapter that outlines Scott’s main target and the basic elements of his revisionist take. Scott’s target is the standard interpretation of the rise of the earliest states at the turn of the third millennium BCE. According to this interpretation, the rise of the state was due to the adoption of...