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'Zomia' is a shorthand reference to the huge massif of mainland Southeast Asia, running from the Central Highlands of Vietnam westward all the way to northeastern India and including the southwest Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, and western Guangxi. Zomia has, Professor Scott contends, been peopled over the last 2,000 years largely by runaways from several state-making projects in the valleys, most particularly Han state-making projects. They have, in the hills, acquired, and shifted, their ethnic identities. Far from being 'remnants' left behind by civilizing societies, they are, as it were, 'barbarians by choice', peoples who have deliberately put distance between themselves and lowland, state-centers. It is in this context that their forms of agriculture, their social structures, and much of their culture, including perhaps even their illiteracy, can be understood as political choices.

About the speaker

James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University. 

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